First LEGO League Competition Fills the House!

The 2012 competition table.

The 2012 competition table.

The First Lego League Competition at the Augusta Civic Center on Saturday was AMAZING. Five hundred and forty students (66 teams from 42 towns) competed all day in an event that challenges their communication skills, programming ability and teamwork to address challenges and demonstrate their understanding of issues facing the senior members of their communities with over1200 spectators watching.

Maine Robotics Executive Director, Tom Bickford and his wife Gail Bickford coordinate the event and provide support for coaches and summer camps for students.  The 2012 First Lego League Competition is sponsored by Time Warner Cable, Fairchild Semiconductor, the Maine School of Science and Mathematics and the University of Maine School of Engineering. With play by play support from the energetic master of ceremonies Eric Eckhardt, an engineer at Ratheon Corporation, the positive energy at the Civic Center during the First Lego League Competition rivaled any sporting event!

Events like First Lego League are generating a whole new generation of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) career professionals.  Many of this year’s judges and referees are young engineering/computer professionals who participated in robotics programs or current high school students engaged in VEX and FIRST programs.  They are eager to help motivate and encourage the 9-13-year-olds to pursue STEM pathways.

In addition to the participation in First Lego League parents and guardians can support STEM interests in a variety of ways.  The following is only a partial list of programs and actions that support STEM learning in Maine.

At the elementary level:  Students might participate in Oddessy of the Mind, 4-H programming, Maine Audubon programming, Ferry Beach Ecology Center, Bryant Pond,and Maine Museum programming like Bug-mainea. Parents and community members can and should advocate for strong elementary Science programs in their schools

At the middle level: Students might participate in the Girls in Engineering at U Maine (GEM), Math League Competitions, competitions like eCybermissions (National Science Teachers Association), local science fairs and citizen science programs like Vital Signs through the Gulf of Maine Research Institute. Parents and students should be aware of the Reach Center, launched a year ago through a $3.2 Million private donation, is committed to supporting promising STEM youth in grades 5-12.  There website includes a great repository of STEM related opportunities.

At the high school level – Students might participate in First Robotics,U Maine Windblade Competition, or VEX as well Science Olympiad, and can apply for STEM internships and exploratory programs through the National Youth Science Camp, the MERITS program, U Maine Summer Engineering Program for HS Juniors, Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory summer Internships, and Jackson Laboratory summer Internships, opportunities through Educate Maine’s Computer Science/Information Technology/Computer Engineering Initiative. Specialized STEM programs exist or are in development at the Maine School of Science and Mathematics, the Maine School of Natural Sciences, Bangor High School, Falmouth High School, and the Baxter STEM Academy. The University of Southern Maine offers scholarships in their STEM focused Pioneers program and the University of Maine offers merit-based scholarships to attend the University of Maine Engineering program.

SO many opportunities to grow STEM learning.

Tom and Gail Bickford

Tom and Gail Bickford

Laurette Darling and her first year team from Albert S. Hall School, Waterville

Laurette Darling and her first year team from Albert S. Hall School, Waterville.

School students volunteering at the First Robotics event.

Messalonskee High School students volunteering at the First Robotics event.

Sam Blunda, Amanda Blunda and Andy Davidson, teachers supporting First Robotics teams.

Sam Blunda, Amanda Blunda and Andy Davidson, teachers supporting First Robotics teams.

Eric Eckhardt, master of ceremonies.

Eric Eckhardt, master of ceremonies.

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