24 local teams compete in 3rd annual FIRST Lego League qualifier

Zach Vance • Updated Dec 3, 2016 at 10:21 PM

For many adults, Legos are reminiscent of the piercing foot pain felt while stumbling to the bathroom in the middle of the night and unexpectedly stepping on a sharp, plastic building block left by one of their children.

Then comes the expletive while hopping around on one foot.

Well, Legos have evolved exponentially from the once-scolded “toys.”

Children are now learning lifelong skills through designing, programming and building Lego robots that perform certain tasks, and then compete among each other.

On Saturday, 24 local robotics teams gathered at the ETSU/Mountain States Health Alliance Athletic Center to face off in the third annual FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Lego League Johnson City qualifier.

More than 300 parents, students and teachers watched eagerly as teams attempted various missions laid out on a designated table.

The teams were comprised of fourth- through eighth-graders who worked diligently together, making final tweaks and discussing game plans before attempting 10 pre-determined “missions,” which usually involved robots moving specific objects to designed areas.

“Each mission is worth certain points,” said Jessie Miller, a fifth grade Doak Elementary teacher. “Most of the teams I’ve seen today have chosen to only do specific missions (that they had trained for).”

Each team was given two minutes and 30 seconds to the missions, but if the robot bumps into something, points were deducted.

Since the beginning of the school year, Miller said her team had been practicing weekly for the qualifiers.

“They get the kit, we have to build the board, we have to build all the Legos and set them up properly. Everything is defined,” Miller said.

“And then they code. They have to program their robots to do these certain missions.”

While it was Doak Elementary’s first time competing in the FIRST Lego League competition, team member Kailen Trull had been a life-long Legos fan with a niche in programming.

“I’ve always had a passion for Legos. It’s always been one of my favorite things to do. It gives me a better imagination and helps me be more creative in the mind,” Trull said.

Due to a team member’s getting sick, Glenwood fifth-grader John Jones competed all by himself to represent his school.

But he didn’t expect any pity.

“I thought the competition was pretty cool,” Jones said.

“It was nice to get to hang out around some other schools. We worked almost all the weeks on this robot.”

Jones said he researched all the knowledge he had gained about building and programming his robot.

Apart from the actual competition, teams were also judged during an interview process and poster presentation, where core values and intentions were discussed.

“They had to create something that could essentially help people or animals or the relationship between. So my school came up with something you can add onto a car that will send out high-frequency signals to keep smaller animals away,” Miller said.

At the end of the competition, a panel of judges awarded teams in four separate categories: Robot performance, core values, project resources and the champion’s award.

Of the 24 teams, half moved on to the state competition at Tennessee Tech in January.

Email Zach Vance at [email protected] Follow Zach Vance on Twitter at @ZachVanceJCP. Like him on Facebook at Facebook.com/ZachVanceJCP.

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