MUSCATINE, Iowa — Students in the Muscatine and Louisa-Muscatine Community school districts have found a fun after-school activity where they can build robots, work on projects to help the environment and learn skills that they'll be able to use now and farther down the road.

FIRST LEGO League (FLL) is a way for students ages 9-14 to learn about science and technology. In FLL, children program an autonomous robot to score points on a thematic playing surface, research and create solutions to a problem as part of a group project and demonstrate their commitment to FLL’s Core Values by working together.

FIRST stands for “For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology”, an organization dedicated to that exact thing. FIRST was founded by Dean Kamen, the inventor of the Segway.

FLL teams consistt of 2-10 students ranging from 4th-8th grade that compete in one or more local competitions and have the opportunity to advance to both state level and worldwide competitions.

Each year the FLL season has a theme. This year’s theme is “Trash Trek”.

Each FLL season includes three parts: project, robot game, and core values.

During the project portion, all teams are challenged to solve a real world problem involving the current theme.

The teams learn core values to show how team members work together and treat each others along the way.

The Robot Design / Robot Game is based around designing and building a robot (using an advanced LEGO robotics kit) and programing a custom built robot to complete missions autonomously (no remote control).

This year, the teams all created projects themed around trash and recycling. The FFL team Tek-Connekt even won the overall award for their project, which focused on recycling pizza boxes and plastic bags with the help of the local Hy-Vee.

Of the five Muscatine teams and one L-M team, all attended the regional competition held on De. 15-16, and four of the Muscatine teams (Trashmasters, Tek-Konnekt, Lego Eagles and EAGLES, EAGLES, EAGLES, BOOM) will be moving on to the state competition on Jan. 16.

The students and coaches alike had nothing but positive things to say about FLL and their recent competitions.

“Besides the team building thing and communications skills, they can learn true technology skills that they can use in the real world," explained Tek-Connekt coach Chris Hoffman.

Tek-Konnekt member, Eli Roeth, agreed adding that he liked it because everybody has lot of fun together and laughs all the time.

"I think the judges they really liked how we partnered with a local store, and I think that’s the best part of our project—like instead of just coming up with an idea we actually went out and did it," Roeth said about their award winning project.

Another team headed for state is Trashmaster, and coach Natalie Oppel thoughts seemed to match those of other coaches.

"I like that it balances the technology with other life skills," said Oppel, including skills like project planning, deadlines, presentation skills, quick thinking.

Seth Metcalf, a member of Oppel's team said he really enjoys collaborating with his teammates.

"I like to see when we are all collaborating on an idea whether it be on the robots or on the projects. I like to see everyone focused and helping each other, adding their own perspectives on an opinion," Metcalf said.

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Many on the Mulberry Master Builders' team commented on how much they enjoyed the mission portion of the team and getting involved in helping the environment.

"We had to do missions and we did pretty well on those and we had to tell the judges what we would do to help the environment," said John Juszczyk of the Master Builders.

"We took pictures and counted the cigarette waste that was left at intersections and at parks and we found that no smoking signs really did help there,"said Master Builder Kaelen Tjebkes about their project.

According to Coach Jeff, Master Builders won the Judges Award for their at Regionals because they went out and actually counted the cigarettes and judges liked that they were going up against big tobacco companies and trying to think big.

Team EAGLE, EAGLE, EAGLE, BOOM ran into some lucky when they were selected to go to finals last minute. they were also excited after winning the Team Spirit Award at Regionals.

"It was the Team Spirit Award and you can kind of tell how we got it because or name is EAGLE, EAGLE, EAGLE, BOOM, and we chanted that at the competition, said team member Nicole Bovenkamp.

Team EAGLE, EAGLE, EAGLE, BOOM and Lego Eagle are both coached by NAthan and Jen Simmering, who had only the best remarks.

"The kids are amazing. They really do all the work from programming the robot to the research project and presentation. It’s our job to try to point them in a good direction, but they are in charge. It’s really rewarding to see how the older team has grown in the four years they have been doing this together. We feel privileged to get to work with these kids," said Jen.

The Lego Eagles, who won the Robot Game Award and were state qualifiers said that FLL is important to them because it's something different to add into their activities.

This group has been participating together for four years and have built up a deep appreciation for the preparation it is giving them.

For their project, they designed fire starter logs out of pizza boxes.

"Over the years, we have figured out how each other works," said Lego Eagle Kristin Schlawin.

Team member Drew Ehrman said it's about thinking outside the box and that the box was lost a long time ago.

For the L-M FLL team, this was all of their participant's first year, as well as their coach Tenneil Register.

"The judges said it had one of the most unique designs they had ever had seen. So we were pretty excited about the progress and the learning and now the students here are very excited about having Lego League all year long and getting better and better at it," Register said.

Their team's project was about recycling water bottles, explained team member Abby Kemper.

"[FLL] is important because of learning to work together," said L-M team member Andon Degroot.

"I really liked it because everyone was friendly. We're looking forward to working together again next year," added Piper Brant.

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