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Matt Elementary robotics team third at state

A local Forsyth County elementary school placed third at a state robotics competition Feb. 7, edged out only by two middle schools.

Matt Elementary’s RoboDragons competed at the Georgia First Lego League State Championship Tournament, one of two state championships held in Georgia this year.

Of the 500 teams across Georgia, 64 were divided evenly between tournaments at the University of Georgia and Georgia Tech after advancing from regional and super-regional qualifying events, said James Dotson, a RoboDragons coach.

RoboDragons competed at UGA’s Miller Learning Center.

The First Lego League is an international program for children ages 9-14 that teaches science and technology with an exciting method.

It released a themed, three-part challenge in early fall based on a real-world scientific topic “to develop project-based skills through a robot game, a project and a signature set of core values.”

Teams of up to 10 children and two coaches participated in the challenge by programming an autonomous robot to score points on a themed playing field (robot game) and developing ideas that improve current conditions and add a societal value (project), Dotson said.

He said past challenges have been based on natural disasters, biomedical engineering, nanotechnology, quality of life for handicapped and senior residents and transportation.

Terra Stiffