Foothill LEGO Lovers AND BEYOND! recently competed in the FIRST Lego League (FLL) Los Angeles Regional Championship Tournament and won the Champions Award, Second Place trophy. That means they were judged to be one of the best two teams in the tournament and will now advance to the FLL National Championship Tournament in May at Legoland in Carlsbad.
Four other Santa Barbara County teams also competed at the Los Angeles regional (having also qualified at a previous tournament), The Flaming Pancakes (Peabody School), the LEGOnardo Da Vincis (Santa Barbara Homeschool Robotics Academy), The Dragoneers (Santa Ynez Valley Charter School) and The Sparabots (Orcutt Academy).
The Foothill LEGO Lovers AND BEYOND! team consists of four Foothill School elementary school students and two alumni who are now in junior high school. The students — fourth-graders Cami and Mia, fifth-grader Brandon, sixth-grader Albert, and seventh-graders Chloe and Christian attend three different schools.
The Foothill team will be the only Santa Barbara County team competing at the national level and the opportunity will be a repeat for them, as last year they also competed at the national championships against 63 teams from around the world.
“It’s very unusual and hard for a team to make it to the national level,” said coach Rip Chou. “And to be invited twice in a row is quite a rare honor. It’s really a testament of the hard work, passion and dedication of the kids on the team. They have put in countless hours outside of our team meetings preparing for the tournaments.
“And I’m also excited that FLL is really growing here in Santa Barbara. Two years ago there were only two local teams, and now we have nine. I hope we get even more teams interested next season, which begins in August. Many elementary schools are now offering a LEGO Robotics class or club after school. We’ve got some great coaches and teams in Santa Barbara, and I’m sure Santa Barbara will be even more represented in future tournaments. FLL is also growing tremendously in Orcutt, Santa Maria and the Santa Ynez area, thanks to the extraordinary leadership and energy of Ty Fredricks and others.”
FLL is open to students ages 9 to 14 in North America (9 to 16 for the rest of the world). This competition is organized by the FIRST organization that also holds the high school version of the competition, of which the Dos Pueblos Engineering Academy is an active participant. FIRST was founded in 1989 to inspire young people’s interest and participation in science and technology. More than 20,000 teams throughout the world competed this year.
Every year, FLL releases a challenge based on a real-world scientific topic. Each challenge has three parts: the Robot Game, the Project and the FLL Core Values. The children participate in the challenge by programming an autonomous robot to score points on a playing field (Robot Game) within a set time (2½ minutes) and developing an innovative solution to a problem they have identified (Project), all guided by the FLL Core Values. Teams may then choose to attend a qualifying tournament to see if they can compete at the regional level.
To win the Champions Award and proceed to the national level, a team must present and perform well in all three parts of the FLL Challenge as well as the Robot Runs themselves.
The Foothill-based team learned to work together constructively to solve technical problems and learned how to perform under pressure, switching out parts and selecting new programs with the clock ticking and their teammates counting on them. They also learned how to quickly fix parts and develop engineering solutions in real time during the tournaments.
For this season, the budding engineers and innovators were asked to solve issues related to the theme Senior Solutions. The team came up with a concept of encouraging and rewarding seniors to be more active.
Besides working on the robots, several of the team members help mentor other students in Foothill’s after-school robot class, which has been supported by the generosity of local companies such as FLIR, Raytheon, Santa Barbara Bank & Trust and Village Properties, as well as individual families.
— Ri-Pen “Rip” Chou is the coach of the Foothill LEGO Lovers AND BEYOND! and a volunteer teacher of a Foothill School robotics class.