First Lego League: Inspired to Learn

Students at Wickham Elementary learn about how human activities can affect flooding in a watershed.

Students at Wickham Elementary learn about how human activities can affect flooding in a watershed.

The nine Wickham Elementary School students are overflowing with questions and curiosity. Hands popped up again and again during Iowa Flood Center Engineer Tony Loeser’s presentation on flooding. These students are part of FIRST Lego League (FLL), an organization designed to inspire students to learn firsthand about science and technology. These kids are clearly inspired!

FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) programs help students gain self-confidence, knowledge, and life skills while taking on a new challenge each year. This year’s challenge is “Nature’s Fury.” These young people, who have seen severe flooding near their own homes, quite naturally thought first of flooding when they heard the phrase “nature’s fury.”

Enter Loeser, who works at the Iowa Flood Center (part of IIHR—Hydroscience & Engineering at the University of Iowa). After the FLL students choose a real-world problem, they are encouraged to learn more about it. Talking to adult professionals in the appropriate field is a great way to do that. Loeser agreed to help the Wickham students (as well as several other area FLL groups) with their flood-related project, and today’s presentation is their first encounter.

Loeser, who spent two years working with eighth graders as a visiting scientist in Idaho while he was pursuing a master’s degree, says he loves working with kids. “I enjoy sharing the moment of discovery with younger students, when you see their eyes widen and get a sudden head nod that they have gained an understanding of a subject,” Loeser says.

The questions fly at Loeser like water from a fire hose. “How much does it cost to rebuild?” “How much does a flood wall cost?” “What’s the best material for a flood wall? Could it be rubber?” He takes each question seriously, and answers thoughtfully even when the questions slip off-topic.

Iowa Flood Center Engineer Tony Loeser uses a model to demonstrate what happens in a watershed when flooding occurs.

Iowa Flood Center Engineer Tony Loeser uses a model to demonstrate what happens in a watershed when flooding occurs.

Luke, one of the Wickham Elementary students, says he participated in Lego League last year and loved it. “I wanted to do it again because it was such a blast,” he says. The Eastern Iowa FLL groups will come together for a regional competition, which will be held this month at the Putnam Museum in Davenport, Iowa.

Loeser says he hopes the students will take away three things from his discussion of floods. First, he hopes they will understand what a watershed is, and how changes in a watershed make a difference in how a river responds to rainfall. Second, he wants them to understand what causes flooding, how to be prepared, and how to make decisions about safety.

“Lastly,” Loeser says, “I hope to provide inspiration for them to want to continue to investigate flooding and rivers after their Lego challenge is completed.”

Engaging future engineers – Event touts benefits of STEM instruction Journal,Published on: May 5th, 2013

iExploreSTEM Festival Comes to Muscatine

April 25, 2013

Iowa’s K-12 students are invited to experience firsthand how much fun science and math can be at the iExploreSTEM Festival planned from 1–5 p.m. on May 4 at the Lucille A. Carver Mississippi Environmental Research Station (LACMRERS) on the banks of the Mississippi River near Muscatine.

The Iowa Flood Center will have a NWS floodplain model at the iExploreSTEM Festival in Muscatine.

Kids explore the impact of land use changes on flooding at a recent STEM festival in Des Moines.

A variety of hands-on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) activities are planned for kids at the festival, including an interactive flood model from the Iowa Flood Center and the National Weather Service, an opportunity to build a robot with the Iowa State Extension Office of Muscatine County, and a chance to learn about the human body with plastinated human body specimens provided by the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine. Among the day’s speakers will be Stanley Consultants President and CEO Gayle Roberts, who will speak at 1 p.m., and University of Iowa College of Engineering Dean Alec Scranton, who will speak at 3:45 p.m. The entire event is free and open to the public.

Diane Campbell, director of Innovation and Instruction in the Muscatine School District, says the festival will feature a diverse set of activities for young people. “We’re very excited about the activities and demonstrations we have planned,” Campbell says. “We’ve got everything from flubber (a chemistry activity) to robots. It should be fun for students, as well as educational.”

LACMRERS is part of the University of Iowa’s IIHR—Hydroscience & Engineering, and provides a beautiful setting for people to study, collaborate, and learn about the river. Learn more about LACMRERS at (a map is also available).

LwFVertThe iExploreSTEM festival at LACMRERS is part of Living with Floods, a statewide series of events that marks the fifth anniversary of the historic Iowa floods of 2008, and recognizes and celebrates the strength and resiliency of Iowans in the face of repeated flood events. The culmination of Living with Floods will be a free public performance by the Preservation Hall Jazz Band on June 11 at Riverside Park in Muscatine.

Several UI departments and units are collaborating on Living with Floods; these include the Iowa Flood Center, Hancher, the Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, the UI colleges of education and engineering, the Department of Health and Human Physiology, and the State Hygienic Laboratory. These UI partners are engaging with seven communities across the state, including Davenport, Cedar Rapids, Council Bluffs, Des Moines, Dubuque, Iowa City, and Muscatine. Throughout the spring of 2013, Living with Floods is sponsoring community forums; STEM learning events for K-12 students; and free community concerts in the partner communities. Sponsors of the LACMRERS iExploreSTEM Festival also include: Kent Corporation/GPC, Muscatine Community College, Monsanto, HNI, Carver Pump, Central State Bank, Stanley Consultants, Sycamore Printing, Iowa’s Governor’s STEM Advisory Council, Hy-Vee, and the Muscatine Community School District.

To learn more about the festival at LACMRERS, visit: For information on Living with Floods and how you can participate, visit


Sara Steussy, 319-384-1729 (

Jackie Hartling Stolze, 319-335-6410 (