WIUM Tristates Public Radio

A Popular Plastic Toy Gets Kids Interested in STEM Fields

Mar 2, 2017

Macomb area children ages 9-to-14 can learn about science and technology by building robots using Legos.  They do so in the First Lego League Robotics Club put on by Genesis Garden, 4-H, Western Illinois University, and the University of Illinois’ extension office.

The kids learn the skills needed to compete against other robotics clubs in the state. This year’s competition will be held in Springfield in May.

Volunteer Stephanie Johnson helping some of the kids build their robot. Her daughter Samantha is on the left.
Credit Breanna Descourouez

Stephanie Johnson and other volunteers teach basic building and programming skills to the students. The adults work the children through the different missions they may want to do for competition.

“I think it helps them to learn a lot of problem solving skills. It’s also helping them work together with other people, especially some kids that they don’t normally interact with," said Johnson.

Her daughter, 10-year-old Samantha Johnson, is involved in the club. She joined last year because of her involvement with 4-H.

Jennifer Rodriguez, who heads Macomb’s Lego League and who is a Genesis Garden AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer, said the program is meant to get the kids interested in STEM  (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields.

“I think the whole point of this is to make science and technology something that is in their reach and not something that’s for only astronauts or people who you never come in to contact with," she said.

Rodriguez said young girls most often get deterred from the dream of pursuing a career in a STEM field.

Marizona Dahlstrom watching as Celena and Carl program sounds into their robot.
Credit Breanna Descourouez

Marizona Dahlstrom, who is a nursing student at Spoon River College, said when these girls are older they might reflect on when they came to Lego League and think about how fun it was and they might then consider engineering as a viable career.

“So many girls are not encouraged to pursue anything in STEMs. They’re encouraged, oh maybe you can take Home Ec, or maybe you could be a cheerleader. Seeing almost half and half of boys and girls in there, if not more girls than boys, it’s exciting.”

Dahlstrom first started attending the club meetings as an assignment she had in one of her courses. She said the club became much more than just an assignment.

The club is important to the kids as well. Some of the kids have been in Lego League for years and others are new members. Either way, they all seem to love it and are excited for the competition come May.