This is not your father’s LEGO set.
Students on Langdon School’s First LEGO Robotics Teams use the well-known plastic building blocks to craft and program autonomous robotic vehicles to fulfill specific challenges and tasks.
“It has really come a long way,” said Langdon School’s LEGO robotics team lead Norman Ellis, who is also the school's vice-principal. “The flexibility that the LEGO kids provide from an engineering standpoint to build a robust robot that can manoeuvre the table, and quickly attaching new attachments when needed for different types of missions, is absolutely fabulous.”
The Langdon Robotics teams usually have between 12 and 20 students from grades 4 to 8 who take part in the extracurricular activity each school year. The students not only learn to use LEGO’s advanced Scratch function blocks to provide the moving parts and specific programming for their machines, they also use their own creativity to improvise new functions and programming where necessary using LEGO’s Python coding software.
“What I like about the First LEGO League is it is not just about building a robot to do missions. There is a significant part which (advances) research skills and the ability to filter information far and above their peers,” Ellis explained. “Their research skills have just blossomed.”
The club’s two teams, (Drego and Banana Bot), prepare their robots for both First LEGO League robotics championship competitions, and for the yearly Canada Cup Innovation Challenge.
In these competitions, Langdon students battle it out with other schools’ robotics teams to try to go as far as they can.
“(This year) both our teams did very well,” said Ellis. “They went to the southern Alberta championships that were in mid-February. And from there, they were two of 10 teams that were invited to attend the provincials in Red Deer (on March 4).”
Although Langdon’s Drego team obtained the second highest score overall at those provincial competitions, it was not quite enough to move onto the World Championships being held in Houston later this spring.
Still, Ellis said he is very proud of what his students accomplished. And now, the school's Banana Bot team has its sights set on the upcoming Canada Cup Innovation Challenge in mid-May, which rewards creativity in design rather than competing in an obstacle course format like the teams experienced in the First LEGO League championships.
“The challenge itself gives kids a chance to use their ingenuity, use their creativity, to come up with out-of-the-box thinking that quite often we adults can’t even fathom,” he explained. “So they (the team) have got a little bit of time to fine-tune their presentation skills and make their project a little bit more robust, as they will be competing with teams all across Canada.”
According to Ellis, who has been team lead in Langdon for the past five years and worked with students on First LEGO challenges for the past 15 years, the skills his robotics’ teams take away as they move on in their academic pursuits are invaluable to help them achieve success in applied sciences and future technical careers.
However, he always tries to add another element to their engineering learning every year to enhance the student’s social awareness of the future implications of the technology they are using and engage in “out-of-the-box” thinking.
“It’s not just programming and building a robot, but also part of every year involves a challenge with some sort of urgent issue or issue in the news,” he explained. “This year, it was sustainable power; so part of it is the kids coming up with creative ideas to improve upon current technologies.”