Some of the children enrolled in First Lego League talked about the challenges they encountered and the fun they had solving them at the Woodbridge Board of Education meeting in February
To learn, to laugh, to devise and to discover — the students enrolled in Beecher Road School’s First Lego League (FLL) clearly were enthusiastic when they described their teams’ work at the February Woodbridge Board of Education meeting. “To be honest, it was my mom’s idea,” she signed me up,” confided one of the youngsters. But she soon found that the challenges they faced and the teamwork it required to solve them “was way more exciting than I thought.”
The competition works like this: The FLL organization poses a theme — this past season it was Into Orbit — with three challenges: a robot game, a project and exhibiting core values. The teams, which can have up to 10 kids, then receive a setup kit to program and engineer a robot to solve some 15 or so “missions,” which scores them points at competition. For the project, they had to identify a problem in space (lack of exercise, cutting nails without them flying about, growing food in space) and devise ways to solve it.
Woodbridge fielded four teams this season, the Orbiting Owls, the Space Cadets, the Space Surfers and the Space Eagles. In November the teams and their adult coaches attended a regional competition in Shelton, where the Space Eagles won a trophy for core values, partly for exhibiting team spirit.
“It supports the STEAM concept,” School Supt. Robert Gilbert said in introducing the teams. STEAM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Math. But in addition to sparking curiosity and problem solving, participants also discovered the value of teamwork and making new friends.
“We focused more on gaining friendships than winning,” said one participant. Another touted the benefits of learning how to work in groups. “Everyone’s ideas are heard,” he said.
This was the third season of Woodbridge kids participating in the world-wide competition. The program was sponsored through the Extended Day program, although it actually is self-sustaining and teams do not meet at the school. Each team has adult coaches and they set up the mat on which the robot operates in their home, although it doesn’t have to be there.
Once the theme is announced in August and preparation for the competition is under way, it becomes a very time-consuming hobby for both the kids and the adults. Between August and November, they spend their time discussing real-life problems (such as cutting your nails without them flying about), and strategizing the best way to program the robot built with Lego parts. At competition you only have two-and-a-half minutes, said mom-turned-coach Joyce Shavers, who had started the program locally. The routine has to be well-rehearsed and the kids need to be prepared what to do when things go wrong. The judges also will talk to the teams, and they learn to present their projects in two minutes or less.
They prepared for the competition in Shelton by presenting their projects in different classrooms, she said.
There is no lack of children interested in participating, Shavers said. However, they are limited by the number of adults prepared to host and coach the groups. Her own team decided to stay together even after the competition, so she makes up assignments for them and they continue to meet. The other coaches are parents Phoebe and Matt Browning; Rachel Morrison; and Stillman Jordan and Kavita Joshi.
Shavers said she has indicated to Extended Day that she will not be able to continue coordinating the teams, although she plans to continue coaching. Her model is that of some of the Shelton teams, which have been very successful over several years. The kids, the coaches and the parents all work together and they are always open to supporting newer teams. “It’s not just a competition,” she said. “It’s a work of love.”
An article printed in the February 7, 2019 issue of the Woodbridge Town News misstated the team that won the FIRST LEGO competition trophy for Core Values. It was the Beecher Space Surfers who won the trophy. We regret the error.
By Bettina Thiel – Woodbridge Town News Correspondent