Chloe here, with my teammate (and sister) Kenzie! This week, well examine one of the most rewarding parts of FIRST LEGO League (FLL): the Research Project. FIRST believes that kids arent just the inventors of tomorrow but also inventors of today! FIRST encourages kids to create and innovate through meaningful research projects.
What is a FIRST LEGO League Research Project?
Every FLL Research Project Challenge reflects an important real-world issue as a way to bring visibility to that issue and to show students how science and technology can contribute to actually solving problems.
With every FLL season, a new theme is introduced and a research project is announced. Teams learn about the new challenge topic and then identify a problem within the general challenge topic they want to solve. Teams move toward developing an innovative solution for their topic and sharing their innovations with their communities. At tournaments, teams also share their research projects and innovative solutions with FLL judges during judged events. In this years FLL WORLD CLASSTM Learning Unleashed Challenge, FLL teams had the chance to teach adults about the ways that kids need and want to learn in the 21st century.
So, what are the steps involved in creating a World ClassTM Research Project?
Step 1: Identify a World Class Question
As a team, and as individuals, we enjoy building things, working with our hands, and learning by doing. Accordingly, we decided to research the topics of Learning-by-Doing and Project Based Learning (PBL) to better understand how these concepts are applied in education. We also wanted to combine this research with one of our favorite topics: robotics. Our research project was soon on its way!
As we researched PBL, and related topics, we met with numerous experts in the fields of education, and robotics. We also consulted with a range of STEM professionals (including electrical and computer engineers), to better understand the importance of providing project based learning STEM opportunities to children.
From these discussions, we learned that that many schools do not have a project based learning robotics curriculum for elementary school students. Why? Well, one overriding issue is that most robotics kits are simply too expensive. Many schools cannot afford expensive robotics kits to use in their classrooms. We learned that this same problem exists throughout our home state of Virginia, across the nation, and around the world.
With this information, we began to discuss ways in which we could help make learning robotics more affordable and accessible to all students. We formulated our FLL World ClassTM Question- How can we improve robotics education for elementary school children?
Step 2: Create and Innovate!
At first, tackling such a big question seemed daunting. Our team spent many weeks brainstorming, discussing, and noodling ideas. Throughout the conversations, we kept returning to our belief that we are all Makers. We believe in the power of making, tinkering, experimenting, and inventing, and we think that every child deserves the opportunity to be a Maker too. Combining our Maker Mentality with our conviction that robotics should be affordable and accessible to elementary students everywhere, we began to develop a solution based on those ideals.
We decided to create an affordable, customizable, fun and exciting, standards-aligned robotics kit. We designed this kit for elementary school-aged children, and named the kit Craft-A-Bot. It was important to have a kit that could be made for under $10, and to have a kit that could be made using parts available to kids all over the world -- with a simple motor and a very small set of core components. C.A.B. includes an open source library on Thingiverse of 3D printed pieces. We designed these pieces and printed them out on our Printrbot 3D printers. These 3D printed pieces allow common household items like cardboard, soup cans, and jar lids, to be connected to build a one-of-a-kind robot!
STEP 3: Testing for a Better Solution
We created an initial prototype and then refined and improved it (over, and over, and over again!). After we had created a stable version of Craft-A-Bot, we held outreach events for elementary school children at local libraries, elementary schools, and FIRST tournaments. At these outreach events, kids tested the kits and provided valuable feedback. We were gratified to discover that the elementary school students who tested our Craft-a-Bot kits had a great time learning simple robotics concepts through hands-on building, tinkering, and creating. Their feedback informed our ongoing work throughout the year to continue to improve Craft-A-Bot. We enjoyed this years research project so much so that we plan to continue the fun by creating an Arduino version of the kit with a release date in 2016.
Step 4: Sharing Our Solution!
Its been quite a year for our team and our robotics kit. We have conducted hundreds of hours of outreach, shared our ideas and our kit with students, families, educators, STEM professionals, non-profits, and government leaders. Through it all, our message has been loud and clear! We want the world to know how important it is for children everywhere to explore robotics.
Join the Robolution and start innovating today! We cant wait to see your innovations in action!