It sounds like the plot of a feel-good movie: a group of schoolmates, working together for the first time, starts out on a new venture with an unfamiliar set of challenges. They face a record-breaking field of participants, but their practice is rewarded by a first-place finish. These results earn the team a place at the next level of competition, where they are again successful. Take that scenario and double it — two teams, two success stories — and the result is not a summary of the made-for-television movie airing next week, but the story of the Lego Robotics program at Forest Edge Elementary.
"I'm still flabbergasted," said Mary-Jo Garhartt, the school's art teacher, whose daughter was on the Nano Technology Terminators.
Three teams from Forest Edge went to state competition at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg during the first weekend in December: the Nano Technology Terminators, the Super Nanobot Extremes and the Tiny Tyrants. The Terminators received a first-place teamwork award in Blacksburg, and the Extremes were named Rookie Team of the Year.
David Levy brought the idea to Forest Edge, a technology focus school, last spring. The FIRST Lego League International — which works For Inspiration and Recognition of Science in Technology — drew enough interest that a club began forming last year.
"We had established a club last spring and we started in late summer," Levy said.
Forest Edge Principal Frank Bensinger supported the club, and Garhartt said the principal worked with the school PTA to purchase a set of Lego robots.
Preparations for the competition began in earnest with the new school year. The club had split into teams, and by mid-November, the teams were ready for the regional contest.
"In Virginia there were various regional tournaments throughout the state," Levy said, with two venues in Northern Virginia. Both venues broke the records for the number of participating teams, and yet over two days of competition, six Forest Edge teams took eight awards.
For Garhartt, the true amazement came from seeing the students throughout the entire learning process, from the beginnings of their research through the state competition.
"These computer guys that usually work alone and stay in their minds have the experience of working with a team," Garhartt said. "That’s a major skill — I think it’s even tough for adults to do."
The club was so popular that there was a waiting list at Forest Edge for students who wanted to get involved. In January, the school will have a presentation of the plaque and trophy this season's team won — and shortly after that, a new group of schoolmates will start out on a new venture in Lego Robotics.
"In a couple weeks we’ll be trying to start up another session for beginners," Garhartt said. "This'll be a long-term thing."
Forest Edge Regional Results
Forest Edge teams and awards from the FIRST Lego League regional competition, held Nov. 18-19 at Eagle Ridge Middle School in Ashburn. The starred teams qualified for and competed in the state championship in Blacksburg.
* Nano Technology Terminators, first, Project Award
* Super Nanobot Extremes, first, Champion's Award
Super Nanobot Extremes, second, Robot Performance Award
* Tiny Tyrants, second, Champion's Award
Tiny Tyrants, second, Robot Performance Award
Forest Bots, second, Robot Design Award
Forest Edge Hydros, second, Project Award
Nano Crushers, Outstanding Rookie Performance