This past year, a new sport was introduced to Branch Elementary School students at Edwards. It does not focus on physical athleticism or include a ball, bat, racquet, or even a helmet.
Rather, the First Lego League’s competitive robotics program challenges students between fourth and eighth-grade to flex their intellectual muscles through a series of robot games, presentations, and demonstrations.
The program, led by Mickey Bowen, community outreach engineer, Air Force Flight Test Center, successfully bridges the gap between competitive sport, math and science. The mentor-based alternative to traditional athletics provides an opportunity for participants to learn about robots, building strategies, design and computer programs.
“The focus of the program is to not only introduce younger students to the world of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics; but to really develop their interest and put those students on a successful career path,” said Bowen.
Bowen spends a great deal of time with students, developing their interest and fostering their growth in the technical fields. With most of his efforts focused in the local communities surrounding the base, he was looking for a way to bring his expertise back to Edwards.
The First Lego League provided him the very opportunity he had long been searching for and funding from the National Defense Education Program made it all possible.
“As soon as I found out funding was available, I was so pumped about bringing real world experience to the classrooms at Edwards. You can reach out to children at any age and get them started on a career path. This program was an excellent opportunity to get them engaged,” said Bowen.
Although robotics is the primary focus of the program, core values also play a critical role in the First Lego League.
“First Lego League is about more than just introducing students to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. There is an incredible focus on community and core values. The program teaches children teamwork and the skills they need to be successful in life,” said Bowen.
Although the robotics season officially kicked off in the beginning of September, in preparation for the Dec. 3 local qualifying competition, the Edwards team did not officially get started until the end of the month.
The competition was open to elementary and middle school students, however, by the time the final roster was complete; the team consisted entirely of Branch Elementary School students.
“We were behind the power curve by the time we really began preparing for the competition in December,” said Bowen. “We started late compared to other teams, not to mention our team was relatively young in comparison.”
Facing unique challenges, the Branch Elementary engineers stepped up to the plate, meeting every Tuesday and Thursday between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. and sometimes over the weekend.
“As a parent, I was pleased to see the progress the team made; seeing the technical, research, and interpersonal skill learned. It was impressive seeing these students do so well, especially with no prior programming experience.” said parent, Alexia Svejda.
For her, the lessons taught to the students throughout the program are part of what makes First Lego League so special.
“It gives students the opportunity to work together, not as an athletic team, but an academic one. It even gives them the chance to learn core values such as gracious professionalism,” Svejda said.
According to Svejda, her daughter Nadia, age 9, thoroughly enjoyed her experience and often told her mother how “awesome” it was to be a part of the team during full debriefs received during their car rides home.
One of 26 teams competing for nine awards, and playing the role of underdog with a young team and less preparation time than other groups, the engineers from Branch Elementary held their heads high and put their best foot forward during the December competition at Joe Walker Middle School, located in Quartz Hill, Calif.
Successful in their two-and-a-half minute robot game, core values presentation, and project interviews, the young engineers waited to hear from the judges just how productive their efforts were.
The 12-hour day commenced with a stunning announcement – in the first year of competition, Branch Elementary was the recipient of the Project Award.
As the sixth-graders transition to middle school, Team Edwards looks forward to expanding the team, as well as further developing students’ robotics skills and core values.
Bowen attributes the success of this year’s competition to the extensive support he received throughout the robotics season from Branch Elementary staff and parents.
“The principal of Branch Elementary, Kevin Cordes; sixth grade teacher, Kim Cantrell; and all the parents were absolutely critical in the success of the program. It never would have happened without them. I look forward to the coming years where we can continue the tradition of success,” said Bowen.
For more information about program participation, contact Mickey Bowen at (661) 277-7828.