LEGO competition builds interest in STEM programs nationwide

An international robotics tournament geared toward promoting students’ interest in science and technology called FIRST LEGO League is holding a regional tournament in Winter Haven, Florida. Over a thousand participants came to compete for a chance to compete at the national level.

Students and their parents came from eight different counties in the region. The teams are composed of students between the ages of nine and fourteen.

We-Cycle is a team of gifted fifth-graders from Ormond Beach, Florida, that exemplify the type of students who attended the tournament. The students’ intelligence and determination shows on the competition floor.

“The first part of the season, they practiced maybe once or twice a week, but before the regional championship they practiced every single day after school about three hours,” said Steve Waterman, We-Cycle’s coach.

The main event is the robotics competition of the tournament. Teams have a set number of missions to complete using robots they have built in order to receive points within two-and-a-half minutes.

Additionally, teams were required to conduct a project that helps to solve a problem. Many teams geared toward recycling trash or lowering pollution. We-Cycle, for example, took used plastic bags and wove them into consumer goods like purses and floor mats.

The program has great influence on the children participating. Lead Programmer for We-Cycle, Matthew Monroe has been greatly influenced since getting involved with the FIRST LEGO League.

“I want to be a programmer. I want to program computers, games, anything really” said Monroe.

We-Cycle did not advance to the next level, but Coach Waterman was selected for the Coach/Mentor of the Year Award.