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South Whidbey Lego team named best in first test | KUDOS

Four Wellington Day School students participated Dec. 1 in a FIRST Lego League (FLL) pre-robotics competition at Jackson High School in Mill Creek. The Robo-Tacos, consisting of Gabe Berger, Kaija Dahle, Colin Schramm and Donovan Wicher, entered the competition as rookies this year and brought home a trophy for best performance out of the 40 teams that competed.

The team is coached by parent volunteers Sarah Guthrie-Steinberg and Minda Wicher.

“There were only 11 trophies to be awarded to 40 teams, so to win one as a rookie team is amazing,” said Guthrie-Steinberg in a news release. “We are also a young team. FIRST is available for students aged 10 to 14, and all four of our team members are on the younger side of that range. We were competing against teams of 14-year-olds who have been involved in these competitions for five years.”

Each year, FIRST teams are presented with a challenge. This year, the challenge is called “Senior Solutions,” so students are researching challenges and brainstorming solutions that can help elderly people live more comfortably and efficiently with technological innovations. In addition to building Lego models representative of those challenges, the team built a computerized robot and learned basic computer programming skills to direct the robot through its obstacle course.

“The Robo-Tacos would like to extend a special thank you to the residents of Maple Ridge in Freeland, who graciously welcomed them in to learn more about the challenges facing the elderly members of our community through one-on-one interviews conducted by the students,” Guthrie-Steinberg said.

Christine Mulchahy, who started the program last year, added, “From our youngest generation to our eldest generation, we’re spanning generational gaps while encouraging the understanding and use of emerging technology. It really is an amazing club to lead.”

Although this is the rookie year for the FLL team, Wellington Day School, located in Clinton, started its Lego Club last year, with more than 25 students ages 6 to 9 participating in the Junior FLL organization — nearly half of the entire school. This year, 17 of the younger students will participate in the Spring Expo on March 23, 2013 in Seattle.

Mulcahy pointed out that while the Lego models are a big part of the program, at this age, the focus is more about teamwork, cooperation and the foundational skills necessary to build a motorized model and prepare a presentation.

“We spend most of our time on processes — making a plan, identifying roles and responsibilities, researching our topic and figuring out how to communicate with different personality types on each team. When we actually get to building the models and troubleshooting to improve them, we’ve built more skills than these students even know.”

FLL is an international organization founded by Dean Kamen to encourage students to learn about and apply science, technology, engineering and math concepts to solve everyday challenges. There are currently 422 teams across Washington, making this state an example for the rest of the world to follow. Recruiters from engineering schools and corporations engage with students as they seek qualified applicants for engineering roles.

“In fact, in a state with 360,000 unemployed people, there are 70,000 engineering jobs available that cannot be filled due to lack of qualified applicants,” Mulcahy said.

To learn more about FIRST Lego League, visit www.firstwa.org, or contact Wellington Day School to speak with the coaches.

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