U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Legacy Management (LM) Site Manager Ken Kreie volunteered as a judge at FIRST LEGO League Challenge Qualifying Tournament in Fruita, Colorado, on Nov. 13.

FIRST LEGO League is a guided, global program that introduces science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education to students ages 4-16 through hands-on STEM experiences, no matter their technical ability or skill level. Participants are guided through a global robotics program that helps students and teachers explore the needs of tomorrow and create a better future.

The tournament focused on the Challenge League, which is geared toward older students in grades 4-8 and teaches them research, problem-solving, engineering and coding. These real-world problem-solving tasks build confidence while growing students’ knowledge and STEM learning. Students are encouraged to experiment and grow their critical thinking, design, and coding skills through STEM education and robotics.

LEGO League Robot 03

STEM students participate in the FIRST LEGO League qualifying tournament in Fruita, Colorado, on Nov. 13.

“FIRST Robotics is a global nonprofit supporting STEM Education. FIRST LEGO League Challenge supports students ages 9-14.  Students meet as a team regularly working up to the event to prepare for the tournament by programming their LEGO Robot and other associated goals,” said STEM Community Liaison for Mesa County Valley School District 51 Rachelle Horner, who helped organize the event.

Students who participated in the Challenge League at Fruita Monument High School built and programmed a LEGO robot to navigate certain missions for a robot game at the end of the competition. Teams from all over Colorado attended the event, with 21 teams in total and more than 70 volunteers. FIRST League reached out to LM’s Atomic Legacy Cabin team looking for volunteers. LM encourages staff to get involved in STEM programming in the community through a program called “STEM with LM.”

LEGO League Robot 02

“I have volunteered at many STEM events locally, but never a LEGO robotics competition,” Kreie said, expressing his excitement before the event. “I have a vested interest in these kids. They are the next generation of innovators and problem solvers. I wanted to help stoke their excitement for learning and exploring.”

“I was so inspired by the kids that participated in the event.  These kids were studying issues like global supply chain logistics and food security,” Kreie said. “Those are some big issues for small children to understand. Some teams were so inspired by their learning that they are working to implement local solutions to some of these problems.”

FIRST LEGO League hosts tournaments and festivals nationwide every year to allow teams to gain crucial feedback on their robots, code, and various innovation projects from judges. The real challenge then begins at the Robot Game table, where students race their creations to try to attain the best score for a chance to advance to the championship.

“The tournament was a grand success! The best part was seeing all the kids compete, persevere through challenges, celebrate victories, and share in all the fun,” Horner said.

“These kids will make a brighter and better future for the local community and the world,” Kreie said. “The future is in very good hands.”

Qualifying teams from the tournament will compete in the state tournament. The winners will then advance to the championship in April 2022.