FIRST LEGO League State Invitational
By Peter Erickson
Glacier City Gazette Intern
The kids of Building Grizzly Storm are a cooperative force to be reckoned with.
They are one of two FIRST LEGO League teams based in Girdwood, working to solve hydrodynamic dilemmas with the use of LEGO robotics kits.
This team of 4th through 6th graders had opportunity to compete in the state invitational championship last Sat. Jan. 20th where they represented the Girdwood community with style and teamwork.
Building Grizzly Storm started off the morning with a practice round. Each team was given this chance to work the last minute bugs out of programming they’d been working on for several months.
Then it was off to three back-to-back judging sessions. The first focused on the presentation of a project the team had been researching concerning water quality in the Girdwood area. They believed water at their school to be ‘gross,’ so they did a double blind tasting of water from several locations around Girdwood in an attempt to figure out why.
After establishing that school water was in fact ranked lowest on the tasting scale, they went on to do sample testing where they found elevated levels of iron along with other particulates. In the end, they came to the conclusion that with a little added filter maintenance, the particulate levels would decrease to nil. Their result is a beautiful example of the scientific method at work.
The second judging session looked at design and efficiency of the LEGO robot. The team was given a time frame to complete a set of tasks concerning water logistics with a robot they had spent several months building and programming.
The third judging session tested core values like teamwork and professionalism. In this instance, they were separated from their coaches (and writing shadow) for a more effective evaluation of the group dynamic. The fact that they had won the core values award at the state qualifier seemed to be in their favor, and the team was in high spirits as they entered their final judging session.
After a brief lunch break, a round robin style robot competition began. Four teams at a time worked separately to complete tasks with their individual robots, such as flushing a LEGO toilet or replacing a bit of damaged LEGO pipe with undamaged pieces. In this instance, clocked time was limited, yet the team was fazed as they pushed through the three competitive rounds.
Despite the competitive air, teams never really seem to be against one another. That’s the great thing about it, said Vicki Nechodomu, volunteer coordinator at the event and K-12 STEM outreach coordinator at the UAA College of Engineering.
“I’ve seen ‘opponents’ that are otherwise competing with each other come up and help one another solve a problem they’re having… and that’s the kind of atmosphere we want them to be in”, said Nechodomu.
Rebecca Soza agrees. She’s the STEM Program Manager for the Juneau Economic Development Council (JEDC), FIRST’s affiliate partner in charge of organizing the event among many other things.
“Some of our top performing teams share code with one another… They don’t want to beat someone that doesn’t have the same tools,” said Soza.
She went on to add that JEDC considers these events a great investment in workforce development. “They’re becoming strong critical thinkers… I’ve seen kids from when I first started 10 years ago go on to college to do great things”, said Soza.
Volunteers too received high praise. “This wouldn’t be possible without the army of volunteers we have each year” said Nechodomu.
The volunteer army totaled around 120 people this year, and they made up every position, from judges that were required to take a certification course online, to referees in charge of ensuring challenges are completed according to the rules and regulations.
“A lot of our volunteers are alumni coming back to help out in the league”, said Soza.
The ultimate goal of FIRST LEGO League is engaging young people in science, technology, engineering and math and encouraging them to stick with it to pass on the knowledge to younger generations.
Team Building Grizzly Storm may not have come out as top dog in this competition, but with the level they are working on, expect to see their name around as they continue building robots and solving tomorrow’s challenges.