Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Robots Rule at Brittany Woods Tournaments

On November 9th and 10th, the Brittany Woods Middle School gymnasium was abuzz with students, parents, mentors, visitors and volunteers soaking in the excitement of a FIRST Lego League robotics tournament.  More than 40 teams from across the area converged on Brittany Woods for two qualifying events, bringing with them high energy, colorful costumes, and a collective mission to change the world through innovations in science and technology.

Teams set up displays in their 'pit' areas and welcome guests
and fellow teams to learn more about their robots and their projects

FIRST Lego League (or FLL) is the second in a tier of four FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) robotics programs for students from kindergarten through high school.  FLL introduces students in grades four through eight to real-world engineering challenges by building LEGO-based robots to complete tasks on a themed playing surface.  Over 230,000 children in 80 countries will participate in this year's FLL season.

This year's playing field contained LEGO-built elements simulating
 challenges faced during and after natural disasters.

FLL students design, test and program robots, research challenges facing today's scientists, learn critical thinking, team-building, and presentation skills and much more. This year's them was Nature's Fury, and challenged teams to come up with solutions for keeping people and property safe before, during and after natural disasters.

Photo: Tim Gillard
The Jackson Park FIRST Responders signing off on their score sheet  after a match
The robot game involved a series of tasks such as raising an evacuation sign, moving a supply truck, moving tree branches off electrical wires, and reuniting pets with their owners.  In addition to the robot game, teams researched problems communities face when natural disaster hit and created presentations.  All of their preparation took place over the course of an eight-week build season.

Fun costumes are the order of the day

On the morning of each qualifier teams, often dressed in colorful outfits, took turns going before judges to give their presentations, explain their robot and programs in a technical interview, and demonstrate their FLL Core Values (friendly competition, learning, community involvement and respecting the contributions of others) in a teamwork exercise. 

The Brittany Woods Soaring Eagles FLL team waits to test  their robot
 on the practice field. 
In the afternoon, the teams put their robots through their paces, completing the missions and solving the challengers of the robot game. The two teams from each day with the highest overall scores in all categories progressed to the Eastern Missouri FLL Regional Championship, which will be held on December 8th at St. Louis Community College - Florissant Valley.  The winner of that event will have a chance to compete in the FIRST World Championships, held in April at the Edward Jones Dome. 

Soaring Eagles ready to rock!

Two University City teams participated in the Brittany Woods qualifiers, the Soaring Eagles from Brittany Woods Middle School and the FIRST Responders from Jackson Park Elementary.  Two teams from Flynn Park will compete in qualifying events next weekend.  Jr. FLL teams (grades K-3) from Flynn Park, Jackson Park, and Barbara C. Jordan elementary schools will compete in the spring.

FIRST Supervolunteer, UCHS alum, and UCity Schools parent and Event
Coordinator Nicole Adewale with school board representative Stacy Clay
This is the third year in a row that Brittany Woods has hosted this event. Many University City School District parents, students, staff, and alumni came together to organize this two-day event, and U. City parent/school board member Rod Jennings was the weekend's emcee.  University City is the only public school district in the area to host an FLL qualifier.

Volunteer coordinator and U. City parent Celina McGinnis consults with the
tech desk.

In addition to the robotics programs at the elementary and middle schools, University City High School has a FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) team.  The UCHS Robolions build competitive robots weighing up to 150 pounds during their six week build season in January and February.  You can read more about them here or follow them on facebook.

The UCHS Robolions FRC team provided concessions for the event

Members of the high school team were on hand for each day of the competition, serving up nachos and pizza and other goodies, and acting as goodwill ambassadors for FIRST.  Several members of the team even volunteer as referees for additional qualifiers.

U. City Schools Superintendent Joylynn  Pruitt gets into the spirit
 with the UCHS Robolions. 

For more information on FIRST Robotics, including how to start a team of your own, visit For information on local FIRST events, visit

UPDATE: Congratulations to the Jackson Park FIRST Responders, who will be representing University City schools at the Eastern Missouri FLL Championship on Sunday, December 8th!

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