By Clay Schuldt
Caledonia Schools offer a wealth of extracurricular activities in areas of athletics, music and academic clubs. Now, over a decade into the 21st Century, the school plans to start a new group for students with an eye toward the future.
This year, through the assistance of Community Education, the School District has registered two teams in the Junior FIRST Lego League (Jr.FLL).
This program is designed to introduce the youngest children to the world of science and technology. Partnering with the popular building block company, children six to nine years old compete with other teams across the state to design and construct models using Lego bricks and motorized moving parts. This program was started by the FIRST organization (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) and is a relatively new nationwide program with only a few clubs in the State of Minnesota.
While Jr.FLL technically falls under the category of science, it also has elements of engineering and mechanics involved. Each year students in the league work on a themed project. This year’s theme is “Disaster Blaster.” Students will explore natural disasters in-depth and research what it takes to prepare for, respond to or recover from a disaster all while learning about simple machines as they build a model made out of Legos.
Community Education Director Nancy Runningen admits it is a unique team organization for Caledonia and to help it grow the district is starting small. “We wanted this to build so started young to build the foundation,” Runningen said.
The FIRST organization has three other leagues for older students as well: FIRST Lego League, FIRST Tech Challenges and FIRST Robotic Competition. The hope is the junior program gains momentum to allow the school to offer the higher level leagues as time progresses.
The idea to bring the FIRST Lego Leagues to Caledonia started with Superintendent Ben Barton. Barton had previously worked at the La Crescent School District, which has been involved in the Lego Leagues for several years. Barton suggested the program might work well in Caledonia.
“Many parents have expressed interest in the program,” Runningen said.
Parents have attested to their child’s love of Legos and other building toys, which makes the Lego League a perfect fit for some young students.
There is a fee attached to the club, but Runningen assured that no student would be turned away for the inability to pay, which was one of the benefits of running the program through Community Education.
In Junior Lego League parent involvement is necessary. Community Education is looking for adult volunteers to fill the role of coaches and mentors who will help direct the young robotic students. Although past coaches for Lego League teams tend to have a background in science or engineering, the only real requirement for mentors/coaches is an interest in the subject.
A preliminary meeting with parents was held Oct. 7, while the first team meetings will be Oct. 14. Those interesting in joining or assisting with the club should contact Community Education.
As of now, enough students and parents have shown interest for Caledonia to support two teams, though Runningen said, “If we have to add more teams for those interest we will do that.”