For the second year in a row, three FIRST Lego League (FLL) robotics teams from Becker County are headed to regional competition at Alexandria's Discovery Middle School on Saturday, Dec. 21.
The Skyscraper Huskies, Kraken and Nuclear City teams have been holding weekly practice sessions since September, according to Becker County 4-H Program Coordinator Leigh Nelson-Edwards, who oversees the local FLL program.
"We have about 20 kids in the program this year," she said. This year, the team's practice sessions are at the new Boys & Girls Club facility on Richwood Road. Becker County 4-H has been partnering with the local Boys & Girls Club on various projects since 2017, with the FLL program just being the most recent.
"It started with Leigh coming to the club and meeting with me to learn about our programs," said Tami Skinner, Detroit Lakes Boys & Girls Club Program Director. "We found that we had similar hopes, expectations and skills to work together really well.
"When Leigh and I met to brainstorm new ideas for programming, I mentioned that I would love to offer a robotics program for our club members," Skinner said. "Leigh was looking for a space to house the program she had recently started, so the partnership was perfect. The program combines both club and 4-H members working together weekly."
Nelson-Edwards said that this was the third year for the 4-H Lego League program, which had its start at Detroit Lakes Public Schools.
"I was approached by Jason (Kuehn, principal of Rossman Elementary) and Trish (Mariotti, principal of Roosevelt Elementary) about taking on the administration of the program," Nelson-Edwards said.
"They're still a partner with us," she added, noting that it was actually the school district that obtained grant funding for much of the equipment needed to start the program.
Since then, TEAM Industries, Ulteig Engineering, Apex Engineering, John Deere, the Detroit Lakes Breakfast Rotary and the Becker County Museum have also become sponsors and/or partners in the program, she added, with the museum actually hosting an eight-week, after school coding camp last spring that was specifically geared toward learning robotics coding for FLL competition.
In addition, 4-H parents and volunteer robotics coaches Guy Roberts, Tom Trowbridge, Tim Martin and Gonzalo Jiminez have donated countless hours to mentor the kids through this year's FLL competition preparations, Nelson-Edwards said.
Mock judging held to prepare for Dec. 21 competition
On Tuesday, Dec. 10, the three FLL teams held a mock judging session to practice for the Innovation Project portion of the Dec. 21 competition, which has three aspects, Nelson-Edwards said. The other two are the Robot Game and the Core Values Challenge.
This year's Innovation Project is the City Shaper Challenge, where teams must identify a problem with a building or public space in the community, design a solution, then share that solution with others, refining it until it is competition-ready.
The Kraken team — which includes Shaylynn Basswood, Shyenne Basswood, Shyanna Basswood, Jack Leff, Isaiah Kopita, Hans Mehlhaff and Josiah Banton — took on the challenge of designing more parking spaces in areas where public parking lots are overcrowded and "difficult to navigate," as one team member put it.
After their presentation was done, guest judges Kim Bettcher, Jason Vinje and Kristie Leshovsky had a list of questions for the team, such as where the underground lots would be built (building underground additions to the lots at Washington Square Mall and the Detroit Lakes Community & Cultural Center were mentioned as possibilities), and how they would fund the construction.
The team's solution? To build an underground parking ramp beneath an existing lot, and pay for it by charging a toll to those who choose to utilize it.
The Skyscraper Huskies — including Noelle Trowbridge, Marian Martin, Zane Roberts, Dylan Thompson and Evie Martin — were the next to present, and the problem they chose to tackle was preventing swimmer's itch in area lakes.
Their solution? Using environmentally friendly, mobile showers, powered by solar energy and water from of the lake, then filtered to remove contaminants. The showers would also be constructed with recycled materials, and a cost-effective, efficient design.
The judges's questions for this presentation focused on whether a permit would be needed to draw water from the lake, and what would be done with the soap, shampoo and other contaminants in the used water from the showers.
The Nuclear City team — including Julian Jiminez, Bailey Riggs, Gabe Leff, Tristan Kiser, Stuart Annette, Ethan Royer and Brody Foster — chose to tackle the problem of aquatic invasive species, specifically zebra mussels, and how to get rid of them.
Their solution was a combination of portable boat washing stations and treating infested waters with zequanox, a molluscicide that has shown some promising results in reducing zebra mussel infestation in some Minnesota lakes.
The judges' questions after this presentation were mainly about how they were going to fund the full-service boat washing stations they had proposed.
"The solution needs some clarification," said parent coach Guy Roberts, who noted after the teams were finished presenting that each group would have approximately 10 days to come up with answers to the judges' questions, and to clarify any confusion about the key aspects of their presentation.
Though the Innovation Project is a major part of the City Shaper Challenge, however, the other two parts of the competition are equally important, Nelson-Edwards said.
The kids have been working hard for several weeks, getting ready for the Robot Game as well as testing their knowledge of the FIRST Core Values.