READING, Pa. — Nearly 400 students from across the region visited Penn State Berks on Saturday, Jan. 26, to compete in the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) LEGO League competition. This is the third consecutive year that the competition was hosted by Penn State Berks.
The elementary and middle school students who participated used the competition elements as building blocks to learn about teamwork, problem-solving and gracious professionalism. Fifty-two teams of kids age 9-14 (fourth-eighth graders), participated – more than double from the inaugural year total of 23 teams. They dedicated hundreds of hours over the last few months to creating and programming autonomous LEGO robots that performed a series of complex tasks while attempting to solve real-world science and technology challenges.
This season's FIRST LEGO League competition challenge was INTO ORBIT. Each team was tasked with identifying a human physical or social problem faced during long-duration space exploration within our Sun's solar system, designing a solution, and sharing their problem and solution with others.
Kathleen Hauser, coordinator of the event and instructor in engineering at Penn State Berks, explained that each challenge, based on a real-world scientific topic, has three components: the Robot Game, the Project, and the Core Values. Teams of no more than 10 students each, each with at least two adult coaches, participated in the challenge by programming an autonomous robot to score points on a themed playing field (Robot Game) and developing a solution to a problem identified by the challenge (Project), all guided by the FIRST LEGO League Core Values.
“Penn State Berks has the opportunity to give back to our local community while generating excitement about STEAM fields at the same time. We all benefit from these type of partnerships.”
—Kathleen Hauser, FIRST event coordinator and instructor in engineering
For the second year, teams from Berks County participated in the event. The five local teams included: Turtle Techno, composed of community members from the Blandon area; the High Point Eaglbots, from High Point Baptist Academy in Geigertown; OVES Lynx Leaders, from Oley Valley Elementary School; OVMX Scratch, from Oley Valley Middle School; and Bots to New Heights, from Brandywine Middle School in Topton.
The event included 56 teams in total — up 12 from last year’s total of 44 teams. Nearly 550 participants and coaches were involved in this year’s event.
While four of the teams are from local schools, the Blandon area team is composed of children of faculty, staff and students from Penn State Berks. They are coached by Jill M. Guza Felker, laboratory manager for biochemistry and molecular biology and adjunct instructor in microbiology, biology and chemistry at Penn State Berks. She and her husband, Brian, coach the team during the evening in the college’s Gaige Technology and Business Innovation Building.
Penn State Berks faculty, staff and students, as well as volunteers from the local community, helped to run and judge the tournament and referee the robot competition.
“Penn State Berks has always been interested in supporting the local community and engages in all types of activities that demonstrate that,” explained Hauser. “Penn State Berks has the opportunity to give back to our local community while generating excitement about STEAM fields at the same time. We all benefit from these type of partnerships.”
Hauser said that Penn State Berks students learned the value of sharing their time at an event that engages children in the community in a STEM activity. “We are engaging our youth in the science, technology, engineering, arts and math fields and having a whole lot of fun doing it,” said Hauser.