Inly’s FIRST LEGO League Robotics Teams Are Up For a Challenge!

What if you could build a better world? Where would you begin?

by Matt Hollenback

In Inly’s after-school LEGO Robotics program, it begins with brainstorming and building, ideating and iterating. This fall two teams of Inly students have been busy doing just that in preparation for the annual FIRST LEGO League competition. For the past eight years, Inly has sent teams of grade 5–8 students to the regional competition with the hopes of advancing to the state level and beyond. In terms of educational goals and philosophy, the FIRST LEGO League aligns perfectly with our own: 

“More than ever, we must come together to innovate and solve problems. In FIRST, you are part of a thriving community brimming with inspiration, creativity, and hope for a stronger, more sustainable future—one that’s built better together.”

FIRST LEGO Challenge Theme 2019: “City Shaper”

While the theme of the challenge changes each year, the format remains relatively the same. Part one of the challenge is to develop a team-designed solution to a real-world problem.

This year’s project theme, “City Shaper,” calls for teams to identify a place in their community that has a specific need and to design a solution to address it. Inly’s Monday team, The Galaxy Goats, chose the Marshfield Fair as its subject and identified the need for accessibility information on the Fair’s website. Tuesday’s group, The Inly Ewoks, wanted to focus its talents on the flooding issues in the region and design an inflatable road system as a possible solution. 

Last year’s theme, space travel, inspired lots of creative ideas as well. Students were tasked to come up with solutions that would benefit humans during long-term space travel. One team came up with an idea to hop from asteroid to asteroid to mine materials needed for further travel! Another devised a solution to address cavities that astronauts might develop after long months without adequate dental care in space. In each of their projects, students are encouraged to highlight the Core values of the FIRST LEGO League: inspiration, teamwork, gracious professionalism and cooperation. 

As a new coach last year, I was drawn in by the concept of gracious professionalism and how it aligned with the spirit of innovation here at Inly School. Coined by Dr. Woodie Flowers, FIRST National Advisor and Pappalardo Professor Emeritus of Mechanical Engineering at MIT, the term “gracious professionalism” refers to the spirit of sharing resources across team lines and having an even playing field. 

An Inly LEGO Robotics student builds and programs a robot in preparation for the 2019 FLL “City Shapers” competition.

Building Programmable Robots, Coding and Completing Mission Boards

Part two of the challenge: to build a programmable robot out of technical LEGOs that can navigate a “mission board.” The boards in the da Vinci Studio have exactly the same setup as the ones students compete on during the competitions: Each board has 14 missions that can be completed for points. The higher the score, the better. 

At the competitions each team gets three chances to score as high as they can. Because each heat only lasts two-and-a-half minutes, the teams must be intentional about which missions they choose on the board. Although some missions may score high points, they also might require some extensive programming. These tough challenges could take more time than others, barring a team from completing more than a few in the given time. 

As teams we discuss this critical balance — which missions to complete and how? We also learning new coding techniques leading up to the competition. Students build skills while coding the robots and make decisions about how to create better extensions to complete the missions. With the limited amount of time we meet at school (roughly 1.5 – 2 hours per week), the project work is often done at home and brought in for collaboration and consideration of ideas. 

The Inly Ewoks and Galaxy Goats compete at the FLL regional qualifying tournament.

Strategy, Skills and Values Pay Off

On Saturday, December 7th, sixteen Inly students put their skills to the test at the First Lego League regional qualifying tournament held at Beverly High School. Our two teams, the Galaxy Goats and the Inly Ewoks, competed in a group of 30 teams to complete a range of challenges related to civil engineering and city planning— the cornerstones of this year’s “City Shaper” theme. Each team designed a robot using Legos and had to navigate a course within a two and a half minute heat. The Inly Ewoks came in 7th on the robot challenge scoring 295 points. The Galaxy Goats came in 11th place, scoring 240 points. Their scores were then added to the scores they received from their representation of FLL Core Values and project presentations. 

I am pleased to announce that the Inly Ewoks received the Gracious Professionalism Award and will be advancing to the East State Championship. This award is given to teams that display action that “encourages high-quality work, emphasizes the value of others, and respects individuals and the community.” Congratulations Ewoks! Congratulations Galaxy Goats!

The Inly Ewoks received the Gracious Professionalism Award and will be advancing to the East State Championship.

Come See the Ewoks in Action!

If you would like to come root for the Ewoks, the State Championship will be held at Newton North High School on Saturday, December 14th between 8:30 AM and 5:00 PM. Go Ewoks!

About Matt Hollenback
Designing, creating and tinkering with different 3-D materials for more than a decade, Matt was destined to work and teach in a makerspace, it seems. As he puts it, his position in the da Vinci Studio encapsulates all of his passions. Currently enrolled in Lesley University’s graduate program, he is on course to receive a Master of Education with a focus on Creative Arts in Learning in 2020. Learn more about Matt here.

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