UH to Host Innovative Lego-Building Competition

For most adults, original ideas are hard to come by. But ask a child how to save the world, and you'll get a laundry list of solutions. On Jan. 10, fresh ideas will be in abundance at the University of Houston, as  nearly 1,000 area schoolchildren participate in a LEGO® robot-building extravaganza aimed at preserving the planet.

Ninety-five teams of 9- to 14-year-olds have been tasked with researching climate change and developing creative ways to address it. Using LEGO MINDSTORMS® technologies and materials, the children have worked for 12 weeks alongside mentors to design, build and program robots with specific planet-saving missions.

Their efforts will be showcased at UH in the 2008 "Climate Connections" challenge, headed up by For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology, also known as FIRST, and slated to be the league's biggest-ever event in South Texas. UH's College of Technology will host the event.

"Climate Connections gives kids a hands-on, real-world experience allowing them to use their imaginations and creativity in combination with science and technology," said Dean Kamen, founder of FIRST. "It lets them experience firsthand the very real and exhilarating struggle that even the top scientists face with this incredibly broad and important topic."  

The projects, which demonstrate students' problem-solving skills, creative thinking, teamwork, competitive play, sportsmanship, and sense of community, will include missions to explore greenhouse gases, preserve wildlife and make preparations for extreme climate conditions.

FIRST collaborated with researchers at the U.S. Army Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory, professors at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Massachusetts, and experts from LEGO Education to create the theme and challenge missions reflective of the hurdles scientists are tackling today.  

The projects will be judged in four areas: project presentation, robot performance, technical design and robot planning, and teamwork.

The FIRST LEGO® League was created by FIRST and The LEGO Group in 1998.

"(The league) provides a fun and engaging experience for children around the world to stretch their imaginations, creativity and problem-solving skills," said Jens Maibom, vice president of the LEGO Group.  "Using a real-world issue to drive a process where children are in control provides them with a chance to take what they learn and apply it to their own lives, not only during this challenge, but to their future adventures and endeavors."

Currently in its 10th year, FIRST LEGO League anticipates its biggest season ever, with more than 13,500 teams in 40 countries competing in hundreds of qualifying events and championship tournaments, like the one at UH. More than 135,000 children worldwide will compete to win honors and recognition. Teams also will have the opportunity to participate at the FIRST LEGO® League World Festival, to be held in conjunction with the FIRST Championship on April 16-18 at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.

The event at UH, dubbed the Lone Star FLL Championship Tournament, is being sponsored by a group of local institutions and businesses, including, but not limited to: the University of Houston's College of Technology, the NASA Johnson Space Center, Jacobs Technology and the Houston Weather Museum.

"(The competition) provides opportunities for our children far beyond learning robotics," said Louis Ramon, manager of the automation, robotics and simulation division at Jacobs Technology. "Kids who participate get to learn how to research and how to apply that knowledge to real-world challenges in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. We hope it will spark excitement for further studies in these areas.  These are the kids that will one day develop new technologies that our country will depend upon."

WHAT: Lone Star FIRST LEGO® League Championship Tournament
WHEN: Jan. 10. Doors open at 8 a.m., and the tournament begins at 9 a.m.
Finals will be held at 2 p.m., and awards will be issued at 4 p.m.
WHERE: University of Houston
Recreation and Wellness Center
Off Calhoun Road, Entrance 1