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Anyone who says LEGO bricks are just a toy, clearly hasn’t met Kim Baldwin.
Baldwin, a new speech therapist at Heath Springs Elementary School, has organized a LEGO robotics team to teach young people the properties of engineering, as well as develop a newfound respect for the classic toy.
The team consists of seven boys, all in the fifth grade, who were chosen last year by their teachers and guidance counselors to participate in the program.
“We have high expectations for the students. If they go to the principal’s office once, they’re out,” Baldwin said.
“They’re good students. These are the kind of kids where I can walk out of the room and trust them.”
The team is a part of a national group known as FIRST LEGO League. FLL has an annual initiative and a set of core values which promote the vital skills of teamwork, communication and responsibility.
“This year’s focus is Senior Solutions,” Baldwin said. “In modern society, people are living longer, so seniors are getting older.”
The program teaches children how robots can help seniors do activities like bowling, reaching items, exercising and quilting.
Before coming to HES, Baldwin was a science lab manager at Jackson Elementary School in Kershaw County, where she coached a FLL team for seven years.
The LEGO robotics team uses computers to download programs to LEGO mechanisms, which behave and operate like robots.
“Robots think differently than humans. We have to think outside of being human and think like a robot,” Baldwin told her students when they reached a bump in programming the robot to bowl.
Since their creation in 1949, fanatics of LEGO have pushed the toy to the limits through robotics and architecture – famously through the Legoland theme parks and more recently in a successful 2009 venture in England by BBC’s James May, who constructed a full-scale, two-story home of LEGO.
The connection that the robotics program has to the colorful, little bricks helped to get the students interested in robotics and engineering.
“I was interested in LEGO and building robots when I was younger,” said team member Noah Tammen. “My brother is an engineer, so that also made me interested.”
LEGO robotics teams are popping up all over the nation, and Baldwin says the skills the teams teach are important.
“Robotics are important. Today, people are no longer building cars by hand. They’re programming robots to build cars,” Baldwin said. “It’s good if they’re interested to develop those skills.”
The team meets officially on Wednesdays from 2 to 3 p.m., though some kids come in on Wednesday mornings to work and practice.
They recently travelled to York Technical College to participate in a FLL kickoff, where the team was able to meet up with similar groups from S.C. schools.
The LEGO robotics team will face their first competition, regionals, in mid-December.
“The competition focuses on a variety of things. The actual programming is just one-third of it,” Baldwin said.The other two-thirds includes a project on senior living and how well the team works together and communicates.
“What we discover along the way is more important than winning,” Baldwin said.
For information about FIRST LEGO Leagues visit their website at www.firstlegoleague.org.