Young students test their inner scientists at UW’s Lego robotics contest

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Waterloo Region Record

WATERLOO — A large gymnasium teemed with noise, excitement and thousands of Lego pieces.

Hundreds of nine- to 14-year-old children from across Ontario filled the gymnasium at University of Waterloo on Saturday for the annual FIRST Lego League West Ontario championships.

Student teams build robots using Lego pieces and complex programming software.

Each year students build robotics based on the competition’s theme of the year, said Dave Ellis, director of FIRST Lego League of Ontario.

This year’s theme is education.

“Teams take a subject or topic and find a way to teach it in a different way,” Ellis said.

Using levers, movement and rotation, eager students program their Lego robots using a computer and compete with each other in several rounds.

Their “playing fields” resemble ping-pong tables laid out in the middle of the gym surrounded by a boundary.

A charismatic MC cheered them on and parents thronged the boundaries, leaning over the edge in clusters to videotape or photograph their children’s Lego robots flitting across tables.

Winners get a chance to compete at the FIRST Lego League World Championship. They also get to take home a golden cup-shaped trophy made entirely of Lego pieces.

Teams can be comprised of public school classes, after-school programs and sometimes parents as well.

Ellis said most teams are from public schools. They started work on their projects in August.

“It inspires kids to think that science and technology is cool,” Ellis said.

“That is why we use Lego pieces, it is a good way to teach how to use code,” he added.

Professional communication, team-building and pitching ideas are also skills these bright kids learn during the process.

Teams continually pitch and present their projects to a panel of judges so they have to think quickly on their feet, Ellis said. It’s not an easy feat for nine to 14-year-olds.

“There are lots of misconceptions about science and technology,” Ellis said. “We are trying to dispel that myth.”

There were 40 teams and almost 400 students from all over Ontario competing at Saturday’s event.


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