Fifth annual FLL Showcase promotes STEM opportunities

Kingston Elementary robotics team Electric Eagles coach, Stephanie Skiffen (left), works with team member Ian Walker (right) on one of the practice tables available to all teams.

Ashley Hall, Editor-in-Chief

On Saturday, Feb. 25, the fifth annual FIRST LEGO League Robotics Showcase and Competition returned to close the 2022-2023 robotics season with a new title and its biggest turnout since its conception in 2018. The Cartersville campus gymnasium was packed with 24 robotics teams from 16 Bartow County elementary and middle schools, with a total head count of 185 students.        

The event is organized and operated by FLL Director and Professor of Biology, Sharryse Henderson, Dean of STEM, Jason Christian, and Bartow County Director of Advanced Learning: STEM and Gifted Programs, Paula Camp.       

The showcase was previously called a tournament. Henderson said the title change is to reflect the fact that this is more about showcasing what they’ve learned this year. FLL robotics teams must reflect the Core Values in their work with the robots and their teams while they learn and apply skills in STEM.

One Core Value the teams exhibited was having fun with the event.

“I like it because you get to compete with different people,” Booker Gearhart, Cass Middle School Robo-Riot Team Co-Leader, said. “It’s not all about winning. It’s all about having fun and getting to know other people.”

Addison Mukora, team member of Kingston Elementary Electric Eagles, said the showcase is very interesting.

“You get to have fun with your peers and your teammates, while learning about more things like robotics, and basically how engineering works… It’s pretty fun,” Mukora said.  

Being part of a robotics team affords students a multitude of opportunities, including learning, networking and career-building.

“STEM – and the way that we are looking at STEM – is applicable to almost everything because really, at its core, what STEM does is it teaches you problem-solving skills,” Christian said. “It’s a way to look logically at the world, at a problem, or whatever it is, and you could apply that anywhere from an art degree to a medical degree.”

The robotics team members similarly have a wide range of career goals. Mukora aims to be a forensic scientist or an astronaut, while Kingston Elementary Electric Eagles team member, Joy Kamau, strives to be a novelist or a veterinarian.

Henderson said the students are learning things that could be easily taught in a classroom setting, except being a part of a robotics club is giving them a chance to use that knowledge. As an example, Gearhart said he was in a coding class and was able to put the knowledge to use with the team’s robot, LMRM.

Camp said that community partners and managers of FLL speaking to the robotics teams about future opportunities is “eye-opening for post-secondary college scholarships.”

“…whether it’s college, whether it’s a career pathway, industries and companies now really are looking at kids that have experience in FIRST LEGO League. There’s so many opportunities for our kids, not only in our schools right now with our teams and coding and teamwork, but also beyond that,” Camp said.

The event has been an experience for the Bartow County Public School faculty as well.

“We have grown to find out about how big FIRST LEGO League Robotics actually is. And now that we have so many teams competing in not just local competitions, but now we’re competing in regional-level competitions for FIRST and FLL,” Camp said.

Two teams from Clear Creek Elementary School will be moving on to compete at higher levels: Master Builders: Green Seas and Blaze. Green Seas will be competing in the World Invitational at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts in June, while Blaze will be competing in the World Championship in Houston, Texas, in April.

Camp said she “can’t even grasp how [big] that is to be competing with 53 countries [from] around the world,” and this is the first time one of the teams has moved on to a higher competition.

Henderson said the venue of the event may need to be changed to the Floyd campus next year if more teams participate.

Robin Morrow, Clear Creek Elementary robotics coach and K-5th gifted teacher, said GHC has provided a lot of support with training teachers for FLL, providing a venue for the showcase and the growth of STEM.

“I’m incredibly grateful to the staff and students and the volunteers here and everybody from Georgia Highlands. It’s always so welcoming to us and we appreciate you guys,” Morrow said.

Mission Road Elementary robotics team, Robocats, plan how to ensure their LEGO robot is able to complete all the “missions” for the Robot Game segment of the showcase. The team members all code their own robots to perform a set of tasks. (Photo by Ashley Hall)