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Robots Teach Valuable Lesson about Failure to Students

May 30, 2024

A program initially started in upstate New York has made its way to Berks County. At the Sinking Spring Public Library, the First Lego League Robotics Club came to life thanks to Randi Zaborowski, the library’s Youth Services Coordinator, and Heather Delity, a STEM teacher at Southwest Middle School in the Reading School District. Coach Delity led many teams prior to facilitating this program at the Sinking Spring Public Library. The program teaches students science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) basics, as well as teamwork. Participants will apply what they learn during regional robot competitions and ultimately strive to earn an invitation to the Lego World Championship.   

First Lego League is designed to inspire youth to experiment and grow their critical thinking, coding, and design skills through hands-on STEM learning and robotics. Participants gain real-world problem-solving experience through a guided, global robotics program.   

At Sinking Spring Public Library, students in fourth through eighth grade met three Saturdays per month to build robotics designed to overcome a specific set of obstacles and challenges in competition. Students learned how to code their programs, build robots, and work together to present their creations.   

“The Sinking Spring Public Library (SSPL) is proud to offer the first program of its kind in Berks, welcoming students from across the county, not just SSPL patrons,” said Randi Zaborowski, Youth Services Coordinator. “This innovative initiative opens new doors for learning and community engagement, setting a precedent for inclusive educational opportunities.” 

All the robotics come in a bag in tiny pieces. It’s up to the students, with the supervision and encouragement of a coach, to build each model from scratch. Students also write the coding on a computer and save it to an external “brain” attached to the robots to feed them directions and commands. The robots are programmed to complete a series of challenges. The team earns points for successfully completing these challenges. The highest score a team can achieve is 500, but the focus isn’t just on the competition score.  

Emphasis is placed on real-time problem solving, working together to find solutions, making unplanned adjustments, sharing ideas, and celebrating students’ hard work. And yet, sometimes, there is failure in the hard work.   

Throughout the different rounds of the competition, students reflected on the importance of failing instead of becoming upset. “It’s important to fail because it gives you a chance to fix your mistake. It’s okay to make mistakes,” student participant Ethan B. from Wilson School District said.   

Learning to work together in those failures really gave the students the opportunity to make decisions and pivot their original plan. Sometimes, there could be disagreements on which decision to make to get the most points for their presentation, but one thing they all agreed on was they needed a T-shirt design for their new club.   

The team named themselves “Robo-Pants,” so the logical final design decision was a robot wearing funky pants. The decision for this robot to have a mullet was also unanimous. Student participant from Wilson School District, Alice Z. explained, “The hardest part of deciding on a final design was trying to get everyone to agree on all the cool ideas.”   

The First Lego League Robotics Club is hopeful to continue into fall 2024 and eventually be part of the world championship.  The club is funded through Friends of the Berks County Public Libraries Fund of Berks County Community Foundation. This fund was created to award grants to Berks County libraries for emergency needs and special projects. For more information on the fund, please click here

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