Green Mountain Gears take second place at the first Vermont First Lego League and will go to regionals in December. Left to Right, Front: Andrew Kim, Kenny Chamberlain, Patrick Sweeny, Vihit Gupta, Myles Peterson, Luke Fitzgerald; Back: Damon Strempek, Coach Paul Fitzgerald, Ethan Behr

Gears Grab Second Place

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Wednesday November 27, 2013

Wide-eyed shock erupted from the eight faces of the Green Mountain Gears when they learned that they had finished second, out of 19 teams, at the first Vermont First Lego League (FLL) Regional Qualifier hosted at Norwich University November 16. The finish capped a season of sweat and tears for the team, which met twice weekly starting in late August. The placement earned the team an invitation to the regional competition in Nashua, New Hampshire, December 7, where the team will take on the best 50 FLL teams from Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine and Massachusetts. The team competed in four events: Project, Core Values, Robot Design and Robot Game. 

For their Project event, the team designed a video game, Flood Trek 3.0, to motivate kids to get prepared for storms. The kids designed the game collaboratively.  Luke Fitzgerald and Andrew Kim, both from Orchard Elementary School, spent more than 20 hours taking the game from Story Board to Version 3, which is on the Scratch Website.  The kids selected the project after meeting with three local experts on flooding: Alchemist co-owner Jenn Kimmich, Meterologist Tom Messner and a Colonel from the US Army who works in disaster response. The kids wrote an original “infomercial”-inspired presentation that included drama and dance to “wow” the judges.

The team thrived in the Core Values event, where the team constructed a design to support three objects using spaghetti and marshmallows. Ethan Behr from Mater Christi School led the team in this event using the skills he developed from years of participation in Odyssey of the Mind.

The team illustrated advanced understanding of design principals in the Robot Design event where Damon Strempek from Orchard School chronicled the evolution of “the grabber,” which was used to grab objects. Orchard students Vihit Gutpa and Patrick Sweeny illustrated the development of the dump sled, which was used to push and dump objects. Also from Orchard School, Kenny Chamberlain revealed subtle design details of the team’s jigs, which were color coded to help the team distinguish the four triangle-shaped objects that were used to place the robot at the start of their four missions.

The team overcame numerous disappointments in the Robot Game event due to the overwhelming positivity of the event Captain, Myles Peterson from Hinesberg Community School. Myles demonstrated calm and support when things went wrong in the game and kept his team moving forward.

Paul Fitzgerald coached the team from his home in South Burlington so that the kids would have immediate access to a “hacker space” that was filled with legos, musical instruments, a graphic design station and art supplies which allowed the kids to harness their creativity. 

The team is currently competing in the Rockwell Automation: Engineering Our Future Competition. The kids developed a 1-minute “elevator-pitch” for their idea of making a electrical power generator from a basketball hoop using energy from the basketball as it falls through the hoop and toward the ground. Andrew and Luke developed this idea while working on the “Energy Boss” programming competition that the kids won in May through Carnegie Mellon’s CS2N program. They hope to construct a prototype for use at recess later this year. The community can vote once daily until November 29, and if the team were to win, they would receive a grant to offset the costs of the team for next year.

Paul Fitzgerald is a guest contributor to The Other Paper.

Anyone interested in the First Lego League club should contact Paul at Fitzgerald hopes to start a non-profit program to create a “hacker space” and to extend these opportunities to more kids. Links to the team’s game, the video competition, and the team’s robot designs can be found on the team’s website,