To help foster an interest in STEM fields, pick up those LEGOs

It’s not every day that college students are given the opportunity to contribute to their local community simply by playing with LEGOs.

Every year, Penn’s GRASP Lab participates in the FIRST LEGO League, which introduces middle school students to concepts in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) by involving them in a competition where they work in teams, designing and building robots to complete tasks related to a particular theme. This year’s theme is water.

Each team consists of around 10 middle school students who work with coaches to research the topic, build a robot, and put together their own field models that their robots will interact with. They start out by participating in a qualifier, and the winning teams go on to compete in the regional tournament, which is held at Penn, and the world championship, which will be in Detroit this year.

LEGO models built by Penn students, which take a total of six to eight hours to put together, will be used in the competitions to help the students put their robots into action, working through missions that are related to water.

“People are pretty enthusiastic to build LEGOs because everyone played with LEGOs growing up, especially in [Penn] Engineering,” says Daniel Miller-Uueda, the associate director for education and outreach at the GRASP Laboratory. “I don’t have to work hard to get people to build them.”

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