Two teams from Hill Field Elementary School participated in the First Lego League (FLL) at Weber State University on Jan. 14. The Weber State University qualifier had 20 teams signed up, with only 18 actually participating in at least a portion of the event. This is the second year the state of Utah has had a main event. Seven teams will move on from the qualifier to compete Jan. 28 at the University of Utah state event.
In order to participate, teams had to build a robot, complete a project, report on their designs and how their team members worked together. Ultimately they competed with their robots completing tasks on tables with Lego representations of elements they needed to transport. One of the goals was the the task of lowering a dial "food temperature" measurement and moving a truck with Lego corn in it to home base, the starting point of the robot.
Shannon McKeon, a 4th-grade member of Team Boombots, said she thought it was fun learning all of it. As part of the Core Values part of the competition, she said, "We all got to do some of the talking."
That cooperation, teamwork and problem-solving are actually a big part of the FLL experience, said Frances Bradshaw, former Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) representative at Hill Air Force Base.
Bradshaw, now Hill AFB Starbase director, was a co-director at the WSU event, because of her involvement in the events last year.
Randy Rounds, STEM grant director, at Hill Field Elementary School, participated as a coach for one of the teams, and found himself involved in the fun.
"Watching these kids grow has been fun. It's just a huge growth experience that you couldn't get in any other way," he said.
"The kids stay extra time every Friday. We had that wind day where we lost a school day," Rounds said. "The kids just came on the day that we were off. They love it. They come before school and come after school.
"They can't wait to get there," he continued. "And they look to the future. It doesn't get any better than that."
Burke Beckland, 4th grade teacher, cheered on the teams. He explained that Hill Field Elementary School faces unique challenges in the turnover of kids from year to year, so they don't get to keep their experienced team members but often they do have international experience. This turns into a different kind of strength for school efforts.
Kash Conder, a 4th grade student, explained his experience learning Core Values this way: "Working together and being nice to other teams and team spirit, cooperation and sharing our treats and sharing our team members - just yesterday I was helping another team because one of their teammates had taken a cruise."
In addition to the Core Values portion, subjective judging takes place in the Robot Design and Projects areas. The Robot Games are the competitive and more objective part of the fun.
The season theme picked this year worldwide for FLL was "Food Factor." Listeria prevention and food borne illnesses were a popular theme picked by various teams for their projects because of the listeria cantaloupe outbreak recently.
Following this Food Factor theme, the Robot Games tables were set up for tasks by the robots including such things as food transportation, retrieving good bacteria, eliminating bad bacteria, pollution reversal and other elements set up to suggest objectives one would find in the study of safe food practices.
Project posters illuminating factors in both Core Values and the Project chosen by each team were displayed for others to enjoy after the team presentations before judges were complete.
Only the Robot Games portion was judged on a strict point value for each task completed. The rest of the judging was based on less easily measured skills.
Judges took into account such things as enthusiasm, teamwork, cooperation, ability to problem-solve and work together to find solutions without the team coach being a part of everything.
"A lot of people think this is about robotics and it's really not just about robotics," said Bradshaw. "It's about kids getting excited about science, technology, engineering and math and excited about learning how to work like real engineers and scientists in the world where you have to work as a team and get along and help each other out and learn to solve a real problem."