Dr. Richard Cassady Teams With Elementary School to Build Lego Robots
Dr. Richard Cassady, industrial engineering professor in the College of Engineering at the University of Arkansas, formed a FIRST Lego League team at Bernice Young Elementary School in Springdale. The “YOUNGlings” team is made up of one third grader, four fourth graders (one is Cassady’s son) and two fifth graders.
FIRST Lego League is an international program that aims to get students excited about science and technology. FIRST, an acronym of “For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology,” teamed up with the Lego company to create the league program. Participants work alongside adult mentors to design, build and program robots to perform tasks and exercises.
“The students build the robot using Lego parts,” Cassady said, “and they program it to be autonomous using the Lego Mindstorms NXT software. The robot is designed to perform a series of missions specified by FIRST Lego League.”
FIRST Lego League organizes statewide, national and international competitions where the students and their robots are put to the test. In addition to building robots, the teams are expected to conduct a research project in an area of global importance and prepare a five-minute presentation on their identified problem and solution.
“This year’s theme was food safety and security. Our team studied honey and learned about how scientists might be able to alter bee DNA to prevent contamination,” Cassady said. “They developed a five-minute news broadcast on what they learned.”
The YOUNGlings completed their first league competition season with positive results. Out of 30 teams in the state, their robot was deemed the third-best at the Arkansas FIRST Lego League Championship. They also earned the Champion’s Award as the best overall team, and Cassady took home the Coach of the Year Award. The YOUNGlings’ performance at the Arkansas event earned them an invitation to the FIRST Lego League World Invitational Open in Lakeland, Fla.
From May 3-6, the YOUNGlings took their robot and newscast to the Robots in Paradise international championship, where they competed against nearly 65 other teams from around the globe. Their robot placed in the top-25 at the event and the judges presented the YOUNGlings with the Rising Star Award, given to a new, young team that shows great promise for the future.
“Most of the teams in Florida had kids that were closer to the upper age limit, 14 years old,” Cassady said. “Some of the other coaches and teams had more than five years of experience working together. We are especially proud of the award we received.”
The YOUNGlings have already registered for the 2012-2013 competition season. Rachel Hickman, second grade teacher at Bernice Young Elementary School and University of Arkansas alumna, is co-coach of the team. For photos and a video of the robot in action, visit the YOUNGlings Facebook page.