An eight-foot long game field dominates the small room in the Carpenter Fire Hall. At closer inspection, one can see LEGO pieces constructed in the shapes of a reindeer, bee and beehive, gorilla, shark, food with refrigerator, service dog and man, as well as a milking automation machine.
This game field is not only interactive but is helps to teach four children in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math. These children are part of the Carpenter's community FIRST Lego League, coached by Lara Shook.
According to Shook, she has helped get the Burns FIRST Lego League teams up and running and wanted to start one in Carpenter. Four students took the challenge: Shiloh Nokes, Twyla Butler, Xavier Wilson, and Jared Talmadge. For two hours every Friday, these students, Shook and with the help of Jared's mom, Rebecca, the team works together.
"Carpenter kids are the most respectful kids I've had the pleasure of working with," Shook said. "Just this morning, one of the students said to the other – do you need help with that... let's go work at this table and work on it."
The league's challenge is threefold: the Robot Game, the Purpose, and Core Values. The purpose is for children to research a real-world problem and find a solution to that problem. The Robot Game has the team build a LEGO robot, which can complete missions on the game field. According to Shook, the robot must be controlled autonomously.
"The robot can't be controlled," Shook explained. "So we will have to program the robot to run the missions by itself." Kits can be purchased online and instructions on how to make the models can also be found online. The students will use a laptop for the robot.
The last part of the challenge are Core Values, which the team must incorporate into their learning. According to the First LEGO League website, those values include: "We are a team; We do the work to find solutions with guidance from our coaches and mentors; We know our coaches and mentors don't have all the answers; we learn together; We honor the spirit of friendly competition; What we discover is more important than what we win; We share our experiences with others; We display Gracious Professionalism® and Coopertition® in everything we do; We have fun".
This year's challenge theme is Animal Allies so the team must think of a problem where humans and animals intersect negatively and find a solution to that problem.
"We are either going to find a solution for parrots being on the black market or about parrots and their power pole nests," Butler explained. The students must come up with a solution that is not yet being done. To go with their solution, the students must do a live presentation for the judges. A poster must be created to help the judges detailing the discovery, integration, inclusion, cooperation, and respect or team spirit they learned. During the presentation, the whole team must be involved and the set up and speech must last no longer than five minutes.
Other rules include coming up with a team name, in which the Carpenter team has already decided upon the name "Pretty Birds". The team must also have a uniform, so the students have been busy creating a t-shirt for each of them. The t-shirts will either be teal with a black outline of a parrot or a black t-shirt with a teal outline of a parrot plus their team name and individual number.
The Carpenter team will travel to Casper in December, if they qualify for the state tournament to compete with other groups across the state.
According to Shook, the NUCLEAR 4-H Club is helping to sponsor the team and they have received a Laramie County School District No. 2 Rec Mill Grant as well to help with funds.
"We've gotten grants and corporate sponsorships," Shook explained, however they are still over-budget. Shook went on to say that the NUCLEAR 4-H club is trying to sponsor all the league teams in Laramie County.
"Starbase (out of Cheyenne) was sponsoring a team, but didn't have the manpower, so we have another one added this year," Shook said.
Becky Christofferson/Pine Bluffs Post
During a practice session of the FIRST Lego League team, Rebecca Talmadge, left, and Xavier Wilson, discuss their plan of action as they figure how to program the team's robot. The league offers ways for students to learn in the areas of science, math, technology and engineering.
Shook said for a team to begin in the competition, it costs around $1,500 for the first year with all the supplies that must be bought. After the initial year, the team's expenses could range from $500 to $1,000. Shook explained that the students do fundraisers, but some don't make very much.
Shook has been involved with the league since her oldest daughter became intrigued about the competition.
"She was probably nine or ten," Shook said. "It actually started out after we visited Legoland. There was a team for the first year, but then the coach didn't want to come back. It was such an amazing experience that I couldn't just let it go away." Shook then took over for the league, letting her daughter teach what she knew.
"It just exploded and I wanted to get Carpenter and Burns students involved," Shook stated.
There are different leagues for different ages. FIRST LEGO League Jr., is for ages 6-10, FIRST LEGO League are for students in grades fourth through eighth, FIRST League Challenge are for seventh through twelfth graders and FIRST Robotic Competition is for high schoolers.