Two Johnson County teams were among the top 10 performers at the annual First Lego League state competition in Casper over the weekend.
“I am really proud of all our teams this year because they performed admirably in spite of some major setbacks,” team co-coach Rick Sanchez said. “Every year, I say this is the last year I’m going to do this, but once I get to the competitions and see how well the students perform, it re-energizes me for the next year. I’m already excited for next year, and that season is still months away.”
Fifty-eight teams of fourth- through eighth-graders from across Wyoming descended on the Casper Events Center over the weekend to show off their robotics and research abilities.
The First Lego League Challenge consists of building a robot from mostly Lego parts and small programmable motors and then using that robot to perform as many goals as possible during a two-and-a-half-minute period. Students also complete a research project about a problem they see in the world and how that problem can be fixed. Lego Leaguers are judged on their performance in the robotics competition and the quality of their research project, as well as their teamwork abilities and their “gracious professionalism” displayed during the competition.
Clear Creek Middle School’s seventh-grade team was the top performer and took third place in the robotics competition, despite the fact that over half of the team was absent due to sports and other commitments. The team also had issues with its robot, which broke down at several points during the competition, according to team member Ethan Long.
“When they called our names, it was really satisfying,” team member Jeremiah Hawley said. “It was a pretty cool accomplishment.”
The team also presented its research project in which members had to identify a physical or social problem faced by astronauts during space exploration and find a way to solve it. The team focused on lunar dust, which can frequently tear astronauts’ suits.
“It was a good project, but we just didn’t present it that well,” team member Brycen Mahoskey said. “A lot of our team members were gone, and so we had some new team members who had to learn the presentation in just a few days. We weren’t as prepared as we should have been.”
Despite their challenges, the team still learned a lot, according to the seventh-graders.
“One thing I learned is that you need to choose people you can work well with for your team,” Kailee Ianelli said. “You shouldn’t necessarily have your friends on the team because you just goof around a lot. We wasted a lot of time this year that could have been spent working on our projects.”
“I think we need to spend even more time on the robot next year,” Long said. “I would love to start working on it as soon as the new challenges come out in July so it doesn’t break as much.”
Cloud Peak Elementary’s fifth-grade team took eighth place in the robotics competition, according to Sanchez. Unlike the middle school teams, the fifth-grade team did not have any dedicated class time in which to work on its projects and worked after school twice a week.
“Considering that they all started a month late and had never touched a robot before, I felt like the fifth-grade team did a pretty amazing job,” Sanchez said. “To be eighth best in the state – especially when competing against middle schoolers – is no small feat.”
The middle school’s sixth-grade team took 31st place in the robotics competition, which was especially disappointing because the team had taken first in a competition in Jackson Hole just days earlier, Sanchez said.
“Like the seventh-grade team, the sixth-graders were a few people short due to sports and other commitments,” Sanchez said. “I have no doubt that they would have been in the top five in the state if the whole team had come to Casper. But it is what it is.”
Despite their frustrations, team members said they learned a lot from the experience and were eagerly anticipating a do-over next year.
“We originally wanted to free build our robot from scratch, but I learned that we shouldn’t do that next year,” team member Jaxon Sutton said. “We should just build off of something existing because it is less likely to break that way, and it will also save time.”
Team member Ruthie Mantle agreed.
“You can’t spend all your time building,” Mantle said. “Research is really important too.”
Sanchez said he was proud of how all the teams performed in spite of their challenges.
“One of the things I really want them to get from Lego League is that aspect of learning how to learn,” Sanchez said. “They have to make their own decisions, develop their own teams and solve their own problems, and those are skills that are valuable all through life. What I hope they’ve learned is that you don’t have to be born with innate skills and abilities to succeed. If you’re willing to put the work into something, you will do well.”