LEGO League comes to NKU

Kelsey Bungenstock, Contributor

Since 1998, the FIRST LEGO League has brought the fun and creativity of science and technology to young people, ages 9 to 14. For the first time on Feb. 7, NKU welcomed 47 teams from across the state and hosted the Kentucky State FIRST LEGO League Tournament.

FIRST LEGO League teams consist of roughly 10 children, either associated through a pre-existing school club or just as a group of friends with a desire to build. Teams had competed in the Regional tournament on Dec. 6, also held at NKU, and those who qualified advanced to the State tournament.

The teams competed with one another in this year’s tournament by programming their robots to complete certain tasks, such as maneuvering through an obstacle course or lifting a ball and getting it into a goal. Though each team needs at least two adult coaches, the children are the ones in charge of their own success.

“One of the core values of FIRST LEGO League is that the kids are the ones doing the work,” John Farrar, state director of the FIRST LEGO League in Kentucky, said. “They have to design and build the robot, and then program it to do tasks.”

Hannah King, coach of The Order from Hindman, KY, understands the importance of letting her team do hands-on work with their robotics.

“That is the future. All of our jobs are becoming technology-based,” King said. “If they really want to succeed, they have to get ready to know how to use and design technology.”

The Camp Ernst Middle School team and second place Strategy and Innovation Award winners, the Trailblazers, has firsthand experience with the struggles of working on a team. Teammate Rithwik Ghanta describes the Trailblazers as a “democracy” that, even after some debate, always comes to a fair agreement.

“We argue a lot, but we always get to a consensus at the end and we’re always still friends,” Ghanta said.

FIRST LEGO League emphasizes the importance of skills in engineering and programming, but the valuable life lessons teammates gain from their work is another aspect that appeals to coaches and teams alike.

“They’re learning problem-solving skills; they’re learning teamwork,” Trailblazer Coach Donald Black Sr. said. “They’re using STEM skills they’ll need to succeed in the future. Technology’s not going away, so they can embrace it and work with it.”

The hard work of the members of each team was recognized at the beginning of the award ceremony, where every participant was given a medal for their hard work. Afterwards, trophies crafted out of LEGOs were awarded to teams through a series of categories. Many categories focused on the technological components of the competition, such as the Innovative Solution and Mechanical Design Awards, but many focused on the team aspects valued by FIRST LEGO League, such as the Gracious Professionalism and Teamwork Awards.

Even though not everyone could receive the coveted Champions Awards, given to teams that embody the FIRST LEGO League experience, many participants were glad for the opportunity to compete, and the skills they gained from it.

“I like coming up with an innovative solution because those are the ideas that are really going to change the world,” Trailblazer team member Nina Heister said. “I like following through with our ideas in the end, even after the competition, and using our solutions more in the outside world.”

The First Place Champions Award went to the Jr. Brainy Bots from Union, KY, who will receive an invitation to World Festival in St. Louis in April.