FIRST Lego League qualifier draws 130 students to APG

9-year-olds Nicholas Olivio and Ashley Shelton from Homestead Wakefield Elementary School participate in the First Lego League qualifier competition at U.S. Army Test and Evaluation Command headquarters Saturday, Jan. 20. U.S. Army photo by Jon Bleiweis, APG News

More than 130 students from across Maryland made their way to the U.S. Army Test and Evaluation Command headquarters at Aberdeen Proving Ground to take part in the seventh annual FIRST Lego League qualifier Saturday, Jan. 20.

The mission of FIRST — For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology — is to design accessible and innovative programs to build self-confidence, knowledge and life skills while motivating young people to pursue opportunities in science, technology and engineering and mathematics, or STEM.

The Lego tournament is a robotics program for fourth through eighth grade students, designed to get them excited about science and technology and teach them valuable employment and life skills.

Christina Bryant, STEM recruitment and outreach coordinator for ATEC, said when it comes to problem solving there’s a parallel between what the engineers and scientists at ATEC do and what the students do as part of the challenge.

“We like to reach out to students in elementary and middle schools while they’re still young and get them excited about STEM so they can pursue STEM in college and be our future engineering workforce,” she said.

First Lego League at ATEC

Each year, the Lego league has a different theme. This year’s theme, Hydro Dynamics, focused on water. The students were tasked to build and program a robot that could perform specific water-related tasks — such as repairing a pipe — on a playing field and create a presentation which identified a problem about how people find, transport, use or dispose of water and a solution for it. The students were also evaluated on teamwork and cooperation.

Four teams from the event advanced to the state competition, which will be held Feb. 24 at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. The winning teams included Super Technical Underground Design Society from St. Elizabeth’s school in Rockville; Totally Clogged Pipes from Triadelphia Ridge Elementary School in Ellicott City; Golden Frogs from Kingsville and Super Boltz, a group of friends from Silver Spring and Ellicott City.

Layla Zaidi, 13, from Super Boltz, said the team was excited to participate in the event and they enjoyed building and programming the robot, as they all have an interest in engineering. The team developed a water meter reader to present to the judge’s panel.

“You get to see your own creation come to life,” Layla said.

As they prepared to compete, the five members of Lego Warriors 2.0 said they were excited to take part in the qualifier. Representing the Havre de Grace Boys and Girls Club, the team created a skit on water conservation.

Daequan Mittons, 15, said he while he was excited for the social aspect of the day — getting to see people his age with similar interests — but was mindful of the competitive aspect.

“We get to meet new friends and beat new friends,” he said.

“He’s not wrong,” his coach, Rondez Green, added.

Green, who studies biology at Harford Community College and is the STEM mentor at the club, said he enjoys teaching children STEM topics.