St. Margaret’s competition makes robotics a snap

First Lego League’s regional championship pits 17 teams from Vancouver Island and Lower Mainland schools

Grade 5 St. Margaret’s students Abby Reid and Audrey Wang test out their robot before Saturday’s First Lego League competition at the school. St. Margaret’s hosted the annual regional championship on the weekend for the first time since becoming the league’s new affiliate partner.

Grade 5 St. Margaret’s students Abby Reid and Audrey Wang test out their robot before Saturday’s First Lego League competition at the school. St. Margaret’s hosted the annual regional championship on the weekend for the first time since becoming the league’s new affiliate partner.

It was a brick-building good time at St. Margaret’s on Saturday as students from all over B.C. competed in a fast-paced series of challenges involving everyone’s favourite plastic construction toy: Lego.

The private school hosted the First Lego League’s regional championship, pitting 17 teams from Vancouver Island and Lower Mainland schools against each other in a competition that tests their collaborative problem-solving abilities. The FLL introduces young people ages nine to 14 to STEM fields through the team-based robotics competition, using fun and engaging challenges that require teamwork.

While the FLL has been on Vancouver Island since 2002, the event marked the first time the championship was hosted on the Island, with St. Margaret’s serving as the league’s new affiliate partner.

“I’d been involved in coaching teams before when BCIT was the affiliate partner, and I knew the power and the learning potential that the program offers,” said Lauren Hudson, the STEM program support teacher at SMS. “It isn’t just robot building and programming, but there’s also a theme tied into it so the kids are getting research and presentation skills and learning about all sorts of different aspects that are inter-related.”

Every year, the First Lego League develops a theme with a series of “missions,” which challenge students to build and program robots to perform a variety of tasks. This year’s theme was called Trash Trek, which presented such missions as loading a container onto a truck, folding up a vehicle and demolishing a building using their robots.

“They have to build a robot that actually moves, and that’s a huge learning curve right there,” said Hudson. “It’s really neat to see them figure out how the parts go together and how they adjust it to make things fit. And then they have to program it, so now they’re learning a programming language.”

“How you solve the mission is completely up to the students,” she added. “There are so many different ways to solve it, and one team will do it one way while another team will do it another way.”

This year, B.C.’s regional championship came after many of the international FLL championships had already ended, allowing students to see what other kids around the world had done to complete the Trash Trek tasks.

“You can YouTube ‘First Lego League Trash Trek’ and watch videos of other students that have solved the problems,” said Hudson. “Our kids are like, ‘that’s awesome, we’re going to riff off that idea, but we’re going to make it do this instead.’ They’re really gaining from the collective knowledge.”

In addition to building and programming, SMS IT director and coach Phil Pierce – whose background is engineering – said participating in the FLL teaches students a broad range of skills that they can take into the real world.

“I see everything from mechanical engineering, software engineering, requirements analysis, presentation skills, communication, project management,” he said. “If the girls developed each one of these skills, you could put them in the engineering office tomorrow and they’d be ready to go.

“It’s a perfect mapping to a STEM career, and we’re sending them in that direction.”

The Champion’s Award went to a home school group called Debris Dynasty, while St. Michael’s University School’s Green Machine team was the runner up. Debris Dynasty also took the first place Robot Performance Award, with SMUS’ SWAT team taking second place. SWAT also took home the Rising Star Award. St. Margaret’s Gear Girls won the Project Award while a neighbourhood group called the Electromaniacs won the Robot Design Award. The Core Values Award went to the Sacred Heart Saints White.

For more information about the First Lego League, visit stmarg.ca/robotics or email fll@smsbc.ca.