Wrapping Up Our First JFLL Season

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This spring, SJMS Lower Elementary students taking part in Junior FIRST LEGO League discovered incredible things about the moon and what we will need to live there! (Think air, water, energy, food, health care, entertainment!)

Throughout the season, we took the time to explore these necessities, discussing why each is important, how we will obtain it, how we will store it, and how we will use it.

For example, just about everything needs energy! On Earth, we have a power grid that transports energy from power plants, windmills, nuclear generators, solar panels, and dams to wherever we need it. On the moon, this power grid doesn’t exist. The students explored this basic need, building LEGO models to show how they will create, store, and use energy on the moon. They also designed robots to help them with these tasks.

By the end of the season, students had explored each of these challenges and many more, using what they had learned and built to construct their moon bases. They also created poster boards to share what they learned. Before the end of the school year, they had the chance to share their projects with classmates, parents, and teachers.

They were all incredibly hopeful to share what they had learned with the other students. Their wish was granted, with after care students from Lower Elementary, Upper Elementary, and Middle School stopping by to check out what they had been working on.

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That's a Wrap! - FIRST LEGO League

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This past fall, our Middle School students had the opportunity to explore our solar system and the challenges that we face in traversing it through a program called FIRST LEGO League.

FIRST LEGO League (FLL for short) is a yearly STEM/Robotics competition that challenges teams of students to research a real-world problem. The program is divided into three parts: the project, robot challenge, and core values.

For the Project component, this year's challenge "INTO ORBIT" asked students to research and identify one physical or social problem that humans face during long duration space travel and design a solution. Our two teams identified and solved two very different problems.

The Saucey Lemons focused on how our ships will require fuel and determined that a solution to this could be to find water or ice on comets or planets and split the water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen, which can be used for fuel and breathing respectively.

The Sock Monkeys focused on how astronauts will need to use the restroom in space. As we all know, long bathroom breaks (a norm in space just like on Earth!) can cut down on work production. They designed special underwear and a suction funnel that allow astronauts to relieve themselves on the go.

The Robotics Challenge tasks teams with designing and programming a robot to complete a series of missions related to that year's challenge. There were many missions to choose from, including launching payloads into space, placing satellites into orbit, crossing craters with the rover, and capturing asteroids to mine them for precious metals. Our teams, this being their first year, chose missions based on coolness but also based on ease. The learning curve for the robotics challenge is steep but we put in a lot of hard work and picked up some incredible knowledge along the way.

Finally, the Core Values component has students create a trifold board displaying how they connected with the spirit of the completion. FIRST encapsulates this with the idea of Gracious Professionalism, which is "a way of doing things that encourages high-quality work, emphasizes the value of others, and respects individuals and the community." Teamwork, respect, kindness, inclusivity, and empathy are just as much a part of this program as the robotics. We can go much farther together than we can alone.

Finally, after two months of work, we attended our regional competition in New Albany. At the competition, teams present their project, robot design, and core values presentations to panels of judges. They also have three chances to have their robots judged based on the number of missions they are able to complete with the highest score counting. Based on how well they do on this plus their three presentations, they have the chance of moving on to the district competition.

Coming in, we knew we faced an uphill battle. Again, the learning curve is steep and there was also the fact that we started almost two months late! The programming takes practice to master and many of the teams we went up against had years of experience. Our teams ended up finishing outside of the top four, ending our season.

That doesn't mean we didn't enjoy it! I was personally blown away by the students, coaches, and staff at the event. They were incredibly supportive, sharing with us their own ingenious projects, robot designs, and tips/pointers.

Though we didn't place quite as highly as we hoped, the students left sure of one thing: We're coming back next year.