First Lego League tournaments build many skills
With technical know-how that could intimidate many adults, Arvind Seshan, 9, picks up the robot he and some friends built out of Legos and explains the engineering.
“We have an ultrasonic sensor here,” says Arvind of Fox Chapel, pointing out the robot's four motors and the Lego Mindstorm piece that functions as the robot's brain.
The robot, when placed on a wooden table full of Lego structures, demonstrates the effects of nature's forces such as earthquakes, floods and intense storms. The kids — who form team “Not the Droids You Are Looking For” — program the robot, which rolls out of its base and lifts a flooded house, knocks down a power line, pushes an ambulance and makes an airplane fly on a string over a landing strip.
“It's amazing,” Arvind says about the experience of building the all-Lego creations.
Arvind joined his brother, Sanjay Seshan, 11 — along with Nick Faber, 11, of Wexford and Arjan Guglani, 13, a seventh-grader at Pine-Richland Middle School — to form a First Lego League team. First Lego League is a robotics tournament for children.
They won the overall first-place slot in the Western Pennsylvania competitions in February, then won a first-place Innovation Solution trophy at the First Lego League International Open, held June 4 to 7 in Toronto, where teams from some 20 states and several countries competed.
Asha Seshan, Arvind's and Sanjay's mom and the team coach, says the league helps the kids develop intellectual and practical skills, along with character lessons. The kids are expected to share their knowledge with other kids and help other teams with their projects, rather than being overly competitive and focused on winning.
“What we learn is more important than what we win,” Asha Seshan says. “You win when you share. The more you give back, the more you get. I don't want them to just be good at the programming.”
The kids do the work themselves and show a lot of imagination and ability, she says.
“We can guide them, we can mentor them ... but we are not allowed to do it,” Seshan says.
The kids spent 21⁄2 months building their project, which followed the competition “Nature's Fury.” They interviewed professionals for part of the project. To promote their effort, the boys made 1,000 pin-on buttons and set up a website and Facebook page.
Nick, who hopes to become a First Lego League coach when he grows up, says the whole project was “lots of fun, but sometimes stressful.”
Sanjay, who hopes to become a robotics engineer, loved the experience. He and his brother get their left-brained abilities from their father, Srinivasan Seshan, an associate professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University. Asha Seshan home-schools the boys, and Nick is home-schooled, too.
Lining the mantel in Seshans' basement, where the project is on display, are the many trophies the team has won during the past few years — all made of Legos.