This is a story about
kids pushing through failure to achieve phenomenal success. And also robots.
In the rural town of Nuiqsut, Alaska — accessible year-round via
air travel — seven middle school students took on the ultimate engineering
challenge: Design, build and program a robot capable of executing a series of
As members of the FIRST Lego League, the students would then put
their problem solving skills to the test in the worldwide 2013 Nature's Fury Lego Robotics
challenge. It was the first time either
students or teacher had ever worked with robotics.
"The main goal of Lego Robotics is to build collaboration among students through
problem solving," said Kelly Schnittker, a
middle school teacher at Nuiqsut Trapper School. "The students are given a set
of instructions on the computer to build the parts of the Lego board — this is
where engineering comes in. Students follow schematics and pick out the
parts needed to build a variety of items. This takes about
"The science inquiry comes in when students are given a list of
tasks (22-30) that need to be completed on the game board. As a team, students
design a robot to perform the tasks and then program the
robot using the Lego Robotics
Here's what they learned on their
Anything worth building is worth building more than once.
"There is a great deal of trial and error during this process, and
students can become very frustrated," Schnittker said. "The robot goes through
multiple design changes and reprogramming, which really helps students learn how
to communicate and support their suggestions."
Sometimes help comes from unexpected places.
"What was wonderful was when we went to the practice session before
the competition, another experienced team came by and showed us how to measure
the diameter of the wheel in centimeters and divide by 100 to find out how many
degrees our wheel moves in," she said.
"Then we measured in centimeters where we wanted it to go and then
multiplied that by the number we got for our wheel. We became very accurate in
programming our robot."
Things are never as bad as they seem.
"Throughout the project, the students wanted to quit and give up.
Attitudes became negative but they stuck it out," Schnittker said. "The
team was feeling even more discouraged after arriving at the competition and
seeing how well the other teams were doing.
"When it came time to run our robot on the board, the team felt
like we were not prepared and would not score any points. Boy, were they
surprised when we scored just over 40 points. The smiles came out, and
"They ran back to the practice room to work on squeezing in a few
more programs for the next round. We scored more points on the second round and
the kids were elated. I was so proud."
Although the students didn't win in any particular category, the
judges gave them a "Rising Star" award for performing well as a first-time
"When our name was called I had to tell them repeatedly to go up
because they could not believe it," Schnittker said. "The most valuable lesson
my students learned was how to work through frustration and discouragement and
celebrate each success along the way. Now they can't wait to start it again
Want to learn more ways to incorporate STEM skills
into your lessons? Check out ISTE's STEM