Teams of students from White Salmon are headed to the FIRST Lego League (FLL) state competition in January.
FLL competitions are held all over the world, but locally they are facilitated by the Gorge Technology Alliance (GTA). During the Columbia Gorge Qualifying Tournaments held Dec. 6, 7, and 13, 49 teams competed.
Of those 49 teams, three from White Salmon area schools will be going to the state FLL competition in Hillsboro on Jan. 17 and 18 and several others from throughout Klickitat County took home awards.
Among the overall first place champions who will be competing in Hillsboro were the Professional Griefers from Henkle Middle School. Additional top teams that advanced to the state tournament were the Alpha Team, also from Henkle Middle School, and the Robot Rockers from Little Oak Montessori School, according to a press release from the GTA.
FLL competitions are more than just programming a robot to complete tasks and navigate obstacles. Teams are also interviewed by a robot design panel and are assessed on teamwork skills as part of the FLL “Core Values” portion of the competition.
There is also a portion of every FLL competition dedicated to completing a project on a certain topic. This year, teams had to develop a project focused on teaching a concept in an innovative way.
Michael Hannigan has been coaching FLL teams at Henkle Middle School for three years now and said at first his students wanted to focus on method-based concepts for their projects, but ultimately took a less tangible approach.
For example, the Professional Griefers chose to examine how someone could improve their ability to cooperate and reach compromises by relating back to the skills they had to use in order to organize a successful team.
“Their solution was project-based cooperative learning. In programs like FLL where they work in teams and there are unique tasks that need to be completed by each member, that taught them how to work together and compromise,” Hannigan said.
That portion of the competition made an impression on some team members.
“I learned you can’t do everything by yourself. You need to work together as a team,” said David Goodrich, an eighth grader and member of the Professional Griefers.
The Alpha Team created a project focusing on how to improve how an athlete might regain confidence after a sports-related injury.
“Professional athletes are so in tune with their bodies, so you have to convince them and prove to the athlete with quantitative data that they are ready to come back and perform at a higher level,” Hannigan said.
It’s not all about team building and playing with Legos in FLL. Hannigan said students also get to learn more about coding and concepts they might usually only hear about in math class.
“These are all big, real-world concepts, not just robotics, but real ways to build and challenge your mind. It teaches kids a willingness to try again if something doesn’t work and to be willing to accept failures and learn from mistakes. That’s part of engineering, developing something and then refining it,” he said.
While Hannigan is glad to have two teams going to the state FLL competition, he was particularly impressed by the content of his students’ character during the regional competition. At one point, a younger team of FLL students from White Salmon faced difficulties with their robot, prompting members of the Henkle Middle School teams to step in and try to help.
“I was super psyched to see those kids being good people,” Hannigan said.
Other FLL regional awards include:
Team Spirit Award: MAKA N’ AMA from Trout Lake School
Rising Star Award: Robot Rockers from Little Oak Montessori and Team Zeus from Henkle Middle School
Core Values Award: Klick-I-bots from Klickitat School
Project Award: Klick-I-bots from Klickitat School
Robot Design Award: MAKA N’ AMA from Trout Lake School and the Portly Purple Hippies from Henkle Middle School
Robot Performance Award: Alpha Team from Henkle Middle School