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The Force Favors South Jordan Jedi Lego Team

Feb 27, 2015 03:12PM ● Published by Julie Slama

Team Jedi celebrates winning the first-place Champions Award Jan. 31 at the Fifth Annual Utah First Lego League State Championship at the University of Utah. They plan to compete for the world title in April. Photo courtesy of First Lego League

Last season team Jedi’s project was solid and they earned the research award, but after a mishap with their robot, team Jedi was more determined to ensure the robot’s success this year. So on Jan. 31, with the force on their side, the Jedi won the first-place Champions Award at the Fifth Annual Utah First Lego League State Championship.

The Jedi will advance to the First Lego League World Festival and First Championship in St. Louis in April.

“It was amazing and exciting. I’ve been on the team for five years and we have worked hard for it,” 13-year-old Tavo Estrada said. “This year, we spent more than 70 hours programming the robot to make sure it was more consistent and could do all the missions.”

Joining Tavo on the team is his sister Alee; cousins Allison, Kim and Katie Drennan; the Drennans’ cousin Nicole Brooks; and Tavo’s friend Jacob Anderson. The team is based out of South Jordan, but student members represent many southern Salt Lake Valley schools: South Jordan Middle School, Monte Vista Elementary, Sunrise Elementary, Beehive Science & Technology Academy and Jordan High School.

Even though the team won the high robot score at their Jan. 3 regional qualifier as well as the state competition, Tavo already was reprogramming missions.

“If we can work it so it’s more accurate and goes faster, then we’ll get more points,” he said.

His mother, Michelle, who coaches the team along with Annie Drennan, said that the Jedi team scored in the 400-point range while those at the world competition usually earn 700 points.

The First Lego League competition allows students from age nine to age 14 to compete in core values where “what we learn is more important than what we win,” an innovative project and presentation, and a robot design and performance. Students build Lego-based robots to complete predetermined missions arranged on a playing surface. Throughout the competition, students apply real-world math and science concepts, research challenges, learn critical thinking, team-building and presentation skills.

This year 297 teams across Utah competed in 16 regional qualifying tournaments from which the Jedi team won the state championship after being one of 48 teams that advanced.

However, to proceed to the world championships, the team needs the community’s support. Estrada said that the entry fee for the competition is $1,000 and combining that with driving to St. Louis, food and lodging, the group will need to raise $10,000.

“We are trying to seek sponsors and people to contribute to our team competing in St. Louis,” she said. “As mom and coach, there is no better way to invest in our future than to support these programs that embrace STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) and give the kids life-long skills.”

Alee, 12, said that she has learned so much, including computer programming, critical thinking and public speaking from participating in Lego robotics.

“When I started Lego robotics, I struggled at math and science, now I get straight As,” she said. “My confidence has grown so much and now science is my favorite subject. I’ve even taken our robot and demonstrated the game for my class.”

Also advancing to a national stage is a South Jordan-Riverton team, The Harry Botters. The team took third place and is invited to attend the Razorback Invitational in Fayetteville, Ark.  
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