By JOHN KLINE
THE GOSHEN NEWS
So they’ve made it to state. Now the real work begins.
On Dec. 8, a team of five Goshen elementary and middle school students will make their way to the Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne campus to compete in the 2012 FIRST LEGO League Indiana State Championship.
With more than 20,000 teams in more than 70 countries, FIRST LEGO League is essentially a robotics program for young students designed to get children excited about science and technology while at the same time teaching them valuable employment and life skills. Teams, composed of up to 10 children with at least one adult coach, can be associated with a pre-existing club or organization, homeschooled, or in some cases be just a group of friends with an interest in robotics.
Such is the case with EFF5, or Engineering for Fun, the Goshen team made up of Goshen Middle School students Daniel Sailor and Jayson Margush, Chandler Elementary students Griffin Hetler and Evan Sailor, and Model Elementary student Ben Wengerd. Leading the team is Theresa Sailor, an instructor at Chamberlain Elementary School.
“We’re not affiliated with any schools. We actually do all of this out of our garage,” said Sailor of the team. “It was something our oldest son was really interested in doing, and we had learned that you didn’t have to be affiliated with a particular school to participate, so we went ahead and started a team. It’s totally extracurricular. We do it all on the weekends and in the evenings.”
Through the LEGO League program, students are tasked with building and programming an autonomous robot using LEGO pieces to score points on a thematic playing surface, creating an innovative solution to a problem as part of their project, all while being guided by the FLL Core Values. In addition to their robotic creations, teams are also required to do fundraising, create a team identity and market their creations.
“Each year teams have to invent something that is consistent with the theme for the year,” Sailor said. “They are required to research their idea and develop a five minute presentation on it to present to the judges. This year the theme is Senior Solutions, so the teams had to come up with an idea that would help improve the lives of senior citizens. For our project, we came up with a cabinet that lowers for easy reaching, and they ended up receiving the Research Award for their work.”
According to Sailor, over 250 teams from Indiana have participated in the LEGO League challenge this year. To qualify for the state championship, EFF5 recently competed against more than 30 of the best teams in the region at the FLL ETHOS Qualifying Tournament in Elkhart on Nov. 10. Only seven of the top teams from the tournament qualified to move on to compete at state.
“It was really tough,” Sailor said of the competition. “There were some teams that got some really great scores. There were some teams with some neat ideas, and on the robotics side, they are really, really developing. When we started a few years ago, there were a couple teams that really shined, but now we’re really seeing some impressive things out there.”
And looking forward, Sailor said the competition is only going to get harder from here.
“At the state tournament, these are the top 50 teams of all the regional competitions,” Sailor said. “So from where we were at regionals, it is going to be a tough climb for us. But it’s certainly doable. The kids are just going to have to work a little harder for it.”
Out of the 50 teams competing at state, only one will qualify to go on to the national competition, typically held in Saint Louis, Mo.
For more information on the upcoming FIRST LEGO League Indiana State Championship, visit www.etcs.ipfw.edu/fll/qualifyingtourneys/locations/index.php.