KEARNEY — LEGO robots took over the gym at Kearney Catholic High School Saturday for a qualifying tournament for First LEGO League, an international competition.
The focus of FLL is to interest 9- to 14-year-olds in science and technology in a fun way. Those involved learn how to develop a project, conduct research, build and program a robot, and enter their robot in competition. Teams compete by having their robots carry out tasks that they’ve been programmed to do, and the teams make repairs and adjustments along the way. Competition can be fierce.
“Time to focus,” Thaddeus Fonck said. “All your late nights, all your preparation has come down to this.”
It’s a speech fitting for a football coach rallying his team. But Fonck isn’t a football coach. He’s coach of the Lincoln-based Teslaroids, who huddled around him in matching bright yellow shirts.
The Teslaroids were one of 18 teams that took part in the tournament, and it qualified for state competition Feb. 22 at the Strategic Air and Space Museum in Ashland. Seven other teams also qualified.
“I think kids learn a lot of confidence,” Fonck said. “They learn a lot of skills, whether it’s researching projects, working together as teams, problem-solving skills.”
Working together as a team is one of the core values outlined by LEGO and is factored into the judging. The other values are the technical skills needed to build and program the robot, research conducted, and the competition, which demonstrates what the robots were designed to do.
Teams use LEGO Mindstorms to build and program their robots. LEGO Mindstorms sets include a programmable computer, which functions as the brain of the robot.
“It’s really a great program,” said Clint Johnson, coach of the Fort Calhoun-based Terminators. “It teaches them a little about engineering, building robots, making sturdy structures, accomplishing challenges.”
Johnson added that critical thinking was also something that participants learned in the research and design process.
“It gets kids thinking about technology,” said Kathy Niedbalski, a math teacher at KCHS. “It teaches them great problem solving skills.”
Niedbalski said that participation for KCHS had been strong with four teams of 10 students each. “Here at Kearney Catholic we do it as a middle school event. So students in sixth, seventh and eighth grades are welcome to participate.”
Two KCHS teams, KCHS Gold and KCHS Stars 2, qualified for state competition.
Niedbalski added that preparation had been lengthy and that teams had been meeting once a week since September. “First, we had to learn how to do the programming to program the robots. Then, we work on each of the individual pieces of the competition as we go along,” she said.
Tanner Brandl, 11, of Aurora agreed that a lot of hours went into the competition.
“We spent about five weeks working on robot design, and we spent until now programming it,” he said.
Brandl was a part of the A’ROR’N Bots team, which qualified for state and took first place overall at the competition.
Each year FLL, introduces a new challenge. This year’s theme was “Nature’s Fury,” which encouraged students to consider the role that technology plays in mitigating natural disasters. FLL national competition will be St. Louis April 23-26.
For more information about FLL, go to firstlegoleague.org.
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