Lego League tackles 'disasters'

STEM students ages 9-14 employ Lego robotics to combat 'Nature's Fury' in qualifying tournament

By Tom Vogt, Columbian science, military & history reporter



Did you know?

About 470 teams participate in Lego League competitions in Oregon and Southwest Washington.

Nature's Fury

Saturday results

Core values award: Knights of the Lego Table, neighborhood team, Vancouver

Project award: Thunderbots, Longview Parks and Recreation

Robot Design award: Soggy Cloverteers, Clark County 4-H, Battle Ground

Robot Performance: Chickenbots, N.E. Portland Neighborhood team

ACE Trophies (top 3 teams overall)

1st Champion, F.L.O.O.D.S, Woodland Middle School, Woodland

2nd Champion, Blazing Bots, Cowlitz County 4-H

ACE Trophy, Knights of the Lego Table, neighborhood team, Vancouver.

Sunday results

Rising Star award: Flaming Cougars, Cascade Middle School, Vancouver

Core values award: Camas Mechanikids, Camas neighborhood team,

Project award: Robo Rebels, View Ridge Middle School, Ridgefield

Robot Design award: Fastidious Lego Llamas, N.E. Portland neighborhood team

Robot Performance: Nano Stars, Lake Oswego-Wilsonville neighborhood team

ACE Trophies (top 3 teams overall)

1st Champion, Nano Stars, Lake Oswego-Wilsonville neighborhood team

2nd Champion, Lego Robo Warriors, Felida neighborhood team

ACE Trophy, Fastidious Lego Llamas, N.E. Portland neighborhood team

ACE Trophy, Camas Mechanikids, Camas neighborhood team

While edging away from the volcano, you had to make sure to avoid the tsunami.

Those were just some of the disasters that challenged more than 200 young problem-solvers at Salmon Creek Elementary School over the weekend.

The two-day event was billed as "Nature's Fury," a qualifying tournament for the regional Intel Oregon Lego League program. It transformed STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and math) into a competition.

The teams of 9- to 14-year-olds used Lego "Mindstorm" kits to build robots that would manage natural disasters.

On Sunday, the Splat Masters looked for ways to deal with the aftermath of an earthquake.

"It will crack roads, land will shift, and buildings will fall down," Splat Master Tai McKinney said.

They programmed their robot to navigate the test table, and then turned it loose. It was an autonomous robot: no remote control, no joystick guidance.

The only external input came via body English, as team members would shift and lean frantically, trying to adjust their robots' route.

Apparently, it isn't all that effective.

The competition drew a variety of teams: Some represent local schools, and others are formed through youth groups like 4-H. Still others, like the Splat Masters, are neigborhood-based.

The Salmon Creek HuskyBots, the home team, actually were sponsored by the school's Travis Hays Learning Center.

Tucker Johnson, the HuskyBot coach, said a lot of different lessons can go into a project. It's more than learning the tech and science concepts.

"Kids have learned to work together. They argue less and prove what actually works," Johnson said

Washougal resident Sandy Kirkpatrick, one of the directors, said she really enjoys how the program can develop a range of the students' abilities.

Team members do their research, then build their machines. And after that, they make a presentation and answer questions.

The Lego League's entry-level robotics program operates under the banner of FIRST, which translates into: For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology.

It sounds kind of elevated, but some of the concepts are practically backyard issues for the competitors. A Pacific Middle School team based its "Nature's Fury" project on a natural feature that's right on our horizon.

"We're going with Mount St. Helens," Pacific student Brandon Stephenson said. "It's recent, and it's close to us, and it will erupt in the next 100 years."

Nine teams will advance to the championship tournaments on Jan. 18 and 19 at Liberty High School in Hillsboro, Ore.