Carson City-area youngsters compete in Lego robotic competition

By Cory Smith • Last Updated 11:02 am on Monday, December 12, 2011

The students spent two months constructing this LEGO robot, which was used to accomplish missions assigned to the group during a competition at Michigan State University. — Courtesy photo

CARSON CITY — For seven Carson City-area children, playing with Lego blocks became more than just play.

They built Lego-based robots for a competition at Michigan State University (MSU).

Competing for the first time in the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Lego League, seven children ages 8 through 11 met twice a week for two months in preparation for the competition at MSU on Nov. 12. They demonstrated their Lego-based robot in the competition, using it to complete various tasks.

Group co-coach Dr. Michelle Becher, who helped form the team with co-coach Daniyel McAlvey, said she couldn’t believe the camaraderie between the children as they worked together.

“We knew these kids through church and that they really enjoyed Legos,” Becher said. “None of us really knew what to expect, but these kids handled the challenge so well. They felt like they were dealing with something out in the real world.”

Becher said the team had to complete four separate challenges in the competition — a project, a technical interview, teamwork and a robot game.

Becher said the students had to build a stand-alone robot out of Legos that would complete predesigned missions. They also had to research and invent a solution for an assignment while creating a presentation for a panel of judges.

This year’s mission was a “Food Factor Challenge,” with a goal of learning how to keep food safe from contamination.

Becher’s group focused on peaches. The team gave a presentation demonstrating ways to keep peaches from spoiling.
Group member Molly Daily, 8, a student at Carson City Elementary School, said she joined the group because it sounded like fun and because she wanted to research food and build things out of Legos.

“It was really fun building the robot and having it do all of the things we had to make it do,” Daily said. “I also enjoyed learning about how peaches can be contaminated, how they can become rotten and learning how to keep them from doing that.”

Carson City-Crystal students involved in the FIRST Lego League are, front row from left, Megan Dailey, Molly Dailey; back row from left, Grace Brown, Jared LaVoi, Carter McAlvey, Timothy Borden and Kerigan Brown. — Courtesy photo

Daily didn’t play with Legos very often before the competition. She learned valuable lessons about teamwork after using them to build a robot.

“We learned that teamwork makes things go much faster,” she said. “I knew a couple of people in the group, but after working together I met new people and by working together we got a lot more done.”
For Kerrigan Brown, 8, a student at Carson City Elementary School, the thought of using Legos outside of playing with them had never crossed her mind.

“I never thought of building a Lego robot before,” Brown said. “I think it was cool that you can use Legos to build a robot. We got to work on a lot of different missions and program the robot ourselves.”
The team won second place in the Innovation and Design category.

“Our kids did such a good job,” Becher said. “They’d become frustrated at times, but they put in extra time to work out the problems they faced. They learned so much about science and technology, this is something I think they’ll want to continue doing year after year. We all had so much fun throughout this process.”

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