Lego tournament mixes fun and learning
Riverside, Calif. (Dec. 12, 2022) – Bustling crowds of parents and students ages 6-14 brought the halls of the Dennis and Carol Troesh Engineering Building to life on Dec. 2 for the First Lego League Regional Tournament held at California Baptist University.
Thirty-nine Challenge teams (ages 9-14) and two Explore teams (ages 6-10) competed in the regionals, which included teams from San Luis Obispo to San Diego and Arizona. Each team had designed a Lego robot, coded to complete rounds of challenges throughout the day.
The robotics tournament felt similar to a sporting event — students arrived clad in team shirts showcasing their names and sponsors, families gathered around to watch, the kids cheered for fellow team members and there were even teams celebrating with colorful pom-poms in hand.
Before the first round, students made last-minute preparations for their robots. Powered by the Son, a team sponsored by CBU, performed practice runs, rewrote a piece of code and headed into the competition area with a giant “Lance Up" foam hand.
Then, it was time to compete. Each round consisted of matches that lasted 2.5 minutes. During that time, each robot, controlled by a drive team of four students, attempted to complete as many of the 15 challenges as possible on the Lego League mat. This year’s theme was Superpowered, so challenges revolved around energy. The teams had to harvest energy units from solar farms, wind turbines and hydroelectric dams; recharge a hybrid Lego car; and energize a dinosaur toy. Each completed challenge added points to the team’s score.
“It’s kind of nerve-wracking but it’s kind of exciting also,” said Rebekah Daggett, age 12, a member of Powered by the Son. “It’s fun to hang out here at our home college and it’s cool to be here and watch your robot.”
Not just playing with Legos
This is the first time the Gordon and Jill Bourns College of Engineering hosted teams and a tournament for First Lego League.
“Hosting this event was a tremendous opportunity for CBU to showcase our university to young aspiring students of STEM as well as to teachers and parents,” said Rhonda Clement, director of strategic initiatives for CBU’s College of Engineering.
Mitch Boretz, head referee for the Southern California region and event volunteer for the regional tournament, said CBU was a wonderful partner.
“I've been working at these events for about 15 years. This is the largest one I've ever been involved with, and I think it was the smoothest, too. That is thanks in large part to CBU’s careful and thorough planning and the great support we got from your students,” Boretz said.
CBU sponsored six teams, which started meeting in September. Each team built and programmed their own robot for the competition. They also pursued a research project in the power field.
Students learned skills such as coding, building and teamwork. This meant a lot of trial and error – writing code; running it and then adjusting it to make the robot move, turn and perform tasks correctly. They also had to research energy sources and had to choose a renewable energy source that would power their robot in the real world.
“I just like going on computers and making it do stuff,” said Zayden Roberts, age 12, a member of Powered by the Son. “It's fun making an actual physical robot complete Lego tasks.”
Jake Speyer, a software engineering senior at CBU, was the mentor for Powered by the Son. He brought experience, having competed in the tournament twice when he was a youth.
“That's what got me into STEM as a kid,” Speyer said. “I was super down to come back and help and be like that coach that I had when I was a kid that got me all excited about it.”
Speyer has given the kids tips along the way, but they have coded and built the robot themselves.
“I don't think a lot of people realize how complex it is. An outsider may think, oh, they're just playing with Legos, but they're actually coding or building a robot,” Speyer said.
At a qualifying tournament in November at the University of California, Riverside, CBU teams won several awards. The coach for Electric Dragons received a coach/mentor award. A participant on the Llama Jamas team received the rising star award. Powered by the Son team received first place for robot design. Powered earned enough points to get to the regional competition.
The team faced a crisis when the night before the competition, the codes were deleted. An app update caused the loss. The team worked with tech support to downgrade the system and then members Elijah and Jeremiah Abdelmalik and Traivon Williams II worked until 9:30 p.m. rebuilding the codes.
Coming together as a team
Zayden said he enjoyed the problem-solving aspect of the Lego competition.
“It’s just fun to build [with] Legos and then make the Lego thing you created do something,” Zayden said.
He also emphasized that being on the team has allowed him to grow as a collaborator, and his ability to work with others has greatly improved.
“I think the best part about being on a team is being able to just work together, putting suggestions out there, and just being able to collaborate because if you were working solo, you would have to do everything yourself,” Zayden said. “Having a team gives you all the different mindsets and helps you out a lot.”
Rebekah said she enjoyed seeing their work in action.
“My favorite part is seeing the robot do all the missions and how it can do all these tasks that are really cool,” Rebekah said.
But, of course, the kids are also in it to win it. After receiving the award at the qualifying tournament, Eloise Reynolds, 10 and a member of Powered, said she was excited to try to earn more.
“It was so exciting” to get a trophy, Eloise said.
While the CBU team will not advance to the championships at University of California, Riverside, later this month, the students enjoyed competing together as a team.
“It feels so amazing to come here and do this,” Eloise said.
The youths will get another opportunity to learn and play. CBU is planning a First Lego League bootcamp next summer.