LAYTON – In one corner of the room, the Gorgeous Geeks watched eagerly as their teammates manipulated robots in a table-top competition.
Across the hall, Lego-Legacy team members with nicknames like Avulantche, Irthkuaik and Soonamy, worked to solve unexpected problems with the robots they had created over the past few months.
It was the regional competition for the Utah FIRST LEGO League tournament, the first of three that will be held throughout the state to determine who gets to go on to the state competition on Jan. 25 at the University of Utah.
Middle school students descended on Central Davis Junior High last Saturday to showcase their projects and compete in this year’s event, built around the theme “Nature’s Fury.”
“It’s a sporting event for the mind,” said Thad Kelling, marketing and public relations representative for the University of Utah’s Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute. The institute sponsors the FIRST LEGO program in Utah.
“We’re trying to promote STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) at the earliest time possible,” said Kelling. “It’s a really fun way to get kids starting to think about robots and science. They come out of it with a real understanding and appreciation and love for a really hard field of interest.”
Middle school is not too early to learn more of the sciences, said Lyle Dawley.Dawley and his wife, Stephanie, coach a young team of students from Fruit Heights, Kaysville and Layton.
“We need every kid to have an experience in engineering and the sciences,” said Dawley, who has a degree in electrical engineering and flies F-16s at Hill Air Force Base.
His children were just 4-or 5-years old when he first bought them Legos and he encouraged them to start exploring a robotics program when he was deployed to Afghanistan.
After their first competition on Saturday, Stephanie Dawley talked with the kids about what went right, what went wrong, and how to do things better the next time.
That kind of review, she said, is a very important part of the scientific process.
Stephanie Dawley has a degree in civil engineering, and agrees that it is good to expose children to the whole scientific process, where they learn to identify a problem, find a solution, see if it’s feasible and then implement it.
Lego robotics promotes both science and creativity, the parent team said.
“It’s really fun to solve things,” said Alexis Bustamante, a member of a Girl Scout troop that calls its team “Gorgeous Geeks.”
“I like the challenge,” she said.
Making new friends is also a benefit of participating on a team, said Amy Hunsaker.
“It’s fun to experiment,” she said.
Brandy Strand, a program manager for Girl Scouts said STEM is one of the primary program initiatives in Girl Scouts.
“Women are under represented in the sciences,” said Strand. “It’s a good way to engage their minds and empower them to try new things.”
The competition this year centered on problem solving Р specifically, what can be done when “intense natural events meet places where people live, work and play,” according to a press release.
Lego-Legacy team members from Bountiful, Kaysville and Farmington, made communications the focus of their project.
In the event of a disaster, when family members are trying to reach each other, they learned that texting is a better way of reaching more people faster.
“In a disaster, texting is faster,” quipped team members.
Though their robot didn’t function as well at Central Davis as it had at their headquarters, according Matt Taylor, a parent helping with the team, that was one of the lessons.
“It worked flawlessly before, but with different lights, they had to make adjustments once they got here,” he said. “There are a lot of variables, but their problem solving was really neat to watch.”
Working as a team, experimenting, trying and then trying again, are some of the skills teams developed, according to volunteers and organizers.
“We learn to cooperate with other people,” said one team member.“You make lots of friends,” said another.
“You have to focus,” said a third.
Michelle Howard was the event manager for the Layton competition. An employee of Layton City Recreation, she said the department sponsors a lot of sports activities, and this one fits the needs of many students as a non-traditional sport.
Competitions were held over robots meeting challenges, as well as robot design and project presentation. Awards were given for friendly competition and gracious professionalism as well.
More information on teams and competitions is available at utfll.utah.edu.