About 30 students ages nine through 14 are gearing up for the 2014-15 FIRST LEGO League competition with weekly training sessions at the National Transportation Research Center in West Knoxville. NTRC is part of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and ORNL operating contractor UT-Battelle co-sponsors the LEGO League tournament.
“This year’s theme is ‘World Class Learning Unleashed,’” said Claus Daniel, an ORNL researcher who’s coaching one of three teams meeting at the NTRC. “Part of what the students are doing is defining a question, research, how people learn about the question nowadays and then original ideas to improve the learning process.”
Past competitions have assigned teams to a specific challenge. The open-ended approach this year “makes the students think more,” Daniel said. “When teams make their presentations to the judges, they’ll need to share their ideas with professionals and many groups to seek feedback and get points in the competition.”
The students, who attend schools or home school groups in the Oak Ridge, Farragut, Karns, and Hardin Valley areas, will take part in the local tournament on December 6 at Hardin Valley Academy with top finishers qualifying for the East Tennessee tournament February 14 in Cookeville at Tennessee Tech, the other co-sponsor of the tournament.
Thirty teams are registered in the Knoxville-Oak Ridge area, with 98 teams signed up in East and Middle Tennessee. Twelve ORNL employees are coaching or mentoring students this year.
FIRST LEGO League teams compete with LEGO-framed miniature robotic motors performing a series of functions on a table. Teams are judged based on their problem-solving skills, creative thinking, teamwork, competitive play, sportsmanship, and sense of community.
“These sessions enable the experienced students to apply what they have learned before in getting ready for this year’s competition,” Daniel said. “At the same time, those who are doing this for the first time are learning very quickly about what the FIRST LEGO League challenge is all about.”
While the teams now meet once a week, Daniel expects that to increase as the first tournament nears.
“I’d say we’ll end up meeting just about every night when we get down to the last week or two,” Daniel said. “This competition has always been at a high level and I expect that to be the case even more so this year.”