On February 22nd and 23rd, SCIS Pudong opened its doors to the first ever FIRST LEGO League (FFL) Robotics tournament hosted at SCIS. Over the course of two days, the campus welcomed over 175 students from 16 different international schools throughout eastern China to come and compete. Barry Johnson, Technology Coordinator at SCIS Pudong, played an integral part in the organizing committee and ensuring that the inaugural tournament ran smoothly. He shares his comments on how the learning event unfolded.


What is the FFL Robotics Tournament all about?

This year, the Association of China and Mongolia International Schools (ACAMIS) became the sponsor for what was formerly known as FLL or FIRST LEGO League. FIRST LEGO League (FLL) is an international competition organized by FIRST, for elementary and middle school students which introduces a scientific and real-world challenge for teams to focus and research on. FLL events have taken place in Shanghai for about 10 years, and this is our, 2nd-year SCIS Pudong has participated.


FIRST LEGO League gives teams the chance to research a real-world challenge, then innovate and develop their own solution through designing, building, and coding LEGO® MINDSTORMS® robots to perform autonomous “missions” on a playing field. The event itself is an amazing environment of competition, camaraderie, and excitement. If you haven’t experienced an event like this before, you should come to witness it next year as SCIS Pudong has been asked to again host the championship tournament!


What are the robots made out of and why?

The teams are required to build and program an autonomous (no remote control) LEGO MINDSTORMS robot that can perform theme-based “mission” tasks on a table-top playing field. The missions require the robot to navigate, capture, transport or deliver objects. The more missions completed; the more points teams earn. Since the FLL is associated with LEGO, all teams must create their robots using the LEGO kits.


How much preparation went into this tournament?

I’m not going to lie, there was a lot of preparation necessary to be able to pull off this tournament.  Between my previous tournament experience and the help of other robotics coaches in Shanghai, much of what I needed to prepare for was understood. The largest chunk of my time was spent working closely with our MYP Design students. With permission from Chris Willauer, our MYP Design teacher, I enlisted the help of our grade 9 and 10 students to design and create most of the digital materials for the tournament. What started off as a small list of items, like welcome and direction signs, grew considerably to roughly 500 digital print items for the event! Trophy and medals were also designed for the winning teams. Much of the other tournament preparation amounted to delegating and coordinating with other departments here at SCIS – cafeteria, transportation, facilities, procurement, and finance.


Do the tournaments follow a specific theme each year?

Each year, the FLL challenge themes are related to current developments in research and society. This year, the theme was “Into Orbit” where students answered questions on how we can improve living and traveling through space. Our two robotics teams here at SCIS Pudong explored issues like nuclear fission for deep space travel, recycling water in space, and designing and building living structures on the moon.


What would you say were the main learning takeaways?

Throughout the FLL season, students will encounter many opportunities to work on teamwork, research, problem-solving, programming, public speaking, and presentation. This breadth of learning is what I like most about the FLL program. It is more than just programming and LEGOS!


Looking ahead, what is your take on the role of robotics and its importance in the future of technology?

As we witness the growth of the fourth industrial revolution, I feel that robotics, specifically the FIRST LEGO League program, is one way for us as educators to provide our students an engaging platform that can help them develop complex thinking skills. Designing and programming a robot to solve missions provides students with a fun way to build competencies around computer programming and robotics while exercising their logical and analytical reasoning skills. The fast-paced, iterative design process requires students to try, fail, and try again, using the immediate feedback they receive after they run their code to help them reach their desired solution.

This year at SCIS, I was also able to bring the FLL into our lower school as an afterschool activity. Seeing the influence robotics has in areas like student perseverance, creativity and innovation was exciting, even at this young age. Next year my goal is to provide our high school students a similar program, where they design and build robots.  I feel it is important for them to understand how to engage with the technological advances they will encounter and learn how to adapt to them.