Things have changed with how kids are learning to apply science and mathematics.
At the Four Corners FIRST LEGO League Robotics Tournament on Saturday, scores of young students on 18 teams, ages 9 to 14, are using computer technology in astounding ways.
Part science fair, part research project and part robot games, the FIRST LEGO League challenges kids to work together outside of the classroom.
It began when a New England-based charity group, FIRST – for inspiration and recognition of science and technology – began working with LEGO on a platform of kid’s science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Today, the league is comprised of hundreds of thousands of kids in more than 70 countries.
In Durango, its home base is the Powerhouse Science Center, and the tournament director, Sarah Margoles, also is the center’s director of education.
“What’s cool about this is the kids do everything,” she said.
The tournament is a qualifier for larger competition in New Mexico next year. Although the teams are allowed coaches, the kids themselves must go through the trials and errors of designing robots, programming them, conducting research for presentations and learning to work together. They present their ideas, compete with each other, then are evaluated by judges.
Margoles, along with the Powerhouse’s curriculum instruction manager, Jen Lokey, saw a lack of girls involved. So, they decided to change that.
“We were only serving 35 percent girls in all of our education programs. That was really disheartening for us,” Margoles said.
Lokey and Margoles watched their vision come to fruition. Last year, only one all-girls team entered the tournament. This year, there were three.
Gayle Earley coaches WallEv3 Divided by Girl Scouts to the Power of 5 = Awesomeness – the Mesa Verde Girl Scouts team from Cortez – and she said her girls are filled with wonder.
“We have five girls that all get to experience math and engineering and teamwork. It’s incredible,” she said. “They’re so positive. They cheer each other on; they tell each other it’s OK.”
Former science teacher Marc Masor said youth is when the magic happens.
“If you talk to anybody who loves science, something happened when they were a kid that turned them on to it,” he said.
The girls’ teams were funded by a Women’s Foundation of Colorado grant, helping girls such as Marina Bradley of team WallEv3 Divided by Girl Scouts to the Power of 5 = Awesomeness develop her interests. She said she loves science for the discovery.
“You get to have fun with it,” she said. “You get to experiment on all sorts of things – play with it discover it.”
An earlier version of this story misspelled Gayle Earley’s last name. Also, the name of her team is WallEv3 Divided by Girl Scouts to the Power of 5 = Awesomeness. The name was misstated in an earlier version.