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South Jordan Journal

Welby’s Lego robotics team wins state presentation award

Apr 10, 2018 04:01PM ● By Julie Slama

Welby Elementary’s Robo Vipers cheer on their robot during the regional competition in First Lego League. (Haley McCall/Welby Elementary)

Welby Elementary’s six-member Robo Vipers First Lego League team not only qualified but walked away with a state award in the school’s second year in the program.

At the Feb. 10 northern state First Lego League robotics competition, the team was awarded the “Best Presentation of Project” that matched the FLL theme of “Hydro Dynamics: exploring the location, use, storage and movement of water.”

First Lego League isn’t just building a Lego robot and programming it to complete missions each worthy of points. The competitions allow students from age 9 to age 14 to compete in core values where “what we learn is more important than what we win”; an innovative project and presentation that solves a real-world problem; as well as in robot design and performance. Through the competition, students apply math and science concepts, research challenges, learn critical thinking, team-building and presentation skills while having fun competing in tournaments.

Welby coach Haley McCall said the Robo Vipers worked with Westech Industries to get water filters that can help provide clean water to stricken countries during natural disasters. 

“We raised $1,100 to purchase 15 of these filters for relief in Haiti,” she said, adding that they were part of a 90-unit shipment. “Our part was to create a device like a rain gutter, which will filter through the bio sand filter and into a barrel for emergency use. In the barrel, there’s a water gauge that will release chlorine to purify the water.”

While McCall said the students have yet to create a working prototype, they did design their project on a 3D printer so company officials and FLL judges could better understand the project.

The Robo Vipers, which was one of three Welby teams expanding from last year’s two teams, traveled to Price to compete at the Jan. 27 regional qualifying tournament. 

“It was a fun qualifier where the families came,” McCall said, with many spending the night at a hotel. She said the fun time they had at the pool helped relieve stress before the competition. 

McCall said the four coaches worked with all three teams, and the teams supported one another, listening to their projects and giving them feedback as well as scrimmaging against one another to prepare for the competition.

At the regional tournament, the Robo Vipers were the overall champions edging out their schoolmates on the Water Bots and Bionic Ninjas as well as other Eastern Utah tournament teams. The Water Bots, who were third in the robot games, finished ahead of the Robo Vipers’ fourth-place finish, but other scores pulled the Robo Vipers to the top. The Bionic Ninjas were seventh in the robot games at the regional qualifier.

There are about 32,000 teams worldwide, with more than 300 teams across Utah competing in the regional qualifying tournaments for a chance to be at the northern or southern state championship.

Coach Rani Li said the student interest in belonging to a Welby FLL team is great, so they expanded to a third team of fourth- through sixth-graders.

“We had too many great applications we couldn’t refuse,” she said.

McCall said they rely on past students to lead and prepare the teams.

“We have hard-working, passionate students who start by watching programming and robot design strategies,” she said. “As coaches, we have high expectations and guide them, but the work is up to them. We just make it fun at the same time. They’re great kids and want to do it.”

Now that the season is over, it doesn’t mean the end for students learning about programming. This spring there will be an after-school coding club for students from kindergarten through sixth grade.

“This helps kids learn basic coding and see if they’re interested in robotics,” McCall said.

Li said it also helps students determine whether they want to make a time commitment to FLL. The teams meet for about four hours during the week, with additional practices added closer to tournaments.

Students interested are selected after teachers review their applications, which include an interview, essay and observing them working together in an activity.

“Our biggest struggle right now is to have space for our Lego tables so we don’t have to set them up and take them down every practice,” McCall said, adding that she hopes the school could add a portable to support the program. 

The program helps students grow and mature, she said.

“They come in as little kids, but the skills they learn are amazing,” McCall said. “Not only are they learning robotics and programming, but they are working with each other and resolving conflicts in their group. They research and present to peers and judges and people in the community. They support their ideas and are able to defend their project. They learn so much, and in the end, these students show confidence in who they are and what they can do.”