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Carroll County students celebrate teamwork and coding achievement at weekend robotics competitions

Published on: 01/30/2023


Carroll County students spent the last two weekends using robots — built from scratch or from Lego pieces — to compete in coding-based robotics challenges.

On Saturday, the Robo-Lions, based in Finksburg, hosted the FIRST Tech Challenge at Francis Scott Key High School in Union Bridge and competed alongside teams from across the region.

Using built-from-scratch robots under 2 feet tall, the students completed a variety of tasks, such as lifting a cone.

The Robo-Lions, a competitive robotics team for middle and high school students in Carroll County and surrounding areas, qualified for the FIRST Robotics World Championship in Houston last year and built a pumpkin-smashing robot in October that toured local libraries, a great practice for the competition, according to Robo-Lions adviser Rose Young, who is also the director and treasurer of PIE³, the Partnership and Inspiration for Engineering, Education and Entrepreneurship.

And on Jan. 21-22, 39 teams from Carroll County Public Schools — 12 middle school teams and 27 elementary school teams — and nine other teams used student-designed Lego robots to complete a variety of tasks at West Middle School in Westminster.

Young said the competitions are about so much more than just robotics.

“This thing that is not about the robot itself,” Young said. “It’s about what they do and how they learn with it.”

At the Jan. 21-22 competition, students were given two-and-a-half minutes to complete tasks using Lego Mindstorms robots they built and programmed. Young said teams were limited to Lego Mindstorms EV3 and Spike Prime as base robots, but could customize robots with different arrays of sensors and motors, which students engineered for peak performance.

A total of 260 teams compete across 12 FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Lego League Challenge qualifier events in the state of Maryland in January and February. Although Young said the point of each event is to celebrate student growth in coding and robotics, roughly one-fourth of those teams qualify for the state tournament at University of Maryland Baltimore County in Catonsville on Feb 25.

In addition to teams’ robotics performance in scored tasks, students also had their programing strategy, teamwork and problem-solving skills evaluated by judges, Young said. While the programing strategy and core values categories implore students to reflect on their design choices and cooperation, the innovation project requires students to ideate a solution for a real-world problem. This year’s theme for the innovation project was energy transportation.

“It’s really an in-depth problem they have to work on together and then they have to share that,” Young said.

The top three teams in each of the categories were recognized with awards, although every participant received a medal. A champions award recognizes the team with the best score across all categories, and Young said judges use a complex formula to weigh the robotics score with a team’s performance in the programing strategy, core values (teamwork) and innovation project categories.

“The learning that goes on has to do with understanding problems in the world, working together to come up with solutions, communicating with adults, communicating with members of the community, pulling together a presentation that conveys an innovative idea — and also code and building a mechanical device to accomplish something,” Young said. “So there’s a whole lot to it.”

Young said success at the Lego League Challenge can be whatever each team defines it as.

“This is not a competition,” Young said, “It’s a celebration. You’ve worked really hard, you’ve learned a lot of stuff. You might be a group of fourth graders that only could meet twice a week after school for an hour or you might be seventh and eighth graders and this is your fourth year doing this and you spend every weekend on it.”

Teams that competed were also eligible for superlative-style awards — such as best dressed — provided by the Robo-Lions.Those awards are made of Legos, and often more beloved than the awards from the FIRST competition, Young said.

“Whoever’s hosting can have a little personal flair on it,” Young said, “and this is our personal flair.”

AuthorThomas Goodwin Smith

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