Middle School Students Win Award at FIRST LEGO League Competition

On Saturday, November 5th, two teams comprised of 13 students and two coaches from Randolph-Macon Academy (R-MA) Middle School traveled to Alexandria to compete in a FIRST® LEGO® League (FLL) competition. The league was created through an alliance between FIRST®, a company whose acronym stands for “For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology," and the LEGO® Group. 

R-MA students prepare their LEGO Robot to run through its tasks during the competition held on November 5, 2017.

The objective of the program is to promote a healthy balance between sportsmanship, cooperation, and competition, while presenting the students with a real-world problem that they must research and solve. Since FIRST and LEGO first joined together to host these competitions, there have been more than 1,400 events in 88 countries throughout the world. 

While the audience primarily sees the robotics competition, students are scored in three areas. First, they had to build and program an autonomous robot that could complete various challenges, and they were judged on this design. Second, they had to present and answer questions based on their research and offer a solution to a real-world water problem to a panel of judges. Finally, they were scored on core values such as teamwork, respect, and sportsmanship. 

R-MA Middle School teacher Stephanie Wagner explained, in accordance with this year’s challenge, each R-MA team chose a water issue. One team tried to figure out how to solve the contamination of the drinking water in Africa, by creating a toilet. The second team sought to create a filtration system as a solution to the water crisis in Puerto Rico. “We researched the challenge from the beginning of the year,” Wagner commented. 

Multiple awards are given in each of the categories—Robot Awards, Project Awards, and Core Values Awards. The team that had focused on water filtration for Puerto Rico won first place in the Research category of the Project Awards. According to the website (firstlegoleague.org/awards), “This award recognizes a team that utilizes diverse resources to formulate an in-depth and comprehensive understanding of the problem they have identified.”
“One of the people in our group, Cecilia [Paredes ‘22], is from Puerto Rico, so her mom recommended the idea,” said Chidera Anyanwu ’22, a member of the winning group. “Hurricane Maria had recently happened, so we thought it would be a good idea.”

The team that won the award also included students Ben Badejo ’22, Alex Self ’22, Chloe Browning ’22, and Josh Fink ‘22. Considering this was the school's first time at the competition, Wagner said she was very pleased with the results.

One of the LEGO robots built by R-MA students attempts a task set before it during the competition. Teams were scored on the design of the robot as well as whether it could complete a series of tasks.

“It was a lot of hard work,” said Anyanwu. While the teams had met throughout the fall, most of the team members also played sports, and so when sports ended, they had one week in which to finalize everything. “Sometimes we would stay after and miss dinner, building robots, getting them to move in a straight line, picking things up,” she said.  

The other R-MA Middle School students who participated in the competition were Rick Banerjee ’22, Michael Luo ’22, Garret Lord ’22, Matt Foreman ’22, Tyler Campbell ’22, Clayton Athey ‘24, and Luke Habiby ’22. Wagner and fellow R-MA Middle School teacher Haley Coloso were the coaches for the two teams.