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Ely Lego League shapes cities, solves problems with science

By Staff | Jan 10, 2020

Sue Sitter/PCT Ely Elementary School students (from the left) Kallen Azure, Opal Hackel and Levi Lysne-Johnson fine tune the First Lego League team's robot.

Just after the end of the school day Wednesday at Ely Elementary School, the fourth- and fifth-graders on Ashleigh Blikre’s First Lego League team donned team T-shirts, picked up notebook computers and got ready to solve community problems with science.

The First Lego League team competition is in its first year at Ely, according to Blikre.

“First Lego League’s been around for awhile,” Blikre explained. “It’s something I’d seen in my previous job and I helped organize it, but I didn’t coach a team. I just thought it would be really interesting to bring it here. It has a lot of real-life applications and STEM, so it’s been a lot of fun.”

The busy team members chatted with one another about a robot and town made of Legos. Others compared notes on their computers and discussed how to present information in a competition set for later this month.

“Every year,” Blikre said, “First Lego League has a different theme. This year, it’s ‘City Shaper.’ The kids have to focus on architecture of a community and how things are accessible to others, and how they can make it environmentally friendly.”

Picking up a small, square Lego-built apartment with plastic greenery on top, Blikre added, “These are supposed to be gardens on top of these apartments, and they have to move those gardens, which, we haven’t got that far yet.”

Blikre described other problems for the Lego robot to solve.

“People wanted to be able to camp, but not disrupt nature. They didn’t want to build actual hotels so this is a tree house hotel. One of the missions is for their little robot to (help with the process).”

“(The team) built all of this,” Blikre said, pointing to various paths and roadways in a scale-model community constructed from Lego blocks.

“There are 12 different challenges,” Blikre said.

Wednesday, the students worked on a challenge called “traffic jam.”

Team member and fourth-grader Opal Hackel described the challenge.

“We have to have our robot start here and come here and lift this up,” she said, lifting up a section of Lego road with blocks resembling cars and trucks attached, “but it always stops or it won’t lift.”

Teammate Kallen Azure said with a laugh, “We’re going to try take the cars off the world.”

Drivers who’ve experienced traffic jams would no doubt appreciate a helpful robot that lifted the road to let them move through.

The robot team also worked on moving the robot from the traffic problem to a person in a wheelchair swing who needed help to get going.

“This group is doing the programming for the robot,” Blikre said. “But everybody was involved in building the Lego (robot) and the Lego city.”

Blikre said Ely’s First Lego team formed in October.

Ely’s team will travel to Turtle Mountain Community College Jan. 24 to compete against six other area elementary schools. The teams will be judged on innovation, robot problem solving and core values.

Groups of three to four students are participating in each category.

Blikre said the innovation team will solve a problem that hits close to home with architecture.

“The innovation group is going to have a slide show. They have pictures that they took of this school. They decided to look at the school as a current problem, with the school being too small. They have to think of constraints – the road, the cost and all that. So, they come up with a presentation where they will build a walkway over the road to the other building on the other side.”

Blikre said one student, Eli McNeff, “was in Grand Forks and took a picture of the walkway that goes over the road to show an example (of the solution). Their presentation is pretty cool.”

Blikre said she hoped to have her students present their walkway solution to a Rugby Public School board meeting next month after presenting it in the competition.

The team will also be judged for “robot missions” and “core values.”

As Blikre watched the robot group try to alter their robot’s course, she said, “The programming I would say has been like the hardest part. There’s no manual – you have to do trial and error and figure it out on your own If you just have (the robot’s course) off a little bit, you might get it to work one time, and then the next time you’re like, ‘What happened? Why didn’t it turn when it was supposed to turn?’ “

Blikre said the core values group “needed to come up with a poster that shows what the core values are and what they mean to them, so the judge asks them questions and they might ask them, ‘What do you think is the most important core value?’ or ‘What is your favorite core value and why?'”

Meanwhile, Hackel and her group worked hard at fine-tuning the robot so it would pick up the road and swing perfectly every time. “It picks (the road) up and then puts it down in time so it won’t fall. Then, you can back up far enough so that it can pick up the swing. We’re kind of just figuring it out right now.”

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