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Mentoring First Lego League: Challenges And Rewards Of Working With Youth

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2007 Annual Conference & Exposition


Honolulu, Hawaii

Publication Date

June 24, 2007

Start Date

June 24, 2007

End Date

June 27, 2007



Conference Session

Innovations in Mechanical Engineering Education Poster Session

Tagged Division

Mechanical Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

12.1057.1 - 12.1057.9



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Paper Authors


David Richter Virginia Tech

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David Richter is a graduate student currently pursuing a M.S. in Mechanical Engineering at Virginia Tech. He is researching interdisciplinary collaboration in engineering and education. He also has interests in enineering design, outreach programs for youth, and communication in the engineering curriculum.

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Kurt Johnson Virginia Tech

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Kurt Johnson is a graduate student in Mechanical Engineering at Virginia Tech. He is very interested in engineering design and currently serves as one of the advisors/mentors of the Hybrid Electric Vehicle Team (HEVT) at Virginia Tech.

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Janis Terpenny Virginia Tech

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Janis Terpenny is an Associate Professor in the Department of Engineering Education with affiliated positions in Mechanical Engineering and Industrial & Systems Engineering at Virginia Tech. She is co-Director of the NSF multi-university Center for e-Design. Her research interests focus on methods and representation schemes to support early design stages of engineered products and systems. She is currently a member of ASEE, ASME, IIE, and Alpha Pi Mu. She is the Design Economics area editor for The Engineering Economist journal.

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Richard Goff Virginia Tech

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Richard M. Goff is the Pete White Chair for Innovation in Engineering Education, Associate Professor, and Assistant Head of the Department of Engineering Education at Virginia Tech. An award winning teacher, his main areas of
research and teaching are design and design education.

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Mentoring FIRST LEGO League: Challenges and Rewards of Working with Youth


The FIRST LEGO League (FLL) organizes friendly competitions between students, ages 9- to 14-years-old. The competition focuses on engineering challenges addressing a theme in science and technology. For 2006, FLL chose nanotechnology as the central theme. The youth used a semi-autonomous robot constructed from LEGO® brand building blocks to perform tasks related to current themes in nanotechnology research. In addition to the robot competition, the students researched and presented on a current topic in the field of nanotechnology. To facilitate the project, FLL relies on volunteers from the community including coaches and mentors. This paper explores the experience of two graduate engineering students from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) as they mentor the Kipps Elementary School FLL team.

The two graduate students acted as technical mentors to the team. As mentors, the graduate students provided technical direction without suggesting actual design ideas to the team as the youth designed and built the robot for competition. The overall administration of the team was handled by the coach, a volunteer from the community, who managed the assignments, focus, and discipline of the group. To effectively mentor the youth, the graduate students each attended at least one meeting per week and worked closely with the coach to follow appropriate strategies in their mentoring. Since the coach had prior experience with FLL and this team, he was relied upon to make decisions regarding team focus and strategy. The youth worked on specific tasks in smaller subgroups, where the mentors were called upon to help focus the youths’ energy to the task given by the coach.

The mentors found working with the FLL to be a fun and rewarding experience. One major reward had been observing the delight of the children when they produced an idea. Another reward was the sense of accomplishment felt by the mentor when one of the children showed understanding of a concept the mentor was describing. This paper also addresses the following challenges experienced by the mentors as they relate to FLL mentoring: communication with children and the language difficulties, the youths’ concentration level on a problem and their narrow or wide focus, the difficulty of leading to learning as opposed to giving answers, and the creation of a constructive versus a destructive atmosphere.

Background on First LEGO League

FIRST LEGO League (FLL) is a joint effort between FIRST, “For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology,” and the LEGO Group created in 1998 for children under fourteen.1 FLL combines the visions of FIRST and the LEGO Group. Dean Kamen, the inventor of the Segway Human Transporter, founded FIRST to excite children in the areas of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).2 The LEGO Group motivates children to “playfully [develop] a set of future, highly-relevant capabilities: Creative and structured

Richter, D., & Johnson, K., & Terpenny, J., & Goff, R. (2007, June), Mentoring First Lego League: Challenges And Rewards Of Working With Youth Paper presented at 2007 Annual Conference & Exposition, Honolulu, Hawaii. 10.18260/1-2--2696

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