By Amjad-Ali Khoja
For the Fort Bend Star
Technology and collaboration are the two key skills girls would need in the future to succeed regardless of the career they pick.
There is no lack of statistics that proves that we need more girls in technology or broadly speaking, in STEM. Collaboration will help them build networks and there is always strength in numbers. So when an opportunity came along to be a robotics coach for five super smart third grader Girl Scouts, I couldn’t resist. I knew this would give them a perfect opportunity to learn both technology and collaboration.
Serena, Sheridyn, Sahar, Tegan, and Nia were the Girl Scouts I had the honor of coaching robotics to for 11 weeks. We followed First Lego League Junior (FLL Jr.) curriculum, which gave us a clear direction and structure. One thing about FLL Jr. that stood out for me was its core values, especially gracious professionalism, which is to be helpful, kind, and show respect when we work, play, and share.
FLL Jr.’s challenge for 2017 was called Aqua Adventure and it consisted of four phases modeled after a typical engineering design process: Explore, create, test, and share. The girls had to agree on a team name by the end of the second session. This was the first time all five girls had to collaborate and build consensus, and it took some effort. There were some sad faces, tears, some frustrations and those who tried to find a middle ground. The girls picked Dolphin Dalmatians and we moved on to the explore phase.
In the explore phase, the girls learned about different sources and uses of water. For example, we learned about PlayPump invented by a water engineer in 1989 in South Africa, which are still in use today. It uses a merry-go-round to pump water from under the ground. It creatively fulfilled two community needs simultaneously. The PlayPump not only gave a playground to the children, but also water to the whole community without having to walk long distances to lakes or rivers. This is a perfect example of a simple idea with a huge positive impact. The girls selected firefighting as their water use because it saves lives and that concluded the explore phase.
Create and test phases were kicked off simultaneously by building and testing the Aqua Adventure Inspire Model, which was a Lego water pump. The expected outcome of these phases was to design, create and test our own team model around the Inspire Model (water pump). Initially, we used a WeDo 2.0 program to automate the water pump to drop Lego water drops into a water tanker.
The girls decided to improve their team model by using the WeDo 2.0 program for the water tanker instead. They programmed the water tanker to move back and forth between the water pump and the residential area using a motion sensor as many times as needed. Every girl tested the team model, which concluded both create and test phases.
The Share phase was the last phase of the 11-week journey. The expected outcome of the phase was to create a Show Me poster about their experience with Aqua Adventure challenge. Topics for the poster were assigned through a random draw. Additionally, each girl did a short write-up on their favorite part of working on the Aqua Adventure challenge and one thing they learned from this experience. In the last session, the girls put all their individual inputs together to complete the Show Me poster.
The girls were invited to participate in a FLL Jr. expo at Houston’s Children Museum along with eight other teams. This expo was hosted by Kids Robotic Foundation and sponsored by Kids Robotics Academy. They presented their team model and poster during the expo and earned an “Above and Beyond” award for learning more than expected by the judges.