Lego robot contest teaches technology, science, and much more

Text: Kreetta Haaslahti, Photos: Julia Hannula

It is quiet outside Sataedu Ulvila Vocational College on a Thursday in January, but when you step inside, the mood changes completely. You see children with cheeks glowing red with excitement everywhere in the hallways, and you can catch groovy music coming from the sports hall. We have stepped into the middle of a robot and science fair for children and adolescents, and the air is thick with joy of learning and zest of doing.

The FIRST LEGO League, FLL is a teaching support method with the purpose of promoting interest of children and adolescents, 9–16 years of age, in science and technology. The programme was founded by the US-based FIRST Foundation in 1998 and, by now, over 250,000 children and adolescents participate globally. The theme of season 2016–2017 was Animal Allies, with focus on exploring the interaction between humans and animals. In Finland, the FLL contest activities are organised by the non-profit Robotiikka- ja tiedekasvatus ry (ie. Robotics and science education) organisation.

“We learned how to get this to work on the first try!”

This was the first time that the regional contest came to Satakunta. Teams from Ulvila, Harjavalta, Kokemäki and Eurajoki and one team with students from several schools entered the contest. The first impression was that the goal of the programme had been achieved: the target group was full of enthusiasm.
“Eeva-Liisa, we learned how to get this to work on the first try!” Onni Suuronen exclaims to his teacher from the side of the Lego robot contest baseplate.

Team Jekut © Julia Hannula

Team Jekut is controlling its robot on the contest baseplate. Pictured are team members Benjamin Laitinen (left), Elisabeth Rasmus, Emilia Palomäki, Onni Suuronen, Vihtori Raivio and Jonne Grönlund.

Onni is one of the members of Team Jekut from Year Three in Vanhakylä School in the town of Ulvila. The team has worked together once a week since late October and used one whole Saturday to prepare their own robot and science project, which were represented at the fair in January.
“First, we learned how to follow instructions,” their teacher, Eeva-Liisa Kallinen-Alenius tells us.

Legorobotti © Julia HannulaKilpailualusta © Julia Hannula


The Lego robot (top picture) had to achieve several tasks that had been predetermined, on the contest base (bottom picture). 


A lot of work, a lot of fun!

A total of 20 pupils selected coding as an optional school subject at the Vanhakylä School, and they were divided into two teams. The lessons included making dog-ear hats, robot building, coding, and much more.
“We have used graphic design software for coding at the school before, but the Lego contest introduced a bigger challenge and tangible tools for us,” explains Ms Kallinen-Alenius, who coached one of the school’s teams.

She praises the children for their hard work in the classroom. But she also points out that the children have had an enormous zest for doing and learning the whole time.
“Do we have to go home now?” asked one of the children after the first class. They were always excited to work on the robot and concentrated on the codes so hard that their cheeks were blushing,” Ms Kallinen-Alenius describes, with a smile on her face.

Eeva-Liisa Kallinen-Alenius © Julia Hannula

“This subject has required unique research and discovery from the teacher, too. It has broadened my own understanding of coding and the enthusiasm has been infectious,” Eeva-Liisa Kallinen-Alenius outlines.

Jekku the Robot to help a dog with its alone-time

In addition to the construction of a Lego robot and learning coding, the subject included a science project. This time, the project theme was human-animal interaction and any relevant problems.
“Our team picked, based on a team discussion, the alone-time of a dog as their topic. The team searched for information online and from books and by interviewing a veterinary nurse. Based on the information they had collected, the children developed Jekku, a robot who helps to resolve the challenges related to a dog’s alone-time,” Ms Kallinen-Alenius explains.

As a part of the contest assessment, the Jury reviewed the science project completed by each team, the mechanical construction of the robot, the coding and the design project and how the core values of FLL – respect for others, discovering new things, sharing and understanding information and having fun – are reflected in the work of the team. Furthermore, the skills of the robots were assessed in a robot game.

