Every Saturday evening, you’ll find a group of students huddled around robots at the Chandler YMCA. During the week, other groups gather at East Valley Boys and Girls Clubs. They look like they are playing some kind of a game – going back and forth between a laptop displaying a flow chart and a small robot on wheels. They are actually learning robotics and programming.
Education Empowers, Inc., a local non-profit, partners with organizations like the Intel Foundation, the James Unruh Family Foundation, the Lego Foundation and ASU, to bring a community of volunteers together to support STEM and robotics education to children across the East Valley. The students they work with are from broad ethnic backgrounds and half are girls.
One of the role models for these students is Elaina Ashton – a junior at Arizona College Prep – Erie Campus. Elaina is a board member of Education Empowers and, at the recent kickoff of this season’s First Lego League, she led a training session so the parents and coaches could ensure they knew as much as the students.
Elaina and her mom, Anna Prakash-Ashton, are both founding members of Education Empowers. They, along with a volunteer team of coaches, mentors and parents use Lego robots and software to teach Valley students the importance of a STEM education.
The First Lego League is kicking off its 30th season and organizations like Education Empowers and people like Anna and Elaina are getting busy getting ready. First LEGO League teams research a real-world problem such as food safety, recycling, energy, etc., and are challenged to develop a solution. They also must design, build, and program a robot using LEGO Mindstorms, then compete on a table-top playing field.
With this season’s mission – Into Orbit! – students will explore, challenge and innovate in space. In addition to programming the LEGO Mindstorms robot, students consider solutions and problems to the challenges facing humanity today and present their findings and recommendations.
Are you interested in learning more about how to get involved as a student, parent or educator? Remember, starting students early is important. Say’s Anna Prakash-Ashton, “We have to introduce children to STEM concepts at a very early age. Once we get them engaged, it’s easier for them to transition into engineering jobs. If you look at Arizona STEM reports, in the next five years half a million jobs in Arizona come up that need STEM skill sets.”
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