3-2-1 Lego!

Lego League has been a part of our lives since our son, Erik, begged his dad to let him buy a Lego Mindstorms kit with his own money. We were only too happy to encourage a “toy” that involved Legos and a programmable controller for robotics. From there it was an easy leap to joining Lego League.

Before Erik was involved, we went to see a tournament. They call it “A Sporting Event for the Mind” and that’s exactly what it is. We stepped into a gym to hear blaring music, the professional voice on an emcee and kids competing against each other with robots on 4′ x 8′ fields. It was every bit as exciting as any sport your could imagine.

We were so sold that Rich soon signed on as the team’s coach – never having worked with kids before in his life. A year later, I was drafted to help with the research project and skit for competition. We were all in. Erik stayed with it all through high school, and it propelled him into a top rated engineering school where he earned a degree as an Electrical Engineer. He’s quite a poster child for Lego League.

IMG_9527 trimmedToday, the three of us are volunteer judges for tournaments. Saturdays in late fall and winter will see us spending all day in a school, talking to team after team about their robot, their programming and their research project. It’s a highly satisfying job, and so rewarding to see kids get so excited about working with math, science and technology. It takes a lot of judges to run a tournament, and we meet fascinating people each time we sign on for a tournament. As they say, when you give of your time, you get so much more in return.

IMG_9534Of course, the most exciting part for the kids are the Competition Rounds. There, they run their robot against the clock, seeing how many missions they can accomplish in their allotted two minutes. They can only touch their robot when it is in base – the rest has to be done through programming, sensors and a solid mechanical design. It is great fun to see the IMG_9530creative ways the kids dream up to achieve their missions, and often it is the younger, uninhibited teams who come up with the most unique solutions.

Recently we judged at the State Tournament. There it was the cream of the crop – the teams who had won their regional competitions and earned a spot in this final round. It was there that we learned a fascinating fact. We knew that Minnesota was one of the leading states in generating Lego League teams – in fact, there are more Lego League teams per capita in Minnesota than in any other state. And in many schools it has become a varsity sport. But the curious fact that drove it home dramatically was this – there are more varsity Lego League teams in the state of Minnesota than there are boys’ varsity hockey teams! I love it – the mind game has won out over slapshots and forechecking. Way to go Lego robotics teams!

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