by: DAVID F. ASHTON - Dad Dan Bryan watches with pride as his kindergartener son, Max Bryan, demonstrates the effect of a tsunami to Cathy Swider of the Oregon Robotics Tournament & Outreach Program.Kindergarten through third grade students came in droves to the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI), on the east bank of the Willamette River just north of the Ross Island Bridge, on March 8 and 9 to participate in the Junior FIRST Lego League Expo.

“This is the newest program of the FIRST [that’s an acronym: “For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology”] programs, to introduce the youngest students to the exciting worlds of science and technology,” said Cathy Swider of the Oregon Robotics Tournament & Outreach Program.

Just like the original FIRST Lego League, this program features a real-world challenge to be solved by research, critical thinking, and imagination, Swider told THE BEE. “Young participants are guided by adult coaches, as they work with LEGO elements and moving parts to create solutions, and then present solutions for the challenge.”

Over that March weekend, 100 teams of kids came to OMSI, toting their devices, and the display boards illustrating the science their project represents.

“This year’s theme is ‘Disaster Blaster’,” Swider explained. “All of the teams are building models to show something about how a natural disaster would look before, during, or after it occurs. This includes topics like tornadoes, hurricanes, tsunamis, earthquakes, and wildfires.”

After the first 25 teams left, and the second teams came into OMSI’s auditorium, Swider observed, “Tornadoes seem to be very popular this year.”

In addition to building a model, and creating a graphic display board, the youngsters also must answer questions put to them by reviewers, all whom are high school First Tech Challenge Team members.

“At the end of the day, this is not a competition, it is a showcase,” Swider said. “This is usually their initial opportunity to participate in one of the FIRST programs. Everyone goes home with the medallion and a certificate, and a good ‘elbow bump’ to say they did a good job.”

Find out more the Junior FIRST Lego League at the Oregon website:

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