“We really know how to work as a team!”

Team Jekut demonstrated the research project in a lively manner as a team to the three members of the Jury. The demonstration kicked off with their team choir singing their own lyrics to a song “Oh take a look at Jekku, the dog”. After the song, the team members explained their philosophy, including slogans like “Win or lose, it doesn’t matter, having fun is much better” and “Together we will come up with a solution”. The Jury was impressed by the features of Jekku the Dog, but they also showed interest in the other strengths of the team.
“We really know how to work as a team,” was the unanimous reply by the Year Three students.

Team Jekut tiedeprojektin esittelyssä © Julia Hannula


Team Jekku did a great job in presenting their science project. Pictured: Janne Grönlund, Onni Suuronen and Venla Marjamäki.

The children were happy with their representation afterwards and had nothing but praise for the subject. One of the team members said that, at first, she was a little apprehensive, but noticed after the first class how much fun it was.
“Discovering information and constructing was fun,” Venla Marjamäki specified.
“And coding,” Benjamin Laitinen added.

Impressive skills at a national level

After the Satakunta regional contest, the main prize was awarded to the team with the most uniform quality of performance in all of the contest categories. The categories were the robot game, values, science project and robot design. The main prize was granted to the team Walley 2.0. The performance of the team was praised for being top quality in all categories. The whole team was equally involved in the activities even though the team had members of different ages from several schools across the region, which was also acknowledged by the Jury.

Awarded best in the robot game was team Eagle Camp, from Vanhakylä School in Ulvila, and the best core values were demonstrated by Team Panda from the same school. First place in the best science project category went to Hamsukingit from Harjavalta Primary School and in the robot design category to Team Ruubertti Robortti from Kokemäki School.

All of the winning teams of the regional contest, except Team Panda, continued to the Finnish Championships of the robot and science fair, organised in Helsinki in early March.
“The teams from Satakunta were clearly superior to the others, especially in the robot game category. Team Ruubertti Robortti from Kokemäki was given the best points from the robot game and coding in the Finnish Championships. And Eagle Camp from Ulvila achieved the highest score in the mechanical engineering of a robot category,” praises Mikko Puputti from Prizztech.

Mikko Puputti © Julia Hannula

Mikko Puputti from Prizztech also noticed how contagious the joy and zeal of learning of the children and adolescents was at the FLL regional contest in Ulvila in January.

To be continued

Leader Karhuseutu has granted funding to Prizztech for the organisation of FLL’s robot and science fairs and establishment of the LEGO robot activities in the Pori region. Cimcorp Ltd, the City of Ulvila, Sataedu (the Educational Federation of Satakunta), the Satakunta University of Applied Sciences and Pizztech Ltd offer their contribution to help the schools take part in the robot and science fairs by FLL.
“Organising these robot and science fairs is a part of the activities of the Robocoast competency cluster*,” Puputti explains.

The goal is to organise the 2018 Finnish Championships in Satakunta, the Robot Coast of Finland.
“In addition to Helsinki, regional contests took place only in Ulvila, Oulu and Joensuu this year. The maximum number of teams admitted to the Satakunta contest was 25, and the places were filled instantly,” explains Prizztech’s Mikko Puputti, who is happy with the excellent reception of the event.

“Next year, the national championship tournament will also be organised in Satakunta.”

Learning from the experiences of the first contest year, there will be limitations introduced in the registration, so that only one team from each school can enter the regional contest. This means that there will be a wider representation of schools across the region.
“In 2018, the theme of the contest will be Hydrodynamics, i.e. the flow of water, and Satakunta University of Applied Sciences will host the Finnish national championships,” says Puputti, bursting with enthusiasm.

* Robocoast is a network of businesses that belong to the automation industry’s competency cluster in Satakunta. Coordinators and inviters of the network include the regional business-development company Prizztech and the Satakunta University of Applied Sciences.