James Madison University

JMU Professors and Students Reach Out at the Fifth Annual Lego League

By: Hannah Austin
Posted: January 29, 2013

PHOTO: Student at competitionOn 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.

PHOTO: Students use computer “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.

View more photos from the event


  • Open Position
    Assistant Professor, Computer Science
  • September 19
    John Banghart, Director for Federal Cybersecurity will give a brief overview of his work and the general landscape of cybersecurity across government and the nation.
    12 noon
    ISAT/CS 259
  • September 19-20
    Capital One Hack-a-Thon
    ICE House
  • September 23
    Graduate and Professional School Fair
    4:00 – 7:00 p.m.
    Festival Ballroom
  • September 24
    ACM Tech talk "Enterprise Architecture: Bringing Order to the Modern IT Organization"
    by John Bernero, JMU CS graduate 1984
    5:30 p.m.
    ISAT/CS 259
  • September 29-30
    Fall Career and Internship Fair
    11:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.
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  • October 8-10
    Grace Hopper Conference
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  • October 10-12
    Family Weekend
  • October 15
    First Annual Computer Science Career Fair
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  • November 1
  • November 8
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    3:00 – 8:00 p.m.
  • December 8-15
    CS Education Week
  • Fall 2014 Course Schedule

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PHOTO:Sharon Simmons

The Computer Science department strives to be an intellectual community that continually explores the broad field of computing, applies this knowledge to solve problems in a variety of domains, and engages with the profession and society at large. More >