This past Saturday, on June 18, 2011, brilliant young minds collaborated in the first “First Lego League” (FLL) competition for international schools in Beijing. Co-hosted by The British School of Beijing and Daystar Academy, this was the first time international schools in Beijing participated, despite the presence of Chinese schools in past FLL competitions. Schools involved included The British School of Beijing (BSB), Canadian International School of Beijing (CISB), Daystar Academy and Dulwich College Beijing (DCB). There were roughly 20 teams composed of 40 primary and secondary students. While the schools competed in a version with a modified track, they hope to run a full track competition next year.
BSB ICT teacher Nathaniel Brown explains that instead of having the typical four to five months, the students only had about two months to prepare for the modified course. The robot had to master basic movement, follow a line and use a wall-touch and ultrasonic sensor.
Rules of the modified track:
- Each team has two tries (with no opportunities for retries) and the best of the two is counted.
- The robot has to touch the green rectangles and avoid the red rectangles, aka lava.
- If it hits the Lego structures (the white bone, the pill dispenser, or the grabber), the team earns extra points.
“I think it’s a wonderful experience for them. It’s a huge opportunity,” says teacher Lata Iyei. With Ashworht Laukam, Lata Iyei has been training students at Dulwich College Beijing for the competition. Their training began in January of this year and training increased from once a week to twice a week. Students trained their robots to perform tasks that would be in the modified course. The DCB Lego Lions also designed the logo for their t-shirts, says 10-year-old team member Audrey Chan.
Guests at the event included Chinese Martin Wang and August Bing. The 11-year-olds began programming Lego robots five years ago and have competed in four competitions since. In the 2011 First Lego League with a full track, Wang and Bing placed second in the Beijing division, third in China and seventh internationally. They are looking forward to competing in the World Robot Olympics in September of this year. At the international school First Lego League, attendees looked on in awe of the two geniuses at work. On a full-track, they demonstrated what their robot can do: calibrating it to follow a black line or hit certain Lego structures, such as the grabber as it picks up and moves a basketful of Legos.
While Chinese students, such as Wang and Bing participate on a highly competitive level, the goal of the international school competition was fun. Fred Sun says the competition is less about being competitive and more about cooperation and teamwork. A coach for Daystar, Fred Sun watched his students, including his two sons (ages 8 and 10) compete. Joe Zhou, who coaches along with Sun, says, “I hope they learn patience and perseverance. They have to run the program 100 times before they get it right. And the level is appropriate for this age group. It’s a challenge, but it’s within reach.”
The Lego competition was predominately boys, but there were some girls present, including the BSB duo Electric Tank. Thirteen-year-old Ally Embley has been involved with robotics since the age of 3. “I’ve always liked making stuff – taking things apart and putting them back together,” she explains. Embley and her partner 12-year-old Jade DeSpain work on robotics during their lunch breaks, after school and on the weekends. In one week, they dedicate 18 hours to robotics.
With all that dedication, it is no surprise that the duo was one of the top scorers. “We can conclude one thing: Children are smarter than adults,” BSB Principal Mike Embley jokes. But in all seriousness, there are some smart kids in Beijing. Five teams finished with perfect scores: Robo Raptors, Rocatics, IDK, Stabalizer and RSSL. Honorable mentions include Scouse Rubber Duckies, Electric Tank and Robo Lions.
Without a doubt, the event was a success, but as Laukam says, “Hopefully, there will be more kids next year, so it’s a growing, evolving program.”
For more photos of the event, check out our online Gallery here.