January saw Westonbirt’s budding STEM entrepreneurs storm their way to success at the South West FIRST® LEGO® League tournament, with the Westonbot Voyagers bringing home the coveted Champion’s Trophy.
They have now secured a place in the national finals, which will see them heading to Harrogate later this spring. It’s an incredible achievement for a team that was only formed in September, when we launched our new Lego robotics after-school club for Years 7 and 8.
“Both our teams performed brilliantly,” says Camilla Evans, who is Head of STEAM at Wishford Schools. “We had hoped to bring an award home, but the Champion’s Trophy is the big one. It’s amazing and testament to everyone’s hard work and dedication. It also gives us a great platform to show the invaluable opportunities that FIRST®LEGO® League offers our students here at Westonbirt. It puts us firmly at the forefront of STEM provision.”
For the uninitiated, FIRST® LEGO® League is an exhilarating global competition, which encourages youngsters aged 9-16 to act like real-life engineers and technologists. They develop their coding, critical thinking and design skills through hands-on STEM learning and robotics.
Students are tasked with coming up with an innovative solution to a real-world problem, alongside designing, building and coding their own robot. Team work, STEM skills and critical thinking then come together in months of preparation. This culminates in an exhilarating tournament, where they present their innovation project to engineers and judges. Students also battle it out with other teams in a tense, mission-based robotics game, during which their programmed robot has to perform timed interactions with themed Lego models on a specially designed table.
“This year’s theme is energy,” explains Camilla, who is busy rolling out FIRST® LEGO® League clubs across the Wishford Group. “In their after-school club, we challenged our teams to come up with their own sustainable energy solutions, using their design, technology and engineering skills. The process involves everything from reaching out to STEM-experts for advice, to coming up with new concepts and even making prototypes to show off their ideas. While students have the support and guidance of a coach, they are accountable for everything, from the research right through to writing their presentation scripts.”
It’s fair to say Mrs Evans is no stranger to success when it comes to FIRST® LEGO® League. Last year the Cargonauts, her team from Wishford’s Heywood Prep, made it through to the international festival in Houston, America. Inspired by their adventures, three of those students then joined the Westonbot Voyagers when the team was formed in September.
For this year’s FIRST® LEGO® League, Westonbot Voyagers took inspiration from Pavegen, a company making kinetic floor tiles that generate clean electricity. They reached out to Highways England and investigated the potential to apply this incredible technology to our dense road network, using traffic to create electricity.
“The Voyagers investigated the cost of retarmacking our roads, and whether kinetic tiles could potentially have other benefits, such as powering smart motorways,” adds Camilla. “Meanwhile, our other team explored a great idea for portable seat pads, which generate electricity when people fidget. They considered whether the technology could be used in schools, or perhaps in countries where resources are scarce.
“FIRST® LEGO® League offers a fantastic opportunity for children to apply their STEM learning to real life situations. It helps young people realise that they could invent and create products that make a difference to the world. Better still, they get to inspire and be inspired by the teams they compete with across the globe.”
Underpinning FIRST® LEGO® League is the concept of ‘core values’. These form the cornerstone of the competition, and include showing you can respect others, work together as a team, engage in friendly competition and be willing to explore new ideas.
“The core values overarch the entire tournament,” says Camilla. “From the minute students walk through the door to the moment they leave, they are under the watchful eye of referees, judges and guides. They are expected to support the other teams, share their learning, talk to the people around them and behave respectfully at all times. If they run down a corridor, laugh at somebody or push their way to the front, they simply won’t progress.
“Ultimately, FIRST® LEGO® League is a fantastic way to learn invaluable people skills. Students develop the confidence to navigate problems, deal with unexpected situations and present their innovative ideas to strangers. They learn to accommodate other people’s views and bring a team together, all while developing their thirst for STEM.”