Middle School Teams Prepare for the FIRST Lego League (FLL) Robotics Competition

Spruce Mountain High School in Jay will host the Maine FIRST LEGO League Challenge State Championship with teams from all over the state this weekend. After a small-scale event at Messalonskee last year and no in-person event the year before, this FIRST Lego League (FLL) event aims to move a step closer to excitement and engagement that only the Civic Center in Augusta could contain! Every season, FIRST has a new theme that goes across its different groups. “Energize” is the theme for the 2022-2023 season with an emphasis on energy generation, efficiency, and use. At the FIRST LEGO League (FLL) level, teams will take part in the “Superpowered” challenge and “explore where energy comes from and how it is distributed, stored, and used – and then put their superpowered creativity to work to innovate for a better energy future.”

This year’s event will have 25 teams competing from across the state. Three of the teams competing this year are the Veazie Vikings (Team 26180) from Veazie Community School, the STEAM Powered Knights (Team 34104) from St. George Elementary School and the RoboSharks (Team 14407) from the Shapleigh School.

The Veazie Vikings Robotics team started in 2016 and are looking to have another successful showing coming off their success last season, which included two awards. They won the Maine Global Innovation Award with their “Veazie Moves” app design and had the highest scoring robot in the competition. Their success even led to a feature on NewsCenter Maine. This year’s team has a mix of veteran and rookie middle school students who each get to build and program a robot. Combining the building and programming to complete assigned tasks on a game field is really what brings the team together. Team coach Brian Gonyar said, “Students learn teamwork. They share ideas, successes, and failures.” Working around students’ busy after-school activities can be challenging, but they are able to practice most days. The team project that focuses on biomass energy production has been an undertaking, but they are optimistic.

St. George Elementary School’s team was formed by STEAM teacher Amy Palmer and Technology & Makerspace Director Paul Meinersmann in 2017. Team 34104 has not had a straight path. After participating in the state competition in 2017, the team is finally returning to the event held in Oakland last year. This year, they will be returning to the Maine FLL State Championship with a completely new group of students. Like many robotics teams in Maine, they are rebuilding their program after going dark during the pandemic. This new team, who renamed themselves the STEAM Powered Knights (they were formerly the “Electro Dragons”), are looking to charge back into robotics action this year.

Shapleigh School will be making their debut at this year’s event. Fifth grade teacher Heidi Randall went through the necessary training this summer to begin coaching a team this school year. They were in the starting process in 2020 and are excited to be able to finally organize a team. “It was certainly a learning year with a huge learning curve,” said Randall, “Our enthusiasm is high as we are getting the final week after the break!”  For students and coaches alike, the first time going to an event is a learning experience, but one that will help the team grow and better prepare for the future.

On December 3, 2022, the Veazie Vikings, the St. George STEAM Powered Knights, and the Shapleigh RoboSharks will join many FLL teams at Spruce Mountain High School for the Maine FIRST LEGO League Challenge State Championship. This is event is free and open to the public. Children of all ages can watch FLL teams compete. There is still a high need for volunteers to help at this event in a variety of capacities. If you have any interest in volunteering at this event, please contact Geoff Cyr (geoffrey.cyr@gmail.com). To learn more about opportunities for Robotics in Maine schools, check out Robotics Institute of Maine (RIM). For information about computer science in Maine schools, please check out the Maine Department of Education’s Computer Science page. If you have a robotics success story at your school, email jonathan.m.graham@maine.gov.