First Lego League - Discover

Teachers use robotics challenge to develop STEM skills

Teachers are bringing new skills to the classroom, and engaging and inspiring their students by starting FIRST LEGO League programmes via our platform.

Nancy Parra-Quinlan, a junior high teacher at Kino Junior High School in Mesa, Arizona and the Arizona State Teacher of the Year 2022, recognises the importance of “hands-on” learning opportunities for her students. She’s passionate about bringing lessons to life, and runs both a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths) club and a FIRST LEGO League team at her school.

Nancy received $2,500 from the Phoenix Community Challenge, supported by Microsoft, to buy new resources for her school’s FIRST LEGO League team, the Kino RoboKolts.

Nancy’s is one of more than 120 FIRST LEGO League projects that have been supported through the ChangeX platform to date.

FIRST LEGO League Challenge

Developing skills in a hands-on way

FIRST LEGO League allows students of all ages to develop STEM skills in a hands-on, fun way. There are three programmes (Discover, Explore and Challenge), catering for children of different ages.

  • Discover: a playful, introductory STEM programme for 4-6 year olds that ignites young students’ natural curiosity and builds their habits of learning with hands-on activities
  • Explore: an exciting, non-competitive STEM challenge for 6-10 year olds that rapidly develops teamwork, design, programming, digital and communication skills.
  • Challenge: young people, aged 9-14 years old, work together to explore a given topic and to design, build and program an autonomous robot to solve a series of missions

Levelling the playing field

With the funding she received, Nancy was able to purchase new EV3 robots and space-themed resources. “Our kids had been using much older robots, and competing against better-funded teams from more affluent areas. So this funding really levelled the playing field,” she says.

Malka Frazin, a special education teacher at Oscar DePriest Elementary School in Chicago, received $2,500 from the Chicago Community Challenge, supported by Microsoft, to start a FIRST LEGO League team at her school.

“Our school already had a robotics programme, and we wanted to get into FIRST LEGO League but we lacked the funding. We are in a low income community, so without this grant, we wouldn’t have been able to compete.”

Working with other teachers at her school, Malka purchased a range of robotics kits and equipment, including game boards and additional robots, with the funding. It also covered the entry fees for the FIRST LEGO League competition.

Building a wide range of skills

In Nancy’s experience, FIRST LEGO League helps children to learn how to program and understand robotics, and also gives them a much wider range of skills.

“One of the big things I see happen is that they develop the ability to collaborate with others. They have to work in pairs to figure things out, to program the robots and to complete missions. Developing that ability to problem solve and to collaborate effectively, that’s a life skill.”

Communication skills are also a key part of the learning opportunity for students. Malka says that the programme was a huge benefit for her special education students. “They sometimes struggle with communication, but coding and robotics are so motivating for them,” she says.

Due to Covid-19, Malka’s students competed virtually in the competition. One incident, from a video call with the judges, stands out for her. “On the day of the judging session, the students were so excited and nervous,” she recalls. “The judges asked them, ‘who thought of your idea’ and one of my students shared that ‘we all did’.”

For Malka, this moment highlighted the collaborative skills her students had developed as part of the competition. 

“It was wonderful to see them developing those skills, collaborating, creating, communicating. It really was a labour of love.”

Lasting impact

Malka’s students have since competed in the competition for a second year – and have won an award, receiving positive feedback from the judges for their coding project. 

So far, about 20 students have been involved in the programme. Malka and her team are planning to grow the programme’s reach this year. “The equipment we purchased with the funding can continue to be used to help our students,” she says. “And their families too. They take home those skills.”

At Nancy’s school in Arizona, a similar number of students have so far benefitted from the programme. But Nancy sees the funding having a much wider impact in the longer-term. “This is going to support 200 to 300 kids, as we can use this equipment for eight to ten years before it needs to be replaced,” she says. 

A simple process

Nancy heard about the funding available through the Phoenix Community Challenge from her local FIRST LEGO League coordinator, and found the application process “very user-friendly”.

In Chicago, Malka’s experience was also positive. She has applied for a lot of grants, and found the process “really easy” via the ChangeX platform. 

“It was so simple. I’d say to anyone thinking about it, ‘why not apply’. Someone was there to help throughout the process.”

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