Putting the pieces together: LEGO robotics help students gain engineering skills

e-Connections Post
Theodore Judah Bear Bots work to build a robot for the upcoming FLL tournament November 16 at St. Francis High School.

This year, 10 SCUSD schools and 17 teams are participating in the FIRST LEGO League (FLL) robotics program, a record high for the school district.

FLL introduces students in grades 4 through 8 to real-world engineering challenges by building LEGO-based robotics to complete certain prescribed tasks and compete in tournaments against robots from other teams.

SCUSD schools participating are:

  • Martin Luther King Jr. K-8
  • Will C. Wood Middle School
  • Sutter Middle School
  • School of Engineering and Sciences
  • Albert Einstein Middle School
  • David Lubin Elementary
  • California Middle School
  • Theodore Judah Elementary
  • Sam Brannan Middle School
  • Caleb Greenwood Elementary

To prepare for league tournaments, which will begin in November, 40 students representing various teams participated in SCUSD’s Robotics Boot Camp at Will C. Wood Middle School last August.

Each day of the camp featured instruction and a build session on LEGO Mindstorm robots. In addition, a different engineering specialty was focused each day including a presentation by a guest engineer. Civil, Mechanical, Electrical, Chemical and Robotics Engineering were studied. 

The purpose of the robotics summer camp is to provide basic instruction in a variety of skills appropriate to participating in middle school FIRST LEGO League, to provide a practical application of math and science, as well as to introduce students to engineering and technology careers. This year there are 17 middle school robotics teams, an increase from seven last year. 

During the boot camp, students learned engineering concepts, programming, robot design and construction, use of the NXT robotics control system, teamwork and time management.

Wherever possible, the curriculum is tied to math, science and language arts.  For example, rather than moving a robot manually and recording the movement as a program, students are asked to measure distance, calculate wheel rotations and measure angles to mathematically prepare a program to be tested.

When considering how to pick up and move objects, the students apply physics and knowledge of motor characteristics. Students created robots to complete specific tasks using on-board programming as well as light and touch sensors.  More than 100 relatives of participants attended the afternoon of the last day of camp to observe demonstrations of what had been accomplished during the week.