Lego League competition: township pre-teens plan a hospital

Lego League
The JumpCo robotics and coding lab, hosted at Tamaho Primary, took place in the annual First Lego League competition.

Saturday morning and school shoes? Tick! Red T-shirt and jeans? Tick! Brightly coloured LEGO kits and a fancy bus? Tick!

So it started, with 40 future JumpStart scientists and engineers getting ready, set, go.... They headed to UNISA with great excitement for the FIRST LEGO League Challenge. Last year, the JumpStart Robotics team merely observed the 2018 National FLL Robotics competition. This year, they arrived in Pretoria, with serious work to do.

Future scientists and engineers at work

Inside their backpacks they had folded their scheme for a brand new, spanking new hospital. So too, the architectural drawings alongside their LEGO Mindstorms EV3 Core kits. Child's play certainly looks different these days... The competition against Johannesburg’s elite private schools was a little daunting, but these township learners took it in their stride. Project Manager, Daniella Lekgau, supervises and coordinates The JumpStart Foundation Robotics lab. She ensures that the fifth and sixth graders who travel in from nine different primary schools have a great time while learning. Participants are the top mathematics performers from the following primary schools: Tamaho, Monde, Mogobeng, Reahile, Izibuko, uKhanyiso, Intokozo, Sekgutlong and Kumalo.

Nanotechnology, climate change, disability awareness

She explained the exercise: “The challenge arrived just two weeks before the contest date. All the participants receive the rules at the same time. Each team must programme an autonomous robot that will complete a series of missions. Points are scored as they develop a solution to a community problem. The rules encourage teamwork, inclusivity, discovery, innovation, and impact. Most of all, fun must feature.”

The challenges are designed around topics like nanotechnology, climate change, and quality of life for people with disabilities. Another beautiful aspect of this contest is the exposure to interesting and different career paths. While playing the game, teamwork grows and consolidates STEM skills. She said, “The children took the initiative and identified a problem their community faced. When a dolomitic sinkhole formed beneath the Natalspruit Hospital, the community had to travel a long way to the hospital. They identified a small plot and came up with a plan for a five-story hospital. They dreamed of providing a top class health service for the people of Katlehong.”

Teamwork and communication skills 

Time was a factor! Tension ran high. The kits arrived in the very last week of term, just in time. They all made a special effort to attend the extra sessions, which were the highlight of their holiday. “First, they formulated the costing of the wards' square meterage. Then they looked at how many departments were required, and personnel and equipment needs. A friendly architect helped them draw up plans and a budget of R1,2 bn. This was based on the cost of similar clinics.”

“Participating in the contest has terrific scientific and social benefits,” said Lekgau, "As they build the robots, they're building good life skills. Some children were anxious about talking in English. Others felt unsure about talking to white people. Our CEO, Stephen Mahony, and General Manager, Callen Hodgskiss, stepped in as a trial audience. Their confidence grew, and they were well prepared for the judges." Lekgau watched the process with delight. "Their collective creativity grew as they pooled their resources. Shoulder to shoulder, they created solutions for a stronger, more sustainable future. This teaches them that a future built together is a future that is built better.”

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