The beat of a Taylor Swift song fills the practice room as the Techie Tweens work on Penelope, a small Lego robot. It’s clear that these girls just want to have fun.
The all-girl Lego robotics team paired that fun-loving nature with a passion for science and technology to win first place at the Raleigh Regional competition Dec. 1. The team will head to the state championship in Greensboro next month.
The nine Techie Tweens, made up of students from Holly Grove Middle, Fuquay-Varina Middle and Ballentine Elementary, never expected the big win.
Team coaches Shawn and Jennifer Edmondson said the announcement was quite a shock for the entire team. The girls had worked very hard since August and as about 12 awards were announced at Southeast Raleigh Magnet High School to round out the regional competition, the girls simply hoped to be recognized for their efforts.
“Their shoulders continued to hunch a little more,” Jennifer said as more and more groups were called. “I really think it was a big surprise to the girls and to us.”
In its second year, the Techie Tweens group took the theme of “senior solutions” from the FIRST LEGO League and used Lego Minestorm kits to build a clean, elegant design that was the envy of many other groups.
“The girls’ design is super reliable,” Shawn said. “It works almost every time.”
The FIRST LEGO League participants used the theme to examine problems that affect senior citizens and may make it difficult for them to remain engaged and independent members of their community, according to Christa Adcock Ward of Ballentine Elementary.
The Techie Tweens got started last year at Ballentine Elementary. There were 11 kids wanting to participate after last year and only 10 can be on a team. So, the Edmondsons invited all of the girls from last year’s team.
All but one girl was able to participate in the team, leaving open a spot for the Edmondsons’ third grade daughter who couldn’t be on the team last year because of her age, but learned a lot.
The girls participated in a multi-pronged contest, including a research project and a challenge table where their robot had three chances and two and a half minutes to overcome 15 obstacles.
“The projects these kids come up with are all over the map,” Shawn said.
Teams are graded on their research, engineering and robot design and core values.
Shawn said core values is one area where the girls thrive. They recognize each others’ strengths and all pitch in when there are weaknesses.
Looking forward to the state competition, Shawn and Jennifer said the girls are looking at it as an opportunity to celebrate their hard work throughout the year. They’re all really excited and plan to trade pins with other teams as they meet new people and make friends at the statewide level.
“Our team is so excited to be going to the state competition and going as regional champions makes it even more exciting. This is the farthest we have been,” Techie Tween member Erin Stone said. “I get to be with a great group of girls. We are a family. We work well together, whether it is at practice, in front of the judges doing our presentation or working with Penelope in front of hundreds of people. And we have a great time doing it.”
The FIRST LEGO League involves 20,000 teams of kids in 70 countries across the world, 300 of which are in North Carolina. Only 60 of those teams advanced to the state competition at N.C. A&T State University in Greensboro. Events are for children from ages 9 to 14.
The other Ballentine Elementary team, the Burning Bricks also head to the state level of competition. The group took home the “gracious professionalism” award at the local qualifier in Cary in November and followed up their performance with a perfect score on the project component at regionals, earning them “best research.” The team is under the direction of Ballentine AIG teacher Sonia Clark and is coached by volunteer Jen Mahlum.
Also headed to the faceoff at the state level is the Ninja Bots out of Wake Christian Academy. The rookie group, made up of six sixth graders from the school, placed 13th out of 36 teams in the qualifier in November. They placed 13th out of 37 teams at the regional competition as well.
Ninja Bots Coach Geoff Erb said the team took a well-deserved week off after the regional tournament, and now are looking forward to showing off their skills at the state level. The team assembled last year with Erb and another adult leader helping the students learn to program a robot, but they didn’t compete.
Now, the team continues to tweak its robot and work on teamwork.
“The kids all know each other and have fun together,” Erb said. “I’ve really seen them grow together as a team since we started, and they have learned how to work with each other rather than try to talk over one another.
“We also have some very strong parental involvement and great volunteers to help mentor the kids.”
Contact Kelly Griffith at firstname.lastname@example.org or 919-552-5675.