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Hundreds of children fill the Putnam for Lego competition (QC Times)

First Lego League Robotics Rivermont Collegiate Image

Hundreds of kids screamed, jumped up and down and shouted encouragement to each other Sunday at the Putnam Museum, Davenport.

As loud as any sporting event and every bit as energy-packed, the children, ages 9-14, were part of the First Lego League challenge. To successfully complete the challenge, teams built and programmed a Lego Mindstorms robot.

Through hands-on experience and working in teams on Saturday and Sunday, children used problem-solving skills to address a real-world issue, said Nichole Myles of Moline, chief education and experience officer at the Putnam, which hosted the event. Teams, Myles said, were judged on their robot, their research project and core values that include how well the children worked within their teams.

Through the competition, children gain an appreciation for and interest in science and technology, Myles said. About 2,400 people, including families, students and Lego competition volunteers went through the Putnam's doors over the weekend, she said.

“The Putnam sees itself as a community resource,” she said. STEM education (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) is an important part of what the Putnam offers in its STEM center that opened earlier this year.

The competition, she added, is “all the things the Putnam represents. And it’s a wonderful showcase for the kids.”

Many teams came from schools in the region, and others were composed of students from churches or other organizations.

Tournament Director Pat Barnes, program director of Global STEM, Corporate Citizenship Center of Excellence for Deere & Co., also serves as a board member for the Quad-City Engineering and Science Council.

Additionally, Barnes is program director for the John Deere Inspire, a global initiative designed to encourage the next generation of innovators through education in STEM, along with connections and hands-on experiences with the real world.

Deere provides grants for the Lego teams, as well as volunteer judges, mentors and referees, he said.

“Forty percent of our salaried employees worldwide work in a STEM-related role,” Barnes said.

A whoop went up from a team just across the room from Barnes and Myles.

“These kids are so excited and their families are so excited,” Myles said. “This is like Friday night football … and it’s math and science!”

Not only do the teams learn problem-solving, math and science, but “gracious professionalism” is part of the core values on which the teams are judged, Barnes said: “The idea is not to win at the cost of somebody else.”

The children, Myles said “are presenting their own ideas and their own solutions in their own way.”

Teacher Sheryl Kennedy, of Camanche, Iowa, accompanied her Action Management Agency team that included fourth-grade boys and girls.

“They’re all rookies in Lego League,” she said. “We are playing with the big guys.”

The students on her team were required to have good test scores, she said. “They are so thrilled to be here,” she said. “They knew they would be competing against other kids from bigger school districts.”

The Camanche team, she said, was “sure we rocked the core values, because they took turns and helped each other.”

“I think it’s pretty cool to be here,” said team member Eva Gifford, 10, of Camanche. “I get to see all of these other people perform.” The team’s presentation included a song.

(Originally published in the Quad City Times on December 14, 2014. By Linda Cook)

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