AUGUSTA — Maine’s future environmental lawyers, programmers, architectural designers and computer hardware engineers huddled around laptops and wheeled robots. 

With just a couple keystrokes, they made finetune adjustments to the code — the language that would explicitly direct how their robot would move. 

The robots moved autonomously, without a remote — wheels making specific resolutions, arms and claws reaching — in order to operate missions like a swing, a ramp, an elevator or crain.

“All of us are techies,” said Marques Capp, a 13-year-old eighth-grader at Winslow Junior High School, a member of the team Excelerators. “We all like computer tech.” 

Robot design is just one part of the judging Saturday during the FIRST Lego League state championship hosted by the Robotics Institute of Maine at the Augusta Civic Center.

FIRST is an acronym For Inspiration & Recognition of Science & Technology.

RIM and FIRST Lego League have the common goal of connecting youth to real-world science and technology.

“(FIRST Lego League) encompasses all the skills you would want in a successful employee or a successful citizen,” said Jamee Luce of FIRST. 

“On top of this, where they have to problem-solve through all of these issues they are facing, they also have to develop a project solution where they do a presentation to the judges,” she said. “They are doing public speaking, research, written communication — all is encompassed and experienced today.”

Along with robot design, teams are judged on projects and core values. 

Core values are judged in an on-the-spot challenge where teams of up to 10 students must work together to complete a task. An example of a task was to make a vehicle that can land on another planet out of a pile of Legos. 

“Judges get a view of how they will work and watch how they interact,” said Andrew Doiron, a Winslow Middle School STEM teacher and coach of the Excelerators. “Kids do not know what the challenge will be.

The third area the teams are being judged is the project, which, like creating the robot, took much of each team’s time to develop. 

This year’s theme was “City Shapers,” which was announced in August before the beginning of the school year, said Kathleen Pike, director of FIRST Lego League for the state of Maine. 

Through this theme, the teams had to identify a need in the community, create a solution to that ongoing problem, and then pitch their ideas to judges using models, maps and written materials.

The Windham Middle School team, Windham Robotics Engineering Club (WREC), had concerns about the safety in a new community park. 

“We came up with the idea with panic buttons, like those at college campuses, but with a new spin, which is a drone,” said 12-year-old Najala Boatman, an eighth-grader. 

“When one of the buttons is pressed,” continued Alex Pooler, a 13-year-old eighth-grader, “the drone would fly to it, and it calls the police so they can take control of the drone and investigate the situation.”

Najala showed a map of the park at places the team felt panic buttons were needed. 

“One of our members emailed Be the Influence,” said Najala. “They invited us to the official meeting in Augusta because they were interested to see if our ideas for the park could happen.”

The Metromancers of Waterville Junior High School created a service shade. 

“They are solar-powered umbrellas to help social interaction because in big cities, more people are looking down at their phones than talking to other people,” said Daniel Joler, 11, who is in eighth grade. 

In the model, Lego characters sat at multiple covered picnic tables on a waterfront park along the Kennebec River.

“We are trying to make it so more people would talk to each other while their phones were charging,” 

For the Excelerators, the need was to add solar power to the new addition for Winslow High School. 

“At the end of sixth grade, all the teachers do a presentation on the electives we can pick (in junior high),” said Braden Rioux, who is in eighth grade. “We all picked STEM.” STEM classes are those in the areas of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. 

STEM students at Winslow Middle School spend the first trimester participating in the FIRST Lego League, said STEM teacher Ginny Brackett, who also coaches the Excelerators. In the second trimester, the students will make windmills and compete in another statewide competition, Kid Wind. In the third, they will make solar cars. 

Having just completed the core value judging, Metromancers member Caleb Crowley, 11, ate a slice of pizza while his mother, Heather Crowley, blinked back the tears that threatened to spill down her cheek. 

It was Caleb’s first year participating in FIRST Lego League, and Crowley was full of emotional anticipation and pride seeing him in his first competition. 

“I think about how hard they have to work, I am so proud, to really see how much effort they put into it,” she said. “To see them be able to push some buttons and make that robot do what they want them to do is just mind-boggling.”

Crowley said that participation has been an opportunity for Caleb’s confidence to grow. She said that they had been practicing his speaking portion of the project.

“He is always really soft spoken, and we were practicing,” she said. “Each time he said it, he got a little prouder and a little louder.” 

Coinciding with the FIRST Lego League championships was the Digital Festival hosted by Project>Login, which included demonstrations in virtual reality, augmented reality, coding and others. 

Angela Oechslie, Project>Login program director, said that Project>Login seeks to hold the festival at the same time as the championships in order for family members to participate. One family traveled from the Bangor area specifically to attend the fourth annual public festival. 

“We are trying to get an opportunity and access for all kids in Maine to try computer science and feel that they can see themselves as a computer scientist or something where they can use computational thinking in their jobs or in a future career,” Oechslie said.

The more often that kids are exposed to computer science, for girls especially, Oechslie said, the more likely they will major in it because they can see themselves doing it.

Comments are not available on this story.

filed under:

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.