Hills Hosts Young Robotics Teams


Judges Sarah Korczukowski and Tom Finnegan give feedback to students after a match. (Photo by Elisha Stenger)

Elisha Stenger, Copy Editor

Warren Hills hosted their second annual FIRST Lego League (FLL) Robotics Competition in mid-November. Twenty-two teams of elementary and middle school students came to compete in the day-long event.

FIRST, For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology, is an organization that aims to inspire young people to get involved in STEM through fun robotics programs like FLL.

Another popular FIRST program is the FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC). Warren Hills FRC Team 219 and their parent association organized and ran the event.

Last year, Team 219 was looking to host an FRC event, but when this opportunity arose instead, they gladly took it.

“We thought it would be a good start to get some experience with FIRST and hosting events,” said co-advisor Adam Slack. “Everything went so well and we got a really good response, and we were offered the opportunity to host again this year, and just followed through.”

Although only two teams returned from last year’s competition, the event doubled in size from just 11 teams. Slack said he hopes to continue hosting FLL events, and eventually expand to FRC.

As the name implies, students construct robots from LEGOs – specifically, of the MINDSTORM line, which allow the use of electronics and programming.

Each year, FLL releases a new challenge which consists of three parts – the Robot Game, an Innovation Project, and Core Values – all centered around a theme. This year’s challenge was CITY SHAPER.

In the Robot Game, robots are placed onto a tabletop ‘field’ with different elements that they must manipulate to earn points. In the CITY SHAPER Challenge, students were tasked with improving LEGO structures that represented buildings in a ‘city’.

The Innovation Project always consists of identifying a real world problem, designing a solution, and sharing and refining that design. To follow the CITY SHAPER theme, this year’s project required students to solve a problem with a building or public space in their community.

The Core Values are updated from year to year, but their essence remains the same – the discovery and use of new skills, teamwork, and Gracious Professionalism – a FIRST value that encompasses inclusion, respect, and the spirit of friendly competition.

In addition to points in the game, students are scored on five minute presentations to judges on each part of the challenge. Not only do students gain experience with programming, engineering, and teamwork, but they also learn valuable presentation skills.

Overall, FLL has a positive impact on the kids who participate.

“I feel like it’s a starting point for students,” said Nirvani Mangru, a member of 219 and a mentor for the Warren Hills Middle School FLL team. “Whether they know if they’re interested or not, it’s a way for them to explore [STEM] and see if it’s something they could see themselves doing in the future.”

Members of the Blue Crystal team from Monroe, New Jersey agreed that it’s a fun experience that also gives them new skills like coding and teamwork.

According to their coach, Jyoti Karkevar, “In the process kids have learned a lot. My students are a completely mixed bag. The most important thing about the FLL program is that there is something for each kind of kid.”

Larry Cascio, coach for the WHMS team, thinks that most of all, FLL is an empowering experience.

“It’s inspiring,” he said. “I think they realize they can do things that they haven’t had the ability to do before.”