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The City Journals

Welby Elementary wins awards at Region, State as newcomers to First Lego League robotics

Mar 28, 2017 10:25AM ● By Julie Slama

Newcomers to First Lego League Robotics, Team Tech and The Coders, representing Welby Elementary, competed at the state First Lego League robotics tournament after both teams woninning the presentation awards at region. (Haley McCall/Welby Elementary)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

Welby Elementary fifth-grader Cami Mounga had been part of her school’s coding club. So when teachers offered to start a First Lego League robotics team, she jumped at the opportunity.

“I thought it would fun and a good learning experience,” said Cami, who became captain of Team Tech. “We became good friends as well as good teammates.”

Instead of just offering one robotics team, the school had enough interest to offer two teams.

Fifth-grader Caleb McDonald became captain of The Coders.

“I like Legos, and it’s been pretty cool to make a program and robot,” he said. “Sometimes we had long practices, but it was better with pizza.”

Little did they know their interest in these inaugural teams of Team Tech and The Coders would give them first- and second-place presentation awards, respectively, at the Feb. 4 regional qualifying tournament and bids to the northern state Feb. 11 championship. At state, Team Tech won the inspiration award presented to “a first-year team showing enthusiasm and spirit.”

First Lego League isn’t just building a Lego robot and programming it to complete missions each worthy of points; 

the competitions allow students age 9 to age 14 to compete in core values and an innovative project and presentation, as well as the robot design and performance. Through the competition, students apply real-world math and science concepts, research challenges, learn critical thinking, team-build and develop presentation skills while having fun competing in tournaments.

This year about 32,000 teams competed worldwide, with more than 300 teams across Utah competing in the state qualifying tournaments and both a northern and southern state championship.

Starting from scratch, Welby coaches Kristie Alexander, Ana Cerezo, Rani Li and Haley McCall sought advice from other coaches and teams and former state-winning coach Michelle Estrada. They took it upon themselves to learn about robot technology and get grants to buy the robot kit.

“We have had more than 100 kids in our coding club, so there’s interest and that helped prepare them for the commitment of First Lego League,” McCall said. “But we started late. By the time we got the robot and started going, other teams already had been programming for months. Still, our students accomplished so much in a short time.”

McCall said they did have experience in student research, papers and presentation.

“As teachers, we have presentation experience, so we already had our students researching their topics for their presentations, and our teams watched and critiqued each other to help them improve,” she said. “Still, we were surprised when our students got awards in their first year.”

Tying into the First Lego League theme of “Animal Allies,” Team Tech came up with a real world issue they could solve. The team members researched Cami’s idea of helping orangutans and learned that palm trees were being cut down to get palm oil, which was diminishing the food for the animals.

“Our idea was to create a knocker that get the nuts down so they don’t have to cut down the trees. We made a prototype with a 3-D printer to show judges. We also worked with Spyhop film makers to make a video of the problem we identified and how we solved it,” Cami said about the infomercial the team posted on YouTube.

She also said that they shared information about an app they learned about that identifies foods with palm oil to educate consumers about how those products are harming the orangutan habitat.

The Coders’ project was about sharks getting caught in long-line fishing.

“The sharks were getting caught instead of the tuna or swordfish. If they aren’t helped immediately, they die on the long line. So, we decided to deter sharks from the hooks with the idea of electricity and attracting them to the other side of the barrier with shiny materials,” Caleb said, adding that his team also created a film about the project through iMovie.

McCall said both students became better leaders through the experience.

“Cami was always cheering and encouraging her teammates and ensuring everyone was on task and ready for the competitions,” she said. “Caleb was proud of his team and excited; he made sure his team was organized and brought out the best of others.”

Cerezo said the experience was positive.

“We’re amazed about how much they learned through the process,” she said. “At the beginning, some of the kids weren’t even talking to one another, and by the end, it was as if they were best friends. We saw their character grow and watched them learn more about research and presentation and about robot design and programming.”