JMU Professors and Students Reach Out at the Fifth Annual Lego League
By: Hannah Austin
Posted: January 29, 2013
On Saturday December 8th and 9th, Memorial Hall filled over 800 kids, parents, and volunteers eager to take part in the fifth annual regional championship of the FIRST LEGO League. The 96 teams of kids ages 9 to 14 from the Virginia – DC area competed in various robotic challenges, combining skills of math, science, technology, and engineering. JMU professors and students hosted workshops over the weekend that highlighted these same abilities, leading the kids in activities such as building wind turbines, experimenting with weight and flotation, and constructing catapults out of Legos and rubber bands.
While all activities focused on aspects of engineering, two Computer Science professors, Nancy Harris and Chris Mayfield, led unique workshops that applied similar ideas to a digital format. Using the learning environments Scratch and Alice, the professors and assisting students led groups of 15 to 20 kids in creating their own animations, stories, and games by using various media such as graphics, color, and sound. Both programs teach the building blocks to computational thinking by including programming language, decision making, and sequencing, and both are available for free download online. Scratch is best for younger users, as it is based in a 2-D format with freedom of multimedia imagination, while Alice is 3-D, more complex graphically, and involves following a storyline that the user writes.
“Both programs are great examples of what kids can do,” said Mayfield. “There are online communities where they can upload what they have created and share it with other kids worldwide. We use both Alice and Scratch with freshmen entering the Computer Science major to teach many concepts that translate directly into computer programming.” Through participation in these types of events, both parents and teachers hope to inspire further interest in the fields of science, engineering, and technology, equipping the next generation with skill sets needed to innovate in an increasingly digital world.
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