Middle schoolers compete in Lego League contests
A group of students at Webster City Middle School recently competed in the regional and state FIRST Lego League Challenges.
The “Lego League” name can be a bit deceiving for those unfamiliar with the program. Coaches Mark Murphy and Julie Pagel say the program really has nothing to do with building elaborate creations out of Legos.
“We’re definitely not a Lego building club,” Murphy said.
“The only Lego part of it is building missions for their robot and the robot itself,” Pagel said. “But there’s so much more to the program.”
The FIRST in the FIRST Lego League name is an acronym for “For Inspiration and Recognition in Science and Technology.” The FIRST organization was founded in 1989 by Dean Kamen to inspire youth to get involved in science and technology.
The program and competition has three different facets — robotics, an innovation project and core values.
The program in Webster City Schools started about four years ago, according to Murphy. This year was a little different for the Webster City Lego Leaguers. Normally, there is a fourth grade team at Sunset Heights Elementary, but that couldn’t be done this year due to COVID-19. So three teams of 8 students each were created at the middle school with mixed grade levels on all the teams. Pagel said. This was the first year for the mixed grade levels teams.
“Normally, with fourth graders, everything is new. When it comes to coding, building robots and research into things — it’s all new,” Pagel said. “But this year, we had kids who knew about that and who had been involved for several years.”
She said some students were new to the program and many times, the experienced team members would help explain things to the new kids.
“And that’s part of the whole core value component of working together as a team, helping each other. We pressed that a lot as we were working,” she said.
The teams meet twice a week for two-hour sessions, usually right afterschool. Typically, the program begins shortly after the school year starts but this year it was October when the teams were formed, Murphy said.
The three teams competed in the regional contest, and one team, Lynx in Motion, advanced to the state competition and also competed for the Global Innovation Award.
“The Global Innovation component allows the teams that have more innovative projects or more practical projects to advance to another level to see if their product could be marketed or applied,” he said. “If the team goes on from the state level, there’s a whole international competition that you can get in with that product.”
Competitions were held virtually this year due to the pandemic.
The competition revolved around the question of how to get people to be more active.
“That was the overall project that all the LEGO teams were working on worldwide,” Murphy said.
The students developed a prototype of their project — a game called Peg Ball, a yard game that can be set up in a variety of configurations. The team gave a five-minute presentation about their project. They introduced the project, talked about how the project was chosen and what they learned from researching the topic. The judges then can ask the students questions, Pagel said.
The team members also faced the judges to talk about their robot runs. The judges also questioned the team on specifics about the robots.
“We recorded our robot runs here at the middle school and then we Zoomed with remote judges across the state to do the other parts of the competition,” said Murphy.
“The students are also judged on the core values, looking at how the students worked as a team and how they resolved conflict,” said Pagel.
The coaches said they were proud of the accomplishments of all three teams and the growth the team members experienced during the Lego League season.
Murphy and Pagel said there are many takeaways for kids involved in the program — from developing an interest in science, math or technology to learning coding or working with robotics to honing presentation and public speaking skills. But at its heart, it’s all about innovation.
“There’s definitely a focus on coming up with a new idea and being able to present that to other people,” Pagel said.