Diversity, Inclusion, Outreach

Image credit:
NorCal First Lego League Championship, Pauley Ballroom, with Dean Liu

Numerous members of the lab are  involved in a variety of outreach activities. This page summarizes some of the work we have been doing.

One of the major activities we conduct is coaching FIRST LEGO League (FLL) teams. FLL is an international competition organized by FIRST for elementary and middle school students (ages 9-14 in US and Canada, ages 9-16 elsewhere). Each August, FIRST LEGO League introduces a scientific and real-world challenge for teams to focus and research on. The robotics part of the competition involves designing and programming LEGO Mindstorms robots to complete tasks. The students work out solutions to the various problems they are given and meet for regional tournaments to share their knowledge, compare ideas, and display their robots. FIRST LEGO League is a partnership between FIRST and the LEGO group. It also has a scaled down robotics program for children ages six to nine called FIRST LEGO League Junior.

We have been working with local schools and organizations. In particular, we are associated with Piedmont Makers, which is a 501c3 nonprofit corporation dedicated to support and inspire K-12 STEM education in science, technology, engineering, art, design, and math in Piedmont, California and beyond. We are also working together with the Ecole Bilingue in Berkeley to help them create an FLL program.

Some of our team members have volunteered their time to be coaches of some of the teams competing in the FIRST LEGO League challenges. For example, for the academic year 2017-18, we coached the Piedmont Maker Team Purple. This was an all-girls, all-rookie team that advanced to the regional competition for North California and ultimately won the best robot prize at Finals, organized by Google. Our coaching not only encompasses aspects of programming and robotics needed for the challenge, it also spans the core values of teamwork as enunciated by FLL.

We also organized numerous visits to different sites to expose the kids to science and technology. For the 2017-18 edition of FLL, the theme was Hydrodynamics. We brought some of the teams to UC Berkeley to visit some of the labs working on topics related to their projects. For example, they visited Professor Steven Glaser’s lab and learned about sensors. They also visited Professor Kara Nelson’s lab and learned about smart toilet technology. Additionally, they visited the CITRIS museum of technology and were given presentations on robotics. Some of the teams visited the campus, and this time got presentations from two astronomy professors, Professor Joshua Bloom and Professor Alex Filippenko. During these presentations, the kids learned about gravitational waves and the expansion of the universe. After the presentation by the professors, the kids had an opportunity to ask questions to the professors about their projects.

The 2018-19 North California Finals was organized by the Institute of Transportation Studies at UC Berkeley. This year's theme, Into Orbit, transported about 40 teams of elementary and middle school students into space, where they learned to explore, challenge and innovate with a research project, core values and built an autonomous robot to perform tasks on the moon. Part of their accomplishments include building and programming an autonomous robot using LEGO MINDSTORMS to solve a set of missions (activities related to space exploration) on a playing field within a two and a half minute round. Teams were allowed four rounds to complete as many of the missions they could, including crater crossing, solar panel array, move space station modules, and meteoroid deflection, among others. In addition, teams created a project that identified a problem today’s scientists and engineers are trying to solve, create an innovative solution and share it with others with a display and Q and A.

Berkeley Girls in Engineering

We are also involved on campus with Berkeley Girls in Engineering, which is a middle school girls program that runs on the campus of UC Berkeley during June and July each year.  Each week, the girls are introduced to different areas of engineering through fun and engaging modules by women volunteers (undergraduate, graduate students and postdocs in engineering) from UC Berkeley. Shu-Xia Tang, helped in self-driving car (Evo robot) modules taught in June 2018. Jessica Lazarus gave a interactive presentations on the technology of automated vehicles and led several hands-on activities using the Ozobot Evo coding robot as an analogy for self-driving vehicles. She also volunteered with Kaboom! to build a playground in East Oakland alongside community members and volunteers from sponsoring organizations: Oakland Housing Authority, Pixar Animation Studios, and Disney. Specifically, Lazarus got to help build the planters and walkway for an edible garden and put together two soccer goals.

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