PREBLE COUNTY — In November, a group of fifth and sixth grade students in Tri-County North’s MECA program (a class for gifted students,) competed in a FIRST LEGO League competition at Versailles High School.
The competition was part of the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) Initiative and designed to create opportunity for kids.
North had two groups – the Dumpster Divers (fifth graders) and the Mega MECA Minions (sixth). Both worked with the theme of “Trash Trek,” where the students had to explore an aspect of trash – whether that was the collection, sorting, smart production or reuse of it.
“They are two separate teams but the one thing about LEGO League is that, even though they competed against each other, it was more about the learning,” said North teacher Elania Ferriell. “They have this phrase called ‘coopertition’ where, even though they are in competition it’s about cooperating with each other.”
The students used a robot mission board where they had to program robots to try and perform various missions. For each mission the robot completed, the teams earn points and each mission has differing degrees of difficulty.
During the competition, the students learned many valuable lessons.
“We learned programming and working together, and we learned how to write a thesis statement and overcome stage fright,” said sixth grader Lindsey Koening.
They also learned about sportsmanship and how to be good young professionals as well.
“There were so many (lessons), it’s hard to say: teamwork, ‘coopertition,’ and gracious professionalism – which means to still be professional in the tournament and to be competitive but still be nice and show sportsmanship,” said Hunter Paul, another sixth grader in MECA.
On the day of the competition, while nerves were high, the excitement of the learning experience and competition was also fuel for many for the students as well.
“It was stressful but there was also this air of calmness and fun,” added Joey Combs.
From the fifth graders, they also enjoyed the team building and programming education they received.
“The two things we got out of this was programming because none of us had much of a background knowledge on how to do that and then performing in front of an audience,” said Sophia Brunk. “That was a big thing. The first time we performed, we were so nervous.”
The two groups, while programming LEGO robots and learning about competition, also had to explore a project to present as well.
The fifth graders – or Dumpster Divers if you will – explored the number of pizza boxes that get wasted every year while the sixth graders – the Mega MECA Minions – looked into the wasted paper that gets thrown away in their very own school.
The Dumpster Divers learned that over 30 million pizza boxes turn into waste every year because the pizza grease makes the boxes non-recyclable. That’s enough boxes to circle the earth 26 times over.
They developed a few ideas – such as lining the box with tin foil or wax paper or even a circle-shaped sponge. The sponge, made from all-natural materials, can then be tossed into a compost pile while the cardboard pizza box is thus made recyclable.
The idea earned them the project award because of its innovation. The group was then encouraged to keep looking into it.
The Mega MECA Minions took a more local approach and noticed all the wasted paper around school. They thought of a solution where each garbage bin came with a lid that automatically sorted the garbage and recyclables in the trash.
They earned the judges award for best team spirit because of their enthusiasm and team song.
“We didn’t’ qualify to go to the next round but we learned a lot from just going through the experience,” said Ferriell.
The students responded overwhelmingly positive to the class and the FIRST LEGO League as well.
When asked what they thought of the class and the whole experience, they all responded – in unison – that it was “awesome!”
One went so far to say that if every class was like MECA, then everyone would have straight A’s.