LEGO, the Danish company best known for encouraging children to build 6,000-piece plastic replicas of the Taj Mahal, puts on an annual First LEGO League Challenge for 9- to 16-year-olds. More than 20,000 kids from 61 countries solve a specific problem through engineering and teamwork, with the guidance of an adult mentor. Mentors work with the kids once a week for the approximately eight weeks it takes to complete a project.
The 2012 Challenge is “Senior Solutions,” which asks contestants to fix a problem related to getting older. LEGO asks if League teams can “improve the quality of life for seniors by helping them continue to be independent, engaged, and connected in their communities?”
The FLL began as an alliance between FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology)—a group started by Segway inventor and entrepreneur Dean Kamen to foster an early love of science and technology—and LEGO, which was interested in kids developing employment and life skills. The League is a robotics program in which teams of up to 10 kids build an autonomous robot out of a LEGO robot set, score points in a board game played with the robot, and create an innovative solution to a problem (i.e., Senior Solutions) as part of their overall project.
The annual Challenge is complex, governed by pages of rules and almost as many rubrics for judging winners—many based on whether or not teams adhered to FLL League Core Values of teamwork and friendly competition, adequate sourcing of information, problem study and analysis, and a clear, engaging explanation of their solution. Teams must present their solutions in a creative, enticing way at a LEGO tournament, for example, through rap, a video, a website, a skit, etc.
Challenge winners receive a trophy and congratulations but, more importantly, some collaborate with companies to implement their projects in real life, whether they win or not (a 2011 Challenge team began working on a product with Lands’ End before they had even reached the state championship).
L.A. Kids Take Up the Challenge
Laura Trejo, general manager of the City of Los Angeles Department of Aging, recently watched a team of 11- and 12-year-olds in action, working on a project that focused on jobs, social isolation and engagement.
“Their idea is to develop a Web-based matching site where seniors can be paired with others based on a similar interest,” says Trejo. For example, an older adult who likes dogs might be set up with another elder no longer able to walk their dog, and from that encounter a new dog-walking enterprise might be born.
Specific to the Senior Solutions challenge, team members are required to seek out an older adult—a relative, neighbor, someone at a local assisted living center—get to know them, their history, lifestyle and life challenges as they age, and then come up with a potential solution to solve those issues.
“My hope is to get the aging network to see how these youngsters are responding to these difficult issues confronting seniors,” says Trejo, who admits to being “blown away” by the team’s level of engagement.
We are always asking, ‘Where will the future gerontologists come from?’—I’m hoping from some of these kids.”
Photo courtesy of LEGO
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