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First Lego League in Virginia and DC


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Rosalind O'Brien <[log in to unmask]>
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Rosalind O'Brien <[log in to unmask]>
Sun, 28 Dec 2014 17:05:05 +0000
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Check out this article about VA-DC FLL Team Brainstormz, from Tidewater!

See it online here 

Solving problems, having fun with Legos

By Ben Werner <>
Virginian-Pilot correspondent
© December 21, 2014

Life doesn't come with instructions. That's the underlying theme of First 
Lego League competition - participants have to find their own ways to piece 
together solutions to missions.

So when four Chesapeake and Virginia Beach middle school kids - team 
Brainstormz - started prepping for First Lego League competition in August, 
they eschewed the instructions for a pair of basic Lego EV3 robots, to 
create Bosstronic and Lieutenant Bubbles.

Working out of BrickHeadZ in Chesapeake, Brainstormz used more than 1,000 
Lego bricks to design and build their pair of robots. The first-year team's 
goal was simple - have fun and be competitive in the First Lego League.

The Brainstormz robot performed deftly enough at the First Lego League 
Tidewater Region competition to earn a spot in the recent state 
championship held at James Madison University. There, Brainstormz finished 
18th out of 48 teams.

"That was the most intense sporting event I've been to," said Cameron 
Lochrie, 13, of Great Bridge. "Our color sensor wasn't working so we had to 
sort that out."

In competition, teams can have up to 10 members, between 9 and 14 years 
old, to build and program a robot that can complete a series of tasks 
called missions. For example, one requires the robot to pick up a rubber 
ball, carry it to a point on the competition field, and successfully throw 
the ball into what looks like a soccer goal built of Lego bricks. Scoring 
is based on time and how efficiently the missions are completed.

What makes this impressive is all the problem solving was left up to 
Cameron and her three teammates, Joshua Thomas, 12, Sammy Cutler, 10, and 
Ellie Sherman, 12.

"We're asking them open-ended questions to guide them so the kids can find 
out their solutions on their own," said Vanessa Siedlecki, owner of 
BrickheadZ and assistant coach of Brainstormz. "We challenge them, asking, 
'Why is this not working?' "

Developing solutions, though, required a lot of trial and error and 
consideration of different ideas posed by all the team members, said 
Brainstormz coach Jonny Smithers.

"It makes kids think," Smithers said. "Everyone brings something to the 

At the state championship, there were twelve robot judging tables running 
on four-minute intervals, half a dozen city buses to shuttle people to 
lunch, and hundreds of crazy, electric, light-up hats, according to Scott 
Lochrie, Cameron's father.

"The most impressive thing though, aside from the hats, was a thousand plus 
kids practicing the First Lego League core values," he said.

Lochrie described what he calls a "Lego moment" during the competition.

"Coach Jonny and I were watching the team ahead of us in line, and they 
were struggling with their robot. It turned at the wrong time, missed its 
target, got stuck, and had to be picked up and put back on base by hand.

" 'No points for that run,' I thought, 'We can beat it!' I caught Coach 
Jonny's eye and knew he was thinking the same thing.

"We turned around to rally our team but found them sitting on the floor in 
their lab coats. With them were the kids from the team behind us. They were 
all simply sharing the finer points of robot design and the latest Mine 
Craft discoveries, completely unaware of the drama unfolding out on the 
robot table.

"Coach Johnny and I looked at each other, turned back to the robot table, 
then graciously, professionally and sincerely cheered for the struggling 
team. Our kids seemed to know all along that what we discover is more 
important than what we win, and together, we set out to have fun the rest 
of the day," he said.

An interesting aspect of Brainstormz, Smithers added, is the members hadn't 
worked together, or even known each other before August. Cameron attends 
Great Bridge Middle School but now considers Ellie, who attends Hugo Owens 
Middle School, as one of her best friends. Sammy attends Kemps Landing/Old 
Donation School in Virginia Beach, and Joshua is homeschooled in Chesapeake.

Yet they were able to coalesce into a team using everyone's strengths. 
Cameron cited the process of naming the team as a great example of an early 
team building exercise. They spent two hours hashing out different names, 
eventually settling on Brainstormz - a monicker that combined various other 
ideas team members liked.

Ultimately, the entire experience left Cameron broadening her concept of 
what she'd like to do in the future.

"Before, I had ideas about being a geneticist," Cameron said. "But being an 
engineer sounds fun."

Ben Werner, [log in to unmask]

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