The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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Learning with Legos: youths build robots with popular toy

Photo by Tim Lai

A&M is overseeing a 10 week challenge called First Lego League where middle schoolers compete against each other. 

Students across Brazos County are dusting off their Lego sets this fall.

Texas A&M University is overseeing a robotic competition for middle schoolers called FIRST Lego League, FLL, where participants have up to 10 weeks to build a Lego robot designed to overcome a challenge. 

Program backers say college mentors are in high demand to help students not only tackle the challenge, but to learn a bit of programming and engineering skills in the process.

Malini Natarajarathinam, associate professor of engineering technology and industrial distribution and program lead organizer, said the Legos garner the interest of students who otherwise may not be interested in robotics.

“This competition is focused on kids and the Legos make the competition engaging to them,” Natarajarathinam said. “A lot of kids are just so excited about Legos.”

This will be A&M’s first year participating, although the FLL has been around since 1989. The FLL is a non-profit organization aiming to further students’ opportunities in engineering and technology. The organization has witnessed tremendous growth since it started — from about 975 teams in its initial year to over 20,000 teams in recent competitions.

“Teams are made up of between two and 10 kids, in addition to two coaches, who participate in building robots using Legos,” Natarajarathinam said.

Each year the competition takes on different themes ranging from trash disposal to natural disasters. This year’s theme is “TrashTrek.” Participants will look at how pieces of trash go from the bin to waste management, and how to make the process more environmental. 

Natarajarathinam said the competition always promotes two core values — professionalism and “coopertition.”

Michael Johnson, associate professor of Engineering Technology and Industrial Distribution and program coordinator, said “coopertition” is a term that describes the promotion of good sportsmanship and competition between teams.

“The Brazos area league is off to a strong start,” said Natarajarathinam, referencing a recent league informational with 200 attendees.

 “People drove in from Navasota, Milano and even Somerville for the meeting,” Natarajarathinam said.

While the league does not lack participants, it does still need to find team coaches. Natarajarathinam encourages A&M students to apply to help fill this gap.

“The single biggest thing the kids don’t have right now is coaches,” Natarajarathinam said. “There is not any engineering expertise needed to coach, just the ability to keep the kids focused and on track.”

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