Assabet Comes in FIRST: School hosts regional robotics challenge inspired by Dean Kamen

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Many of us grew up building with LEGO blocks. Others played with miniature robots.

In recent years, these childhood activities have matured a great deal and become a major source of school pride and learning.

On November 19, hundreds of students from Wakefield, Weymouth, North Attleboro, Mendon, and Marlborough gathered at Assabet to take their favorite LEGO blocks to new heights in a collegial competition 

known as the FIRST LEGO League (FLL). The event was an offshoot of the FIRST organization, which was created by inventor Dean Kamen.

As science, technology, engineering and math (a.k.a., “STEM”) skills are more in demand than ever, many schools and educational programs are focusing on and encouraging them. The full title of Kamen’s organization is For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (www.firstinspires.org). Since 1989, the Manchester, NH-based 501(c)(3) has been designing accessible, mentor-guided programs and competitions that are intended to inspire students and educators from kindergarten through high school to engage these skills more intently and to use fun activities like building with LEGO blocks and developing simple robots to encourage further engagement later in life.

“We want to transform our culture by creating a world where science and technology are celebrated and where young people dream of becoming science and technology leaders,” Kamen explains.

“Kamen decided kids needed idols in the STEM fields and began FIRST,” says Assabet Admissions and Public Relations Coordinator Cindy Zomar.

According to Zomar, Assabet was approached last year by FIRST administrators to serve as a host for a LEGO event. In 2015, 18 regional teams had participated. This year, that number rose to 23.

“We do it because it is fun, it is good for kids, it shows off our school,” Zomar says, noting that Assabet has its own version of the competition called the First Robotics Competition (FRC).

While competition often drives development, FIRST programs are based on the concepts of what Kamen calls “gracious professionalism” and “coopertition,” in which mutual respect and the spirit of collaboration are held above all other ideals. In addition to encouraging mutual appreciation and support, the program also offers older students and mentors a chance to help younger ones. In fact, Assasbet’s high school team offered to mentor a middle school team for the 2017 edition.

In the meantime, Assabet will also host the kick-off event for the 2017

FRC Challenge on January 7, 2017. For this event, the Assabet team will have six weeks to conceptualize, design, make, build, test, and learn to drive a 120-pound remote-controlled robot. 

“We have won four major awards in the last two years,” Zomar says proudly.