O'FALLON, Ill. - For many years, Scott Air Force Base has
been supporting local programs that encourage innovation,
enabling young people to be science and technology leaders.
One of those programs, the For Inspiration and
Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) Lego League,
held its first qualifying competition of the year for
fourth-eighth grades Nov. 22, 2014. This is one of 22 FIRST
qualifying competitions that will take place in Southwest
Illinois for the 2014-2015 school year.
Two teams make last-minute adjustments during their portion of the robotics competition Nov. 22, 2014. Junior high school students from the O'Fallon and Edwardsville school districts (plus home-schooled teams) competed at Carriel Junior High School in O'Fallon in the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) robotics tournament. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Stephenie Wade)
Lego League competition was held in 1989 and engages
children in mentor-based programs to build science,
technology, engineering, mathematics and life skills.
"What we are trying to do here at Air Mobility Command
is spark the interest of the next generation of scientists
and engineers," said Dr. Don Erbschloe, Air Mobility Command
chief scientist. "That's what the STEM program is all about
and why we take an invested interest. In addition to
competing with this robot, they [children] learn
communication skills. They have to explain what they are
trying to accomplish and their process to how they got it to
work. They all have different roles to play."
competition, teams build a robot out of Legos and electric
mechanisms and program it to work. While building the robot,
teams also conduct a research study. Teams and their mentor
plan for the competition months ahead of time.
two months prior to the qualifying competition date, the
team finds out the robot's mission and has to work together
to strategize a plan to gain the most points during the
mission. Each action, such as moving a ball, is worth
points. Teams can earn points during other portions of the
competition as well.
Every year, there is a different
challenge theme given to competitors. In past years, the
challenges were topics like climate and transportation. This
year it is education.
With the theme in mind, each
team has to explain to judges their team's core values,
research project and robot design. It is through this
portion that they learn self-confidence, communication and
Carla Thorton, Defense Information
Systems Agency Engineer, has served as a mentor for 10
"I help with anything I can, from programming
the robot to creating skits," she said. "If I can't help I
find someone who can. Anyone can be a mentor."
Overall, the program emphasizes gracious professionalism.
While teams are competing against each other for points,
they get high marks for working together cooperatively, and
"Seeing what the children are
capable of delivering during this competition is amazing and
infectious," said Mike Harvey, Southwest Illinois FIRST Lego
League qualifying tournament coordinator. "Children see
things through a different lens. They have no box or
boundaries in terms of possibilities. In this competition,
we provide the structure and they inject the innovation."
The three winning teams of the 22 Southwest Illinois
qualifying competitions will compete in three regional
competitions. If they win at the regional competitions, they
would progress to the state level. The state winners go to
the world level, which is held in St. Louis.
By U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Stephenie Wade
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