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FIRST LEGO Robotics Provides STEM Learning 


at All Ages


By James Ritzman


July 11, 2018


Growing up, I loved learning about not just the technicality, but the artistry of how we put things together. While my education and career choices shifted as I grew up and eventually joined the ESCO team, I never lost that passion for building and creating things out of nothing. When my children began showing similar interests to my own in building and creating things from LEGO, I jumped on the opportunity to help expand my eldest daughter’s learning through the Junior FIRST LEGO League.


After a bit of research, I learned about FIRST LEGO League Jr., the most basic level of LEGO robotics programming through FIRST LEGO League that “is designed to introduce STEM concepts to kids ages 6 to 10 while exciting them through a brand they know and love – LEGO®.” The junior program is not designed to be competitive, but instead it teaches younger kids robotics through fun challenges and thematic programming.




DSC06274_E.jpgMy wife and I jumped at the chance to bring the program to our daughter’s school, volunteering our time to coach two teams each with five kids, and learning about robotics and the curriculum as we progressed through the year. Given this year’s theme was water, our curriculum included activities like studying the water cycle, researching water treatment plants, taking hikes to waterfalls and teaching the kids about watersheds through creating water filtration circuits.


We also incorporate robotics fundamentals into our programming. Our students created a robotically programmed waterfall using blue LEGO tractor treads programmed to run in continuous loops. The waterfall provided a fun way for the kids to play with the mechanics of the LEGO blocks, and add an artistic spin to the project.


Additionally, a “WeDo Kit,” provided by the junior league, gives the kids an opportunity to use peripheral motors and sensors, learn simple drag and drop icon programming through a complementary app. Through this app, the kids can build code strings, plug in durations of time and test the program through Bluetooth sensors in the LEGO motors, causing the waterfall to spin for a certain amount of time and the boat to move back and forth. The curriculum results in a final project, where the students must demonstrate their incorporation of the LEGO motors, the programming they’ve developed, and a presentation board on the year’s theme.




Our work with the junior league is intended to feed into the FIRST LEGO League, where students in grades 4-8 design, build, and program a robot using LEGO MINDSTORMS® and compete on a table-top playing field. Similar robotics programs exist for grades 7-12 and grades 9-12. The purpose of the program is to get kids excited about incorporating electronics and mechanics with LEGO so that they can move to the more competitive robotics programs when they are older.


In my time at ESCO I’ve worked closely with our engineers and designers, who have inspired me to embrace the benefits of exposing students to STEM learning tools at younger ages. Looking at engineering through the prism of a toy in FIRST LEGO League Jr. allows us to do just that. I think LEGO is a fantastic medium for learning, because it is intrinsically modular, it has a pallet of compatible, interconnectable parts, and is also forward and backward compatible. You can quickly and easily use existing elements to build prototypes and test hypotheses.


As one of our region’s leading STEM companies, ESCO is committed to expanding these types of science and engineering learning opportunities for students of all ages, genders and socio-economic backgrounds. It’s important for that we take the lead on community engagement to get our future generation excited about STEM, and inspire the science, technology, engineering and math leaders of tomorrow, as FIRST LEGO League seeks to do.