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Middle School Team Takes First in Robotics, Third Overall at FIRST LEGO League Competition

When Randolph-Macon Academy’s three teams headed to the FIRST LEGO League competition in Falls Church, VA, on November 9, 2019, it was with the realistic expectation that the more experienced team would have the best chance of bringing home an award, while the two younger teams would be going mainly to learn about the competition and how it works.

However, “The Royal Front” team surprised everyone, including themselves.

As stated on firstlegoleague.com: “Every year, FIRST LEGO League releases a Challenge, which is based on a real-world scientific topic. Each Challenge has three parts: the Robot Game, the Innovation Project, and the Core Values. Teams of up to ten children, with at least two adult coaches, participate in the Challenge by programming an autonomous robot to score points on a themed playing field (Robot Game), developing a solution to a problem they have identified (Project), all guided by the FIRST Core Values. Teams may then attend an official tournament, hosted by our FIRST LEGO League Partners.”

This year’s theme was “City Shaper,” focusing on urban development and making improvements to your community, including concepts such as building construction, maximizing space upgrades for buildings such as rooftop gardens and solar panels, and accessibility compliance.

R-MA Middle School had two robotics classes; one had the “just right” number of six students, while the other had ten. The class instructor, Ms. K, decided to split the larger of the classes and enter three teams into the competition, to ensure that everyone on each team would get the full experience and play a vital role.

The Royal Front team took first place in robotics at the FIRST Lego League Competition held on November 9th in Falls Church, VA.

Ms. K had one student on the six-person team who had taken robotics last year, and there were a few other students in that class who had been exposed to coding and robotics. The other robotics class, however, was full of students who had no exposure to robotics.

“Going into the competition, I sort of thought that the six-person class was going to be our stronger team, because of their experience and age,” said Ms. K. “But as the nature of robotics is, they had the most struggles during the competition–codes that were running perfectly in class weren’t running at all or weren’t close to perfect in the competition. And that happens. It’s the nature of the beast, and it’s how you rise from the ashes and tackle the challenges as they arise. That’s where the points are given to you or taken away, how your team functions during that stressful time. They’re being judged the whole day.” Constestants are expected to demonstrate the FIRST Core Values of teamwork, inclusion, fun, discovery, innovation, and impact.

For this year, the R-MA team that rose to the top was “The Royal Front,” a rookie team made up of Layla D. ‘24, Baruc H. ‘24, Cameron K. ‘26, Wyeth G. ‘26, and Kamila Y. ‘24.

Early on in the preparation, with no plan and no code, things had not looked promising. “Agreeing to something we all wanted to do was a difficult challenge,” said Layla. However, once they did so, The Royal Front took things to a new level, shining particularly brightly not only through the Robot Design, but the Innovation Project as well. The prompt this year was to solve an issue within the community, which they opted to define as R-MA. They identified the issue as a lack of space to build additional dorms, and their solution was to build “glorified treehouses,” according to Ms. K. Rather than the standard two-dimensional trifold board that teams usually bring in, The Royal Front built a diorama with 3D models of the trees–using Legos, of course.

Even with two of them working the majority of the code at the last minute, their robot outshone the others, winning them first place in the robot design portion of the competition. With a strong performance in the other scores areas of the competition, they also earned third place overall and the honor of being first alternate to the state competition, which was held December 7-8.

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.

Layla, who designed the 3D models, and Cameron both admitted that they were surprised when they learned of the results. “A lot of our teammates jumped up and down,” said Cameron, who was one of the two students handling the last-minute coding. “I thought we were going to get last.” He went onto explain, “It was hard at first because everyone looked like they knew what they were doing. But then, as we got further into the competition, we realized, ‘Wait a minute. We know a little bit more about this competition than other teams, so we might have a chance.’ And then we did.”

While their joy at their strong performance was mutual, Cameron and Layla enjoyed very different aspects of the competition. For Cameron, it was the challenge “getting to make up a solution for the design and build.” For Layla, it was “getting to know them [my teammates] more by working with them, and building the tree houses.”

With a solid performance at a challenging competition, the five students who made up “The Royal Front” clearly demonstrated The Power of Rise.

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