LEGOs have been around for more than 90 years, and the popular child’s brick toy has evolved from simple play material for children to the world of competition with LEGO leagues around the world. In May of this year, the Queen of Peace ‘For Inspiration and Recognition in Science and Technology’ or FIRST LEGO League team, The Holy Legos (Batman), participated in the Western Edge FIRST LEGO League Robotics Competition in California.
“Western Edge is an international invitational of 80 teams from all over the world that are among the best teams in their countries and states. To be invited, a team had to win or place high enough in a qualifying tournament to advance to state or equivalent international stage and be among the top winners at that level,” said Team Coach Steve Lidy. “Holy LEGOs won the GEARS qualifying tournament advancing to FIRST Indiana State where we placed 5th in the robot game and were a project finalist.”
According to Lidy, FIRST LEGO League is a youth robotics program for students in 4th through 8th grade. FIRST LEGO League (FLL) consists of three parts: robot game, project, and core values.
“The FLL season starts August 1 with the global release of the challenge and rules for the robot game as well as the project criteria where all 30,000+ teams worldwide begin to solve the robot game by building and programming a LEGO robot and attachments/manipulators to solve as many missions and score as many points on the game field as possible in a two and half minute time limit,” noted Lidy. “The theme changes every season and the missions on the game field relate to the theme. Parallel to the robot game, students identify a problem within the theme, develop a solution, research, test, and present their solution to a panel of judges.”
Lidy said this year’s theme was “Super Powered,” referring to all things energy, including production, distribution, and consumption. The team researched alternative ways of storing energy other than a battery and were inspired by the concept of pumped hydro where water is pumped to a high elevation and stored there for later on-demand use through a turbine generating power.
“We identified that solar, wind, and other renewable power sources are ‘use it or lose it’ unless you can store it, and electric storage methods are limited to mainly batteries. Using any surplus of solar or wind generated power not consumed by day-to-day activities could be used to perform water electrolysis (splitting water into hydrogen to be stored for later) to power generators when the sun is down and wind is not blowing, or power vehicles and oxygen that can be sold to medical and industrial as a revenue stream,” stated Lidy.
The team had a memorable time competing against students from around the country.
“Competing in the California Western Edge event was something that I will never forget. In FIRST LEGO League, one of the biggest rules is making sure you are practicing gracious professionalism. It didn’t matter that we were competing against each other. Everyone was so friendly to one another and made sure to help other teams if they needed an idea, or just needed a few pieces. There were so many amazing teams from all around the world and meeting them and sharing everything we had learned through the season was so fun. The competition itself was amazing. Every team there had different innovative ways of solving missions and it was so cool to see how these teams came up with solutions,” recalled team member Payton Gustafson. “During our On-the-Spot challenge, we were paired with a team from Ontario and Kazakhstan. Even though we are all from different parts of the world, we were able to come together, share different ideas, and eventually figure out how to solve the challenge.”
Team member Colbie Gustafson had a blast at the competition and enjoyed visiting the Queen Mary, Aquarium of the Pacific, and walking around the piers.
“First off, on Friday, (first day of the competition) we set up our pit which was very cool. We then did our first robot run the next day. We did both our backrooms, and our last two robot runs. They both went well,” Colbie Gustafson said. “We got our On-the-Spot challenge with Ontario and Kazakhstan and performed it on Sunday. It did okay but it was really fun. For the awards ceremony, our coach won the Best Mentor Award. We didn’t win anything for the robot, backrooms, or core values which is okay because we still had a really good time.”
The FIRST LEGO group started through general interest by new parishioners. Initially, the group consisted of just youth from Queen of Peace. Through the years, the team has grown in interest and now includes students from Mishawaka Catholic, St. Pius X, and other Catholic students attending public school.
“Eight years ago, we joined Queen of Peace Parish and our son Sean was in 5th grade. Sean had some knowledge of FLL and found that Queen of Peace School did not have an FLL team, so we started one. We talked with our principal and encouraged eight students to try youth robotics, calling ourselves The Holy LEGOs and we competed in the 2015/16 Trash Trek FLL season,” recalled Lidy. “Since then, the Holy LEGOs have won several qualifying tournaments, advanced to state six times, and competed internationally three times. Many of the students that have been part of FLL and the Holy LEGOs are now attending universities across the nation like the University of Notre Dame studying biochemistry, Yale studying architecture, and this fall Sean (who started it all at Queen of Peace) will be attending Rochester Institute of Technology in New York studying Software Engineering and Business.”
“I joined the Queen of Peace Lego team mostly just because I thought it could be a fun extracurricular activity. Never would I have imagined the impact it would really have in my life and how much I would really love it. When I was younger, I always liked putting together and building LEGO sets so, in 4th grade when I heard there was a team I could join where you got to build with LEGOs, I was very excited. Of course, it turned out it was a lot more complicated than that, but I really enjoyed it. The next year I decided that I wanted to continue being on the team, and now six years later, I’m graduating from the same team I started on,” said Payton Gustafson.
“The main reason that I joined was because of my sister, Payton. She influenced me by every time I went with my grandpa and grandma to pick her up, I always saw how much fun they were having. Anytime they were having a fundraiser, I helped and had a great time. For example, every year, they used to have a Nelsons Chicken fundraiser. It was so much fun to promote it with our signs on the side of the road or taking people’s order. If I’m being honest, I would probably never even think about doing robotics if it wasn’t for Payton, but now I realize that it is much more fun and teaching than many people say it is,” said Colbie Gustafson.
Team photographer and proud grandfather Jeff Reynolds feels the league has had a very positive effect on his granddaughters.
“Because of the process, they have gained confidence in speaking confidently and articulately, especially to adults and strangers. They have developed problem solving skills and an ability to think critically and, on the spot, to solve missions and challenges presented by the competition. Teamwork and cooperation are skills that they need to be successful, and I know will serve them well as they grow and mature. I believe this has been a big asset to their futures and they have had so much fun being part of this team,” noted Reynolds.
Being part of this program teaches participants to solve problems and see obstacles as opportunities to solve a challenge or problem.
“This program is so much more than LEGO robots and science fair projects,” said Lidy. “As a coach/mentor, I guide the team down the path of learning. They do all the hard work identifying their project, building their robot, developing attachments to solve the missions, breaking the game down into runs they can accomplish in two and a half minutes, creating a presentation for the judges to defend their robot strategy, and design and project findings. There is something for every kid on the team. Not all of them build, not all of them program, not all of them spearhead the project, but all of them learn something from the experience.”
Each student takes away the skills of problem solving, confidence, public speaking, and teamwork from the program along with having fun.
“The reward for me as a coach, is watching the kids develop these skills and go from what you would expect of a 5th to 8th grader to little professionals that can present their ideas and compete at the robot table while offering a hand up to their competitors in gracious professionalism,” said Lidy.
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