FORT WALTON BEACH — Thanks to local partnerships, students across the Panhandle are doing the robot.
Defense Werx (formally the Doolittle Institute) recently worked with the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics to write a grant to provide funding for local First Lego League (FLL) and First Lego League Jr. in Title I schools in Northwest Florida.
“We surveyed teachers across the Panhandle and asked them, ‘If you could put robotics in your classroom what resources would you need?’ ” said Rick Soria, affiliate partner with First Lego League Jr. “The answers were predictable. They needed materials, money for training and money for substitutes so they could train.”
Defense Werx received one of 15 grants nationwide for $50,000 to help establish First Lego Leagues for elementary and middle school students. The First Lego League Jr. is for students in kindergarten to fourth grade and First Lego League is for students through eighth grade. The goal of the grant is to get FLL into Title I schools, which are schools with high numbers or high percentages of children from low-income families.
“Schools have been signing up like gangbusters,” Soria said. “We just set up teams in DeFuniak Springs and Crestview.”
Guided by adult coaches, First Lego Leagues teach students to work on real-world problems such as food safety, recycling or energy, and challenges them to work on a solution using Lego Mindstorms technology. Students then showcase their work on a local and national level. On Dec. 2, local FLL teams will demonstrate their skills at the First Lego League Expo at Santa Rosa Mall. Fort Walton Beach Mayor Dick Rynearson, Lockwood Wernet, general manager of Destin Water Users and David Lambert, chief scientist at the Air Force Research Lab, are among the invited guests.
With the grant, classrooms will receive FLL kits along with teacher training and laptops, if needed.
Soria said he is a fan of the FLL model because it teaches children science and math and uses the lessons for real-world applications. As a former aerospace instructor at Choctawhatchee High School and after 24 years in the Air Force, Soria knows the importance of encouraging interest in STEM.
“We are living in a technology age,” he said. “We want to help the next generation get excited about the 1.2 million STEM jobs out there.”
Soria said he wants to invite professionals from the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) fields into classrooms to become mentors for students. But anyone can help FLL by volunteering their time and money to expand the Northwest Florida FLL reach.
“I want to encourage kids take on more rigorous subjects,” he said. “How do we know one of these students isn’t the next genius?”
To learn more about FLL and to donate, visit fllnwf.org.