Ready, set, LEGO®! Those three magical words echoed through the gymnasium at Parish Episcopal School on February 3, during the FIRST® LEGO® League (FLL) North Texas Regional Championship. 60 teams, including two Parish Middle School teams, competed in the 10th season of the championship. It was produced by the Perot Museum of Nature and Science with Lockheed Martin serving as the presenting sponsor and Exxon Mobil, Rockwell Collins, Arco Murray as supporting sponsors. This year’s theme was Hydro Dynamics with a focus on teams researching new ideas and coming up with real-world solutions to help improve the world’s water cycle and supply. The Regional Championship is a big draw for competitors and spectators each year and once again drew the attention of local media. (NBC5, FriscoEnterprise, Denton Record-Chronicle, North Texas Water Municipal District, Perot Museum)
FLL Teams have been working since the beginning of school to make it to the championship. To prepare, they had to build and program an autonomous robot to compete in 2.5 minute mission matches, research and complete a project over challenges with the human water supply, and show the core values and dedication needed to be a successful team. More than 400 teams competed in the North Texas region during first and second round qualifying competitions and two Parish Episcopal Middle School teams were among those to make it to regionals. The "MEME" team is made up of 8th graders Jack Ashmore, Jonas Pearson and Diego Roman who have all been participating in middle school robotics for three to four years. The "Robotic Aquatic Sea Pigs" team was the first, all-girls 6th grade team to qualify. Team members include Maddie Behrens, Katherine Chisolm, Annie Joyner and Anita Mahtani who have all been participating in middle school robotics for one to two years.
It takes plenty of time and dedication to reach the regional competition. Teams that make it to finals usually spend six months collaborating and fine-tuning the project and programming the robot. The biggest lesson to come out of robotics competition: teamwork, teamwork, teamwork.
“That’s tremendous!” exclaimed Beth Kirner, Parish's Middle School STEM and FLL Coach. “Being able to make decisions, delve out roles, use their time wisely, put together a formal presentation and cheer each other on when frustrated is so important; all of those are incredible skills they’re going to need for the rest of their lives. I’m extremely proud to be a part of that.”
The Parish Middle School robotics program has grown under the direction of Jenn Makins, Director of Parish STEM, and Kirner for the past eight years and involves about one quarter of the Middle School students annually. It’s just one part of the robust ParishSTEM program which also includes the Design Den, Parish INC., FLL, Dallas BEST, FTC Robotics, the NASA Rover team, and Beasley STEM Center for PreK - 2nd grade at the Hillcrest campus. Additionally, the Parish community has hosted eight, first-round qualifying competition events and hosted the FIRST® LEGO® League North Texas Regional Championship for the fourth time this year. With more than 500+ competitors and spectators, it takes much preparation and coordination to successfully host the events. Thanks to the generosity of the Parish community, the event is never short on volunteers to help with judging, working the concession stand and serving as parent coaches. Parish also has a large enough facility to accommodate everyone.
Parish had 17 teams compete during the 2017-18 school year. It wasn’t long ago when the MEME team launched their robotics journey as 5th graders and Kirner started her first year as a FLL coach. Fast forward three years and it seems almost impossible that they just competed in their final year in MS robotics. The team marked many milestones and accomplished many goals; including setting a team-best score during a game match at this year’s regional championship.
“Just guiding them to be more independent, solving problems on their own, and using their own ideas is exactly what I needed to do as a coach,” noted Kirner. “The team took off from there!”
The Robotic Aquatic Sea Pigs made Parish history as the first, all-girls 6th grade team to make it to the North Texas Regional Championship. During the course of the season, the team won in the Core Values category at the first round qualifier at Braswell High School and exhibited the characteristics of “coopertition,” the LEGO® definition of friendly competition. Under Core Values, teams demonstrate gracious professionalism, teamwork and problem solving skills while under pressure.
“I like that the girls have two more years to participate,” noted Kirner. “So for them, being at the championship was not just a day of competition, it was a day of learning.”
The LEGO® and bots from this season have barely been put away, but teams are already thinking about next year’s space theme called “INTO ORBITSM." The hard work will continue when robotics teams meet again in fall of 2018.
“I’m sad that my boys are leaving me, we’ve spent four years together,” added Kirner. “But I’m really excited that I get to spend a couple more years with the girls and all of the other amazing students that are in the program.”
Regional Championship Results:
Champion’s Award 1st Place - Advancing Teams World Festival - Team 6078, Hockabots
2nd Place Team - LEGOLAND North American Championship - Team 15636, The Incredibots of Panther Creek Estates
3rd Place Team - Razorback Invitational - Team 19317, PIE (Prosper Independent Engineers) and Team 1763, Ambassador Gold