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First Lego League: youth robotics championship tournament held Saturday at Penn

Hotdog hats, bright white lab coats and Rosie the Riveter costumes set the atmosphere Saturday for the Penn First Lego League Championship Tournament, held in the Irvine auditorium at the University of Pennsylvania Saturday. FLL, a robotics program designed for kids ages 9 to 14, aims to get young students excited and involved in science […]

Photo by Brady Dale.

Hotdog hats, bright white lab coats and Rosie the Riveter costumes set the atmosphere Saturday for the Penn First Lego League Championship Tournament, held in the Irvine auditorium at the University of Pennsylvania Saturday.

FLL, a robotics program designed for kids ages 9 to 14, aims to get young students excited and involved in science and technology. Fifty-two teams from across the tri-state area traveled to University City to participate in FLL’s annual championship tournament after advancing in regional qualifying rounds in December. Like elsewhere in the region, the City of Philadelphia’s School District is grappling with the need for strong STEM education.

This year’s theme was ‘Food Factor Challenge’, where judges evaluated elementary and middle-school teams on three events.

“It’s basically an exhibition of elementary and middle school students to show what they’ve learned in the area of robot design, core vales, project presentation and robot performance,” said Kendrick Davis, the head judge advisor.

The Robot Game challenged teams to create a Lego-based autonomous robot that performs on a playing field in order to score points for their team. The project portion allowed teams to create a solution to a food-based problem they have identified, all while following FLL’s core values.

“It’s a little overwhemeling, we’ve never been in such a huge competition,” said Marlene Houlihan, the mentor for Beck Robotics Team from Beck Middle School in Cherry Hill, NJ. The competition provided pit areas for teams to practice with their robots and fix potential kinks in their designs before heading to the main stage competition. On stage, rounds of three teams cheered on their teammates while judges evaluated robotic performance. Separate judging allowed individual teams to present their Food Factor topic in conference rooms.

“They’re amazing, look around at all these kids. All they have is me. I don’t know much about this stuff, it’s all them,” Houlihan said.

After a day full of judging, teams finished out the day with a ceremony in the main hall. Awards went to teams with best performance, design, project, and core value.

“The most exciting part for me is when the kids feel like worked so hard and they don’t have everything together as much as they would like and they win an award and they’re like ‘Oh my god!'” Davis said.

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