IKE senior Mackenzie Wiebe helped create SDNB's first FLL elementary team.
FIRST LEGO League is a national competition that combines robot-building and programming with project presentation work and character development.
Students build a robot with LEGOs and program it to make required maneuvers called “missions” on a large table. There are about a dozen possible missions and teams try to accomplish as many missions as they can in a timed 2 ½-minute competition.
They also research a problem, devise a solution and prepare a presentation to a group of judges, as well as discuss how team members displayed “core values” such as “gracious professionalism” and teamwork.
Every year the competition has a theme. Last year it was severe weather. This year is was “learning unleashed,” in which students developed solutions for how to better engage students in learning a chosen academic subject.
The Elmwood sixth graders chose chemistry as their subject and brainstormed ideas with the help of New Berlin Eisenhower chemistry teacher Brendan Burns, who previously was a research assistant at UW-Madison. The team recommended teaching students basic chemistry concepts and then selecting topics based on students’ interests and exploring those topics in-depth with hands-on experiments.
One of the biggest challenges for students was being told there was no right answer and they had to think out of the box, McKinnon said.
“Innovation was crucial to be able to complete every single one of their tasks,” she said. "They had to be creative."
Elmwood student Ronak Dua admitted: "I felt scared in the first round."
But at the end of the day the team finished 15th out of 32 in its rookie year at the tournament held Nov. 23 at Marquette University High School. That wasn't quite high enough to advance to the sectionals but they were fired up about the experience.
"Awesome!" was how Elmwood student Joe Peters put it.
Elmwood student Adam Conley said the high school mentors were "pretty good, they really helped us do a lot."
High school student Pranav Kalicheti said it was refreshing to work with younger students, who could be future high school Robotics Team leaders.
"These guys are really smart, a lot of fun to work with, and overall I feel like I’ve grown a lot as well working with these kids," said Eisenhower senior Momin Mohis.