Robotics teams take part in 'Lego' challenge


Gold Explorers 12 team members include front, from left, Jack Carroll, Beck Glover, Coach Craig Exner, Luke Morgan and Sam Moran; back, Nick Burkey, Zane Exner, Benne Wagner, Ian Henshaw, Braden Ray and Al Robertson.

"Three, two, one....LEGO!"
This is the battle cry competitors hear before they hit the start button on the first of many missions in First Lego League robotics competition, which this year has featured two Coweta County Explorers teams.
Last year, the GYSTC Explorers competed for the first time ever with first-year coach Craig Exner, a fifth grade teacher at Moreland Elementary School. At that time, the team consisted of nine Moreland fifth-graders and a Montessori seventh-grader. At that time, their performance in their first qualifier allowed them to advance to the Super Regional and then to state.
This year, the same team members have come together to compete again, now representing East Coweta Middle School, Odyssey Charter School, Smokey Road Middle School and Trinity Christian School. GYSTC stepped up as sponsor again, and the Explorers gained another sponsor in Lockheed Martin through becoming a Coweta County 4-H team.
Exner not only is coaching last year's Explorers but added a second team made up of 10 Moreland Elementary School fifth-graders and is allowing a few fourth-graders to observe as well. The senior team is the Gold Explorers and the junior team is the Green Explorers.
In qualifier competition, 32 teams of hopefuls sought to earn a spot in the Super Regionals. Early on, the two Explorers teams went head-to-head with the younger team outscoring the more experienced competitors. The Gold Explorers moved ahead later, earning the Robot Performance Award for the second consecutive year and bringing home the third place Champions Award as well.

The Green Team also had a successful first competition, winning the Programming Award and finishing just behind the Gold Team in Robot Performance. Both teams moved on to Super Regionals in Warner Robins, where the Gold Team was eliminated but the Green Team earned a spot in state competition at Georgia Tech.

Each year, FLL releases a challenge based on a real-world scientific topic. Each challenge has three parts: the robot game, the project, and the FLL Core Values.

The robot game phase requires they build and program an autonomous robot to maneuver around a themed playing field to complete various missions for points. In addition, they meet with a panel of judges who question them about their programming and have them demonstrate their missions. This is called the Technical Q&A and it is intense.

The project phase requires the team identify a senior citizen related issue, research that issue, and recommend solutions. Through interviews with their Senior Partner, Harley Stewart, and several brainstorming sessions, the Gold Explorers determined that shopping had some pitfalls that could be avoided through use of technology. They presented a humorous skit on the subject in front of a panel of judges which was followed up by a Q&A session.

The Green Team also worked with a senior partner, Dan Loftin as well as initiating interviews with senior family members. They determined that correct dispensing of medications was an issue. As a result of their research and design, they offered up a ‘Pill-inator’ to help solve this issue. They also performed a great skit and were subject to an intense Q&A by their panel of judges.

The third phase, called FLL Core Values, addresses the members’ ability to work as a team while doing the first two phases. They are to find solutions to various problems they encounter, sometimes with guidance from their coach or mentor. They are to honor the spirit of friendly competition, share their experiences with others, learn that what they discover is more important than what they win, and to have fun.

By designing the challenges around real-world topics, participants are exposed to potential career paths within a chosen challenge topic, in addition to solidifying principles that naturally come from participating in a robotics program. Team members also learn valuable life and employment skills which will benefit them no matter what career path they choose.

Both teams credit their success to Coach Exner, who is instrumental in ensuring the teams are ready to compete. Coached are not allowed to participate, or even attend any of the presentation or technical sessions. All the work done leading up to the competition ensures the competitors can be successful on an independent basis.

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