Scotts Bluff County robotics team learns STEM while learning teamwork, having fun
The Rise of the Gummies team at the state competition in Grand Island. Front row, left to right: Lee Rogers, James Downer, Jared Turnidge, and Hunter Creech. Back row, left to right: Capria Rogers, Wyatt Leggott, Noah Rugroden, Hudson DeVos, and Landen Heine. Photo courtesy Nebraska Extension
A group of Scotts Bluff County 4-H members ranging in age from 9 to 14 has been meeting weekly since summer ended last year to share their interest in writing computer code and robotics. In the process they have learned the joy of discovery, problem-solving, and teamwork.
They call themselves the Rise of the Gummies. At the recent Nebraska state First Lego League competition at Grand Island, they finished third in the robot team challenge and brought home a second-place trophy for innovative robot design.
The Rise of the Gummies had qualified for the state meet by bringing home the championship trophy from a regional qualifier meet in Sidney earlier in March. They were one of 28 teams that qualified for state and one of 70 First Lego League teams in Nebraska, so their success is notable, said Coach Pam DeVos. “They’re pretty proud of that,” she said. “To have the third-place run was a huge accomplishment for our team.”
Team members include Hunter Creech, Hudson DeVos, Wyatt Leggott, Landen Heine, James Downer, Capria Rogers, Lee Rogers, Jared Turnidge, and Noah Rugroden. In addition to DeVos, other coaches include parents Cody Creech and Kiowa Rogers. 4-H Extension Educator Nathan Rice also helps coach and Scotts Bluff County 4-H Assistant Jana Schwartz helps mentor the group, and numerous other parents volunteer to help in a number of ways.
First Lego League is a global program sponsored by FIRST, a non-profit designed to inspire young people’s interest and participation in science and technology and pursue education and careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields, and Lego, the maker of toy blocks and kits. The program’s core values are discovery, innovation, impact, inclusion, teamwork and fun.
In Nebraska, First LEGO League programs are organized by Nebraska 4-H. Constellation Energy donated the team’s Spike Prime kit and were major sponsors for this region.
The Rise of the Gummies participate in First Lego League Challenge, for grades 4-8. There are other leagues for younger groups. Worldwide, First Lego League is made up of 35,200 teams of up to 10 members each, more than 280,000 participants altogether, from nearly 90 countries, according to the organization’s website.
First Lego League comprises several components that engage students in research, problem-solving, coding and engineering. The first part is an innovation project challenge. This year’s challenge was to create something to help youth be more active. The Gummies developed a mobile phone app that, among other things, gets kids to use common household items to get them moving, such as weightlifting with milk jugs, stuffed animal jumps, and dance challenges. The Gummies team presented their plan to the judges at the Sidney qualifier, and were scored according to creativity and innovation.
The second part is robot games, in which the students build and program a Lego robot to complete a number of challenges in 2½ minutes on a table-top playing field. According to DeVos, the young coders learned a new programming language, Lego Education Spike, which is based on Scratch, a free programming language often used to create interactive stories, games and animations.
The third component of First Lego League is core values: impact, inclusion, discovery, fun, teamwork and innovation. At the competition, the students must demonstrate how they use their core values throughout the year as they worked on the challenges and prepared for competition.
First Lego League keeps the youth involved for about half of the year, according to DeVos. The season begins in August or September, when the latest challenge is announced. Since the 2020 challenge was unveiled the Rise of the Gummies have been meeting weekly for about two hours, working on a solution for the challenge and building and programming their robot.
Each team receives a table-top playing field and builds and programs the robots to complete tasks on the field, relating to picking up, moving, and putting down various Lego cargoes at different points. DeVos said the Gummies learned to work as a team. “They spend a lot of time doing teamwork activities to get them bonded as a team and complete both those challenges.”
She said she got involved in the club because of her son. This is her second year as coach, and before stepping into her current role she served as a parent mentor who helped wherever needed. As the weeks pass and the competition gets near, she said “the coaches get just as excited as the kids. We just get really excited for them to complete that. It’s just a lot of work that pays off. It’s so fun to watch all the teams and how they creatively solve problems.”
Twelve teams from Scotts Bluff, Gordon, Rushville, North Platte, Ogallala and Hyannis competed in the qualifier. The Scottsbluff group received the Champions Award and the Robot Performance Award and a state nomination. Their robot scored 290 points.
As they gathered for their final meeting of the season after the state competition, Rise of the Gummies team members talked about their reasons for joining and what they liked about First Lego League.
Landen Heine, 13, Scottsbluff, said he got involved to join several friends. He specializes on building and coding the robot. He said, “I like the people here and how I get to build robots, the challenges. The competition is really friendly.” Hudson DeVos, 13, of Redington, took to robotics following a brother. He says, “I’ve always been interested in robots. My favorite part is coding the robots.”
Noah Rugroden, 12, of Scottsbluff, got involved “because I always liked programming, and I realized there was a 4-H program focused on it. I really like the robot competition because it’s exciting.” Lee Rogers, 10, of Scottsbluff, also was drawn by coding and building robots. His favorite part: “being part of the project group.” In addition to the mobile phone app, the group made a website, and then went out to demonstrate how it works to home-schoolers and several local schools. They also surveyed the students for their opinions.
James Downer, 12, of Mitchell, was also on the project group that developed the app. His favorite part: “Encouraging kids to exercise and encouraging teammates to speak out so they don’t feel like they’re left out.” Wyatt Leggott, 13, Melbeta, got involved “because I like figuring out how things work and pretty much I’m the engineer of the team. My favorite part is building stuff, and getting the challenges done.”
Jared Turnidge, 9, of Scottsbluff, in his first year, joined for the fun. He likes Legos and “building the stuff” is the most fun.
Coach DeVos said it’s been a great season. “We had a ton of fun, but we’re excited to get our Mondays back. We’ll probably start up in August or early September, as soon as the next project and problem come out.”
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