NARRAGANSETT — The students gathered, ready to have their Lego creations adjudicated. Hundreds of students from schools all over the state, including Narragansett Pier School, met at Roger Williams University on Saturday, January 14, to participate in the First Lego League tournament, a contest which aims to develop students’ teamwork and problem-solving skills at an age when it is critical.
“There were 400 students there and our students did very well,” said NPS Assistant Principal Marianne Kirby. “They were excited and pleased.”
The First Lego League is a nationwide program for students ages 9 to 16 who work for the opportunity to go to tournaments and test their learning capabilities against other similarly skilled students from across Rhode Island. The students design and build a number of Lego robotic machines which are judged through different qualifications.
“Robotics is a hands-on program that allows students to learn by discovery,” said Vanessa Miller, Enrichment Teacher at NPS. “They are given guidance, but taught to problem solve through the building and programming on their own. This allows the student to have ownership over both their successes and failures, to work interdependently with each other, sharing strengths and improving on weaknesses.”
“[The program] is also a lot of fun,” she added. “Who doesn’t want to play with Legos in middle school? My eighth graders are still talking about their experience in Lego League.”
At NPS, students are grouped into two groups, Pull-Out Enrichment and After-School Enrichment. Pull-Out Enrichment students must be recommended by a teacher and accepted to participate, and the class meets twice a week for 50 minutes a piece. After-School Enrichment is open to all students, and they meet after-school once a week for an hour. The theme for this year’s First Lego League was ‘Food Factor,’ in which students researched issues with food safety.
“Pull-out enrichment students are graded for the course, After-School is not,” said Miller. “The main ideas of the curriculum involve: building and programming a robot to meet specific challenges on the Lego League game field, researching and presenting a solution to a problem under the current year’s theme, this year’s being ‘Food Factor,’ and teamwork. Teamwork also is something that is emphasized in the students experience in enrichment.”
“Many students put in a lot of their own time, during lunch and different days after school, in order to get in as much programming time as possible,” she added. Students in the After School competitive and Pull-out enrichment developed creative solutions to meet the challenges of food safety and presented their research to a panel of judges at the tournament.”
Miller enjoys the opportunity to learn about robotics alongside her students, and even had a few things to learn about the First Lego League program before she could teach.
“Each year we are improving,” said Miller. “Our first year, students placed around 25th in the state, last year, as well as this year, my top team placed 14th in the state. We’re getting there!”
“Before Narragansett, I had never been involved with a robotics program,” she added. “It was essential that the Pier School keep the tradition of offering this wonderful program, so I took it on head first. With help from colleagues and additional materials provided by the University of Rhode Island, and also reassurance from the First Lego League organizers that one does not need to know everything about robotics to help students become involved with the program, I was able to learn enough to guide the students through this curriculum.”
Miller hopes that the First Lego League program will continue to grow at NPS and successive grades of students will learn about the experiences of their upperclassmen, generating excitement for learning and developing skills which will benefit the students into their adult lives.
“The most important thing to me is that the kids learn to work together as a cohesive whole, and are open to others ideas,” said Miller. “We are a team and do the work to find solutions with guidance from our coaches and mentors. We honor the spirit of friendly competition and what we discover is more important than what we win. We share our experiences with others and have fun.”