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Rocklin hosts Lego League state championship

Students from throughout Northern California compete
By: Anne Stokes, Placer Herald Correspondent
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Rocklin was the setting for Saturday’s FIRST Lego League State Championship competition at William Jessup University. (FIRST is an acronym: For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology). More than 450 middle school students comprised the 48 top teams from the Northern California Capital District. The teams, which had qualified at a regional level, vied for first place honors and an invitation to the World Championship competition in St. Louis. “Anyone can start a FIRST Lego League team,” explained tournament director Heidi Buck, a resident of Meadow Viata. “We have teams here that are school-sponsored. We have teams here that are Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts. We have home-schoolers. We have friends (who) love Legos and they heard about this and had a parent step up to be a coach.” Based on this year’s “Food Factor” theme, teams created projects with food safety issues in mind. Teams were tasked with designing, building, and programming robots to perform tasks on a tabletop obstacle course, known as the Robot Game, in 2-1/2 minutes. Lego-built obstacles included “disinfecting bacteria,” “pest” removal as well as harvesting and delivering “food” from one end of the course to the other. Students also had to develop an innovative research project that would improve food safety practices. Teams were judged by project presentation, robot design and programming, Robot Game performance, and incorporating Core Values (teamwork and innovation) into their project. “It’s the coolest way to get kids excited about STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math] because it’s hands-on,” said Buck. “And they’re solving real-world issues along with doing these amazing things. And what’s not to love about Legos?” The FIRST Lego League was founded in 1998 by Dean Kamen and the LEGO Group’s Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen. Originating in New Hampshire, the nonprofit organization is now international, with chapters in more than 60 countries throughout the world. The group’s mission is to inspire children not only in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math, but also to embrace “Gracious Professionalism” and “Coopertition.” (cq) The group’s core values are built on the “concept and philosophy that teams can and should help and cooperate with each other even as they compete.” And they’ve been seemingly successful on both fronts. A 2000 survey by Goodman Research Group of Boston found that participants showed positive improvements in science and math aptitudes as well as improved attitudes towards teamwork and self-image. As a volunteer judge for the event, Shelby Loya was looking for enthusiasm “for the project as well as enthusiasm for working as a team. And that they’ve improved some way throughout the season. I think it’s good to see kids who were maybe having some difficulties that they have overcome.” Jennifer Grayser, a teacher at Will C. Wood middle school in Sacramento, brought six students from her MESA class to compete in the championship. “I think definitely the programming is the most difficult because it can change from time to time and testing it,” she said. “So it’s definitely difficult for them to get it exactly right. It’s just frustrating when it doesn’t quite go exactly as planned. It’s a great program, we’ve had fun.” For more information on forming a team for next season, visit http://firstlegoleague.org or send an e-mail to Heidi Buck at heidi@norcalrobots.org.