Thomas R. O'Donnell

Posts Tagged ‘FIRST LEGO League’

Science marches on – with some conspicuous absences

In Government, STEM on April 9, 2018 at 7:42 am
Woman holds a sign saying "Empirical Data Trumps Imperial Alt-Facts" at the 2017 March for Science Iowa.

A pointed sign from the 2017 March for Science Iowa.

Plans are shaping up for the 2018 version of the March for Science Iowa, a more overtly political version of last year’s event, when more than 3,000 Iowans flooded the Capitol grounds.

With elections coming up, organizers (including your humble correspondent) have invited candidates to appear on Saturday (the event starts with the march at around 1:00, followed by candidate forums and speeches at 2:00) to detail their views on publicly supported research, science education and evidence-based policy.

The march is nonpartisan: We want to hear from politicians and candidates from both parties. But it is not nonpolitical: We demand that our elected officials and contenders uphold science.

We invited candidates for governor, the Third Congressional District, agriculture secretary and secretary of state. Most will attend.

But only from one party. Guess which.

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Big bots storm castles in Iowa competition

In STEM on April 4, 2016 at 7:35 am
FRC robots mix it up on the playing field at Cedar Falls' McLeod Center.

FRC robots mix it up on the playing field at UNI’s McLeod Center.

It was mechanical mayhem in a medieval milieu.

In Cedar Falls March 24-26, 52 teams of high school students (mostly from the Midwest but also three from China and one from Brazil) pitted their mechanized marvels (OK, I’m laying off that bottle of Old Alliteration) in the FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) Iowa Regional tournament. Eleven Iowa teams competed.

At the McLeod Center, where the University of Northern Iowa Panthers usually chuck balls at baskets, robots instead fired “boulders” at mock parapets. It was just one of several missions the machines, each built from scratch, carried out on a theme of attacking and overcoming a castle’s defenses.

This was Iowa’s first FRC regional competition. Teams that did well in Cedar Falls will go on to the championships in St. Louis at the end of April.

My son, Thomas, is on Team ASAP (4646), a collection of Des Moines-area students, and I attended the three-day robot bash. It was a raucous, nerdy – but cool – celebration of technology and engineering. I knew before I got to Cedar Falls what the robots had to do. How they did it, much less that they did it at all, was extraordinary and inspiring. Read the rest of this entry »

Talkin’ science talks and Cyclone Survivor

In STEM on June 12, 2014 at 8:11 am
Gray wolves looking cute.

Canis lupus: the gray wolf, once roamed Iowa. Credit: Steve Jurvetson, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Headquarters via Compfight cc

A quick post to spread the word about two lecture series now in progress for folks living in Central Iowa. If you have a Friday night or Saturday afternoon free, they’re great destinations for engaging talks on wildlife, astronomy, biology and more. They’re at no charge and in beautiful settings.

I’ll also note the accomplishments of a Williamsburg FIRST LEGO League team in this year’s Global Innovation Award competition.

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Could Branstad’s task force be a smokescreen to kill new science education standards?

In STEM, Uncategorized on August 20, 2013 at 4:06 am
Kids looking into microscopes and doing science

Photo credit: Atli Harðarson via photopin cc

Terry Branstad and his lieutenant, Kim Reynolds, have been pushing Iowa educators to do more to engage kids in STEM – science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The idea is to have a well-trained workforce for all those high-tech jobs they want to bring to the state.

So far, they’ve accompanied the drive with action, starting the Governor’s STEM Advisory Council, handing out grants to scale-up activities, like FIRST LEGO League, that are designed to engage and attract students to technical fields, and holding annual summits of educators, administrators and business people.

Now, however, Branstad may face the biggest test of his resolve to make Iowans STEM leaders. His administration will have to decide if and how to adopt new science education standards – guidelines and goals that have prompted controversy elsewhere and could upset the conservative base of Branstad’s Republican Party.

For Iowans who support the standards, there have been reasons for despair – and perhaps for hope.

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Hold your tongues, Robodogs – UPDATED

In STEM on April 11, 2013 at 2:45 am
robodog robot

The pride and joy of the Robodogs. (Image courtesy of the Bettendorf Robodogs.)

One of the things I do a few months out of the year is co-coach my son’s FIRST LEGO League (FLL) team. We would do it year round – and many teams do meet year-round – but I have another life that sometimes intrudes.

One of the cool things about FLL – apart from LEGOs and robots, of course – is that each year teams must devise real-world solutions to real-world problems. Sometimes, what they come up is amazingly effective – so effective companies actually are interested producing them. There’s even an award for the team producing the most practical, feasible solution.

Teams from around the world compete for the Global Innovation Award. Two years ago, an Ames team won the first such prize. This year, another Iowa team is in the running.

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STEM goes for the state title

In Uncategorized on March 10, 2013 at 2:59 pm
Iowa Governor's STEM Advisory Council

Iowa Governor’s STEM Advisory Council

There was a lot going on in downtown Des Moines on March 5. At the Wells Fargo Arena, the state boys basketball tournament was attracting droves of fans, screaming at the top of their lungs.

Next door, at the Veterans Memorial Community Choice Credit Union Convention Center (whew!), a couple hundred educators, industry representatives and state officials gathered for the second Iowa STEM Summit, organized by the Governor’s STEM Advisory Council.

There wasn’t screaming, but just as much cheering.

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