LEGOs are so much more than just a fun toy. They can be used to teach kids all kinds of STEM-related learning. They can even be the building blocks for more advanced STEM lessons, like robotics. That’s why FIRST created the LEGO League, which introduces STEM to children through hands-on learning and competitions around the world. A Thurston County High School Robotics Team has been mentoring a group of kids in Cairo, Egypt to help them start their own club. Now, they are heading to Egypt to meet them face to face and help them achieve the next step in robotics league learning and competition.

The partnership with Egypt is the brainchild of Brenda Diettrich, a robotics teacher at Capital High School. Diettrich visited Egypt last summer. After meeting someone whose son loved LEGOs, an idea sparked in her and she returned to her robotics students with a plan. “This past fall, our FIRST Robotics Competition team sponsored an Egyptian FLL team and mentored them through Zoom, every Friday night at 9:30 p.m.,” she shares. “It was brutal, but we did it faithfully.”

At the FIRST Robotic Competition (FRC) level, high schoolers work to raise funds, design a team brand, and then build and program a 130-pound metal robot. “They are the size of a refrigerator,” explains Diettrich. They then compete against other high school teams in a field game. According to FIRST, “It’s as close to real-world engineering as a student can get.” The Thurston County FRC team consists of 17 high schoolers from Avanti, Capital and Olympia high schools.

thurston county robotics team group photo
The partnership with Egypt is the brainchild of Brenda Diettrich, a robotics teacher at Capital High School. Diettrich visited Egypt last summer. Photo courtesy; Brenda Diettrich

Through their Zoom sessions, this FRC team helped middle school students in Egypt start a FIRST LEGO League with a grant the Thurston County students had received. The Egyptian team competed in Alexandria, Egypt last March and placed 55 out of 120 teams. “This was their first competition and we thought that was a great result,” shares Diettrich.

Bringing FIRST Tech Challenge to Egypt

Between FLL and FRC, FIRST has another division, FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC) where kids graduate from LEGOs to metal robots. At this level, high school students build, design and code metal robots that weigh about 10 pounds and are the size of a toaster, explains Diettrich. “Interestingly enough, Egypt only had FLL, FIRST Lego League teams,” she adds. “They do not have the next level up, FTC, FIRST Tech Challenge, metal-based robots and that is what we are going there to train staff and students to do.”

The Thurston County high schoolers will be heading to Egypt August 22 to help set up an FTC club there. “We will be bringing five, metal-based robot kits to Cairo with us for training, to build metal-based bots and participate in the next level of robotics, FTC, and leave the kits there,” shares Diettrich. “There is an Arab FTC league, but Egypt does not participate in this league. We are planning on changing that and giving them the resources and training to participate in FTC, in the Arab league.”

Thurston county robotics team working on robots
Through their Zoom sessions, this FRC team helped middle school students in Egypt start a FIRST LEGO League with a grant the Thurston County students had received. Photo courtesy; Brenda Diettrich

Robotics is expensive in Egypt, limiting participation to those who had the financial means. The grant and training provided by the Thurston County FRC team helped make it more accessible. So will the robots and materials they are bringing with them when they visit. “Both our team and their team have bonded and really want to meet each other in person,” shares Diettrich. “We are planning on doing activities together while we are there and training them in the next level of robotics.”

Currently, the Thurston County FRC Team is working three days a week on the curriculum for the Egypt league.

After a week of working with the Egyptian students to start the FTC league, designing, building and then programing a robot for competition, the Thurston County students will spend a week sightseeing in Egypt through a guided tour before returning home September 3.

To learn more about how your child can get involved in FIRST, visit the FIRST website.

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