Iowa 4-H Robotics Challenge and SET Showcase Event

By: Five clubs participated: Estherville Meteors (Emmet), Wave Droids (Bremer), Calhoun County Tech Team - Mechanical Mindstormers, SCI 4-H SET Club (Polk), Roots and Shoots (Story)

Region: 0 - Polk

Goals and purpose:

This event had two goals. The first was to give youth who worked hard all year developing their robotics knowledge and skills a chance to test them in novel situations with real-time challenges. We wanted the kids to have fun, experience the power of team work, and feel excited and confident about the amazing things they can do. Our second goal was to showcase 4-H SET (Science, Engineering, and Technology) for the Des Moines community and our generous donors attending that evening’s Iowa 4-H Foundation 60th Anniversary Gala. We wanted to put on a show that would be fun to watch and give our audience the chance to really see how 4-H impacts youth, how they learn and grow through these experiences, and the amazing opportunities participation in 4-H provides.

What we did:

We extended an open invitation to 4-H clubs across to send a team of 3-10 4-H members who had been working on robotics projects. Our only stipulation was that clubs needed experience with LEGO® Mindstorms® NXT robot components and programming. Along with the robotics teams, we invited 4-H SET clubs to put on working exhibits throughout the event.

At noon on day of the event, clubs gathered for the challenge release, learning the task, rules, and scoring for each challenge. We presented teams with two challenges and provided all the supplies necessary for each. In the first challenge teams had to us their experience with the LEGO® platform to build and program a robot to navigate a playing field, transporting a small ball to a ring and depositing it there. For the second challenge, they used the engineering skills to design a junk drawer robot. They were provided small motors, batteries, and electrical wire along with a box full of stuff easily found around the house. Their challenge was to use these supplies to build the robot which could draw the longest line on a sheet of paper.

Then it was time to go to work. They had 4 hours to design, build, and (for the LEGO® robot) program their robots to accomplish the goals of the challenge. It was a blast! They worked hard, trying out their ideas then redesigning and trying again. When it was time for the challenge events, spectators and Gala attendees gathered round to watch the robots go head to head completing each challenge. The room erupted with cheers when a robot scored. The highest scoring robots participated in a championship round for all to watch. We wrapped up with an awards ceremony, recognizing teams not just for high scores but also for design innovation, programming skill, team work, club exhibits and more!

The WOW factor:

This was a real-time event meaning the teams didn’t know in advance what the challenges would  be. It gave them a real chance to discover how their years of 4-H experience prepared them for this novel challenge, working together to solve it!


Robotics challenges are a great way to develop SET abilities. Learning to design, test, work in teams, discover your strengths and the great feeling when your ideas produce results. This event provided an outlet for youth to demonstrate their learning, communicate, take on leadership roles, and have lots of fun!

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