EDITORS NOTE: Breanna Carter is a journalism student at Saint Louis University who currently building up an online resume. She submitted the below article for publication on DFE, which I am happy to do. Are you looking for web publication? Please contact me and we’ll talk about how you might get published on DFE!
This past month, the Finger Lakes FIRST LEGO League Championship Tournament celebrated its most successful year to date. The event, held at the University of Rochester, began in 2005 with just a couple dozen teams from the local area. The number of teams, the quality of the competition, and the stakes at hand have all increased regularly since then, and this year the robotics program included around 130 teams representing an area that includes large swaths of upstate New York.
The competition is open to students from the age of 9 to 14. An entering team is required to construct robots out of LEGO pieces, give presentations regarding their robot’s ability to tackle a given theme, and then demonstrating this ability in a 4 by 8 foot arena. This year’s theme was food safety, specifically methods and techniques to preserve food and insure that it is safe. Successful demonstrations had robots removing bacteria from food and depositing it in a sink, inspecting food for animal contamination, and regulating a refrigerator’s thermostat.
In the final round of the tournament, 36 teams competed for the ultimate prize: a chance to represent the region at the World Festival this spring, in St. Louis Missouri. Hundreds of students congregated in UR’s Goergen Athletic Center with robots, PowerPoint presentations, posters, and various other accessories in town. In the first half of the competition, teams were required to give presentations to the judge about food safety, sans their robot. Points were awarded for research quality, delivery, and creativity. Then, in the second half, the judges and the audience gathered around the robot arenas to watch the demonstrations in action. Teams were furthermore given three rounds of tasks that needed to be completed, with each round lasting just two-and-a-half minutes. The goal, of course, was to accumulate as many of the available points as possible.
The winner of the tournament was the Hippi Pandas, a team made up of Girl Scouts from Churchville-Chili. They won the Champion’s Award and a spot in St. Louis in April.
At a time when many people bemoan the disinterest shown by American children in the sciences, the competition is a welcome and worthy one. Our world of smartphones, video games, the reverse phone lookup, and Google searches has simultaneously broadened our technological abilities while narrowing the sense of exploration and technological creativity inherent in many children. The growth of this tournament is a great counter to the perceived trend, and I wish the Hippi Pandas the best of luck in St. Louis. I’m sure they will make the region proud.