Lego League robotics competition makes science, technology fun for kids

ST. GEORGE — Hundreds of kids gathered at the campus of Dixie State University Saturday afternoon to compete in a tournament that put their science, technology, engineering and math skills to the test with programmed Lego robots. Though everyone was recognized for their work in the competition, only 14 teams qualified to go to the next level of the tournament.

Riverside Robotic Residents compete at the First Lego League competition, Dixie State University, St. George, Utah, Jan. 7, 2017 | Photo by and courtesy of Sterling Jones, St. George News
Riverside Robotic Residents compete at the “First Lego League” competition, Dixie State University, St. George, Utah, Jan. 7, 2017 | Photo by and courtesy of Sterling Jones, St. George News

Teams of up to 10 kids ages 9-14 competed in Saturday’s qualifying tournament for the annual “First Lego League” competition alongside adult mentors in a competition that challenged them to solve problems and learn engineering concepts, presentation techniques and programming.

This year’s First Lego League theme is “Animal Allies” and includes such challenges as feeding animals the correct type of food, returning a camera attached to a seal to the lab and releasing a panda back into the wild.

Teams are built from grass-roots, all-volunteer efforts by parents, teachers and interested kids. The teams come from many different backgrounds, including school groups, afterschool clubs and 4-H.

See video in the media player top of this report.

This year’s signups included over 50 teams, a record for the Dixie State University program that has been running since 2012. About 20 of the teams will compete at Southern Utah University this Saturday.

“They’re judged on how robust is their robot – how good are they as an engineer and programmer,” Paul Hill said.

Hill serves as the competition’s judge adviser and recruits judges to help rate each team qualitatively.

Emma Horn, Adri Baker, Kate Jones and Brinley Wilstead of the 4-H Cake Bots display their Champion's Award trophy at the First Lego League competition, Dixie State University, St. George, Utah, Jan. 7, 2017 | Photo by and courtesy of Sterling Jones, St. George News
L-R: Emma Horn, Adri Baker, Kate Jones and Brinley Wilstead of the 4-H Cake Bots display their Champion’s Award trophy at the “First Lego League” competition. Judge adviser Paul Hill poses with them, Dixie State University, St. George, Utah, Jan. 7, 2017 | Photo by and courtesy of Sterling Jones, St. George News

Every team that participated went away with some kind of award or certificate. Some examples of the areas awarded include robot design, teamwork skills and most innovative solution to a project.

The competition’s Champion’s Award went to the Cake Bots, an all-girl team with four members between the ages of 10 and 11.

“I hope that other people can see that a small four all-girl team can come and compete in a Lego robotics competition with all the boys,” Cake Bots coach Kasey Jones said. “I hope it inspires other girls to want to pursue programming.”

Quite a few girls participated in the competition, and several co-ed teams were present. Hill said even just competing in the challenge is a winning experience, regardless of whether they are the champions.

“Ultimately, when you learn how to program, you learn how to program a computer, or come up to a solution with an innovative problem. You haven’t really lost,” Hill said. “So everyone walks away with a great experience.”

The competition goes beyond just applying technical skills, and social skills are rated just as highly.

Sandstone Elementary's RoboRaptors compete at the First Lego League competition, Dixie State University, St. George, Utah, Jan. 7, 2017 | Photo by and courtesy of Sterling Jones, St. George News
Sandstone Elementary’s RoboRaptors compete at the “First Lego League” competition, Dixie State University, St. George, Utah, Jan. 7, 2017 | Photo by and courtesy of Sterling Jones, St. George News

“It really emphasizes the team work,” Carol Standard, a judge at the event, said. “Also, teams help other teams and take what they learn and use it outside of just their little robot competition. In that sense, it really broadens their skill set. They also learn how to present and talk to judges, and that’s a new thing for a lot of kids to gain that confidence to speak before adults.”

The event is designed to be as fun as possible for the children, but it also aims to attract more students to education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics – or STEM – fields.

“We’re trying to build the next generation – the pipeline – to fill the jobs of the future,” Hill said.

Fourteen of the teams move to the “South State Championship” Feb. 18, at Southern Utah University.

An additional qualifying event will be held at SUU this Saturday.

Awards list

  • Champion’s Award – 4-H Cake Bots
  • Aptitude Award – RoboRaptors
  • Engineering Award – Technomancers
  • Rising Star Award – Riverside Robotic Residents
  • Against All Odds Award – Bowtie Bros
  • Project Research Award – 4-H Nerf Herders
  • Project Innovative Solution Award – 4-H Built to be Wild
  • Project Presentation Award – 4-H IceBots
  • Robot Design Mechanical Design Award – East BroncoBots
  • Robot Design Programming Award – 4-H Gators Grokking Gizmos
  • Robot Design Strategy & Innovation Award – 4-H BAM: Rulers of LEGO
  • Robot Performance Award – Jinyuses
  • Core Values Inspiration Award – 4-H Delta Squad
  • Core Values Teamwork Award – RoboRaptor ElectroBots
  • Core Values Gracious Professionalism Award – LEGO Wars
  • Coach Award: Elisa Edwards – Arrowhead Eagles
  • Mentor Award: Preston Wilstead – 4-H CakeBots

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Email: jwitham@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.

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