Rivermont Collegiate’s middle school robotics team worked more quietly than usual Friday as members practiced for the First Lego League international robotics competition to be held next month in Brazil.
It took a few minutes of high-fives and small chat for the five members of Robots on the Floor Laughing to warm up to Iowa Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds, who visited two Davenport businesses Friday morning before stopping by the college prep school in Bettendorf.
“They’re quiet today, but usually they’re a little rambunctious,” said Vaishali Wagher, a co-coach and the mother of team member Nikhil Wagher. “They usually stay true to their name.”
There are more than 14,000 First Lego League teams in the United States, but the Rivermont squad will depart Aug. 31 for the 25-team competition in Brazil as the country's sole representative. The competition will take place Sept. 1-4.
Robots on the Floor Laughing includes Lauren Schroeder, 13, Nikhil Wagher, 14, Ellie Decker, 12, Jessica Elliott, 13, and Gabe Heaney, 12.
Deere & Co. chose to sponsor the team at the international tournament based on the students' performance at the 2014 Iowa state competition in January, said Pat Barnes, the executive director of the Quad-City Science and Engineering Council.
Participants in the First Lego League range from 9 to 14 years old and are judged on core values, building and presenting a robot and various problem-solving tasks.
Robots on the Floor Laughing presented their robot, named “clone,” and their solar-powered, tornado-proof shelter design to Reynolds, who questioned them about their efforts as a team.
Although each team member may prefer a specific role, whether it’s designing the robot, building with Legos or programming the device’s software, the group has learned to collaborate and solve problems together before, during and after school and on weekends over the past year.
“We try and split up the work so everyone gets a taste of everything,” Gabe said.
Whenever the team faces an issue or a problem, members vote to determine their solution.
“Sometimes, we’ll just take a step back and focus on something else before coming back as a team,” Lauren said.
Within 15 minutes of meeting the state’s second-in-command, members of the robotics team fell to the ground in laughter.
“We’re a team, so we do things as a team,” Nikhil said. “And now we’re like best buds.”
Reynolds congratulated the middle school team members on their progress, highlighting their professional networking efforts and teamwork.
“When I see kids that are fired up and applying what they’ve learned to real life, it’s amazing,” she said. “These skill sets are beneficial in everything they do.”
Barnes said interest in robotics and the First Lego League in the Quad-City area over the past five years has grown dramatically.
At the fifth-annual First Lego League regional qualifier robotics competition, held in December at the Putnam Museum in Davenport, 106 local teams participated and eight teams qualified for the Iowa state tournament.
Trinity Lutheran’s World Changers from Davenport won the Champions Award at the state tournament for the second year in a row and participated in June at the First Lego League International Open in Toronto. The Riverdale Rocks Robots team from Riverdale Elementary School in Pleasant Valley earned second place at the state championship and participated during May at the North American Open Championship at LEGOland in California.
By 2017, Iowa will employ 70,000 people in STEM-related jobs, said Reynolds, who co-chairs Gov. Terry Branstad’s STEM Advisory Council in Iowa. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math.
“We need our problem-solvers staying in our state,” said Reynolds, adding that she wishes she could have been exposed to robotics as a child. “For those that don’t have someone telling them they can do something, to get this exposure can change their whole perspective.”
Reynolds gave each member of the team a “good luck” hug before leaving Rivermont Collegiate.
Leigh Ann Schroeder, a co-coach and mother of team member Lauren Schroeder, said she’s excited to see the team perform in their element.
“I’m a coach, but I’m also a mom, and I feel like they’re all mine,” Schroeder said. “They’re going to have the time of their life.”
(See original story on the QC Times website).