Weber State University was host to the Utah FIRST LEGO League Qualifying Competition on Saturday. WSU partnered with the National Defense Education Program through Hill Air Force Base to hold the competition for the first time on WSU’s campus.

[media-credit name=”Amanda Lewark” align=”alignright” width=”300″][/media-credit]

Young students participate in the FIRST LEGO League Qualifying Competition on WSU’s campus. The competition encourages students to be actice in math and science.

FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) LEGO League is a robotics program that motivates children ages nine through 14 to expand their knowledge in the fields of science, engineering, technology and teamwork.

Nineteen teams of up to 10 members were involved at the WSU event, which is one of the nine qualifying tournaments in Utah. The teams were given eight weeks to research, design and build their robots.

Teams practiced with their coaches, learning how to program the LEGO Mindstorm robot and how to work with one another.

“I like to make the robot do degrees when turning,” said Michele King, an 11-year-old student at Whitesides Elementary. “It was confusing at first, but it’s easy now.”

King wants to be an artist when she grows up, and her favorite subjects are math and reading. King enjoys being on the team and said it is a good experience to learn about teamwork and making friends.

Zach Chapman, twelve, joined Team No Name with his former classmates from the defunct Horizon School, a private school emphasizing academics. “Science is learning and discovering and making new things,” Chapman said. “[FIRST Lego is] Good for learning, good chance for people to get together, and get to know each other.”

There are multiple events in the competition. In one, students are given the task to program a robot, with guidance by their coaches, and complete missions using drag and drop programs on a computer.

“They are given a list of various missions that they can try and accomplish,” said Trescott Jensen, a senior in the Electronics Engineering program at Weber State and co-coach of Team No Name, “and each mission has associated points to it, each team decides what part of the challenge they want to accomplish.”

Teams picked creative names to set them apart from the competition. Names from Saturday included the Mega Minions, Robotic Chickens, Mind Bogglers and the Lego Scorpions.

Food Factor was this year’s tournament theme, focusing on food handling and safety. The children were taught about food safety and potential areas of food contamination and learned how pests, non-sterile processing and transportation, and unsanitary preparations and storage can be harmful to our health.

Robots are programmed to complete 14 challenges that have been set out on the testing table. Teams have a designated amount of time to complete as many challenges as possible.  Challenges vary from emptying trash dispensers to removing pests from the table and into the collector.

The challenges help reinforce healthy practices. Hand Wash is represented by collecting the bacteria and viruses and moving them into the sink.

The matches started at noon with two to three teams competing on different tables at the same time.

“I would have liked to do something like this when I was young,” said Kyle Gallegos, a WSU student who attended the event. “The kids look like they are having a good time and are learning a lot of practical things they can apply in their futures.”

Megan Gallegos, another WSU student at the event, said it was encouraging to see children developing enthusiasm for skills that will prove important in the future.

“I love seeing how excited the kids look,” she said. “It’s good to see kids getting excited about math and science.”

Awards were given in several categories for core values, robot performance and design, and a judge’s award for the team that set itself apart from the others.

“It teaches the kids teamwork,” said Lisa Crossley, a team coach in the competition. “It’s hard because there is only one robot, and with so many kids, they learn how to delegate. The competition shows them how to have fun.”

For more information on FIRST LEGO or how to donate and volunteer, visit utfll.utah.edu and usfirst.org.

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