By Jason KUROSU
he final FIRST – For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology – LEGO League qualifying competitions for the Los Angeles region took place over the weekend at La Cañada High School. Around 60 of the area’s 332 teams competed over the two-day stretch, pitting their machines against one another in a contest of skill, will and teamwork.
FIRST LEGO League’s L.A. region includes the counties of Los Angeles, Ventura, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo. Elementary school students from the four counties competed during the month of November, with over 20 teams from La Crescenta and La Cañada participating over the two days, mentored by students from Crescenta Valley and La Cañada High Schools.
“The mentors have really done a great job with the kids,” said Sharon Raghavachary, whose daughter was part of Team What, who met for three hours a week since August to train for Sunday’s competition. “It’s not only the amount of time they put into it. The mentors don’t just give the kids the answer. They give them questions and allow them to work out the solution for themselves.”
Saturday’s event also marked the first time the Girl Scouts of Greater Los Angeles has hosted a Lego robotics competition. The event featured an all female-panel of judges as well as numerous teams composed of Girl Scouts. The judges hailed from a wide range of STEAM disciplines (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics) and included JPL scientists, representatives from hospitals, Cal Trans, engineers, students and more. CV Weekly publisher Robin Goldsworthy was among those judging the core values portion of the competition.
Girl Scouts L.A.’s STEM program Manager Kristen Simon said that hosting the event at La Cañada High and working with the La Cañada Engineering Club’s Steve Zimmerman was “a perfect fit.”
Teams were judged on three categories (Project, Robot Design and Core Values) as well as their robot’s performance against the other robots at the competition.
The robot performance competition gave each team two-and-a-half minutes to complete a series of tasks before the opposing robots. The robots performed these tasks autonomously. Tony Ayad, FIRST LEGO League operational director, said that the robot performance tasks were aligned with the competition theme of “World Class Learning Unleashed.” The tasks were education-related, including the robot’s first task of opening a door as students open their classroom door to begin the day, and other tasks that represented various components of education and different methods of learning.
Awards were given for the best teams in each of those categories plus the team that netted the best score in the robot performance portion of the event. Teams were rewarded not only for excellent building and designing of their robot but for their teamwork.
Lyn Repath-Martos, FIRST LEGO League volunteer coordinator, said that in judging the core values segment of the competition, teams were given a challenge of determining how high the contents of an unmarked Lego jar would stack outside of the jar, a challenge which they were not necessarily expected to solve.
“We wanted to see the way they would work through that challenge. We watched as they behaved as really amazing teammates towards one another,” Repath-Martos said. “They took turns, they made sure that everyone was being heard and everyone had an opportunity to speak.”
Competition organizers and coaches alike considered the event a success, both in terms of the robotics and the hosting of the Girl Scouts of Los Angeles.
Ayad said he witnessed the highest score he’d seen all month during the Saturday event and was pleased that about 40% of the participants over the weekend were girls.
“I am the father of three girls and I would like to see changes so that we end up with more women in science, technology and engineering,” said Ayad.
Kathy Vachon, FIRST LEGO League Partner Services Zone manager, flew in from New Hampshire to view the competition and “celebrate that this year is 10 years of FIRST LEGO League in Los Angeles.”
Vachon told the participating teams that, “you are part of that history. Hopefully this legacy will last for a long, long time.”
In addition to the winning teams in each category, seven teams from each day progressed onto the championship tournament.
The championships will be held at La Cañada High on Dec. 13 and Dec. 14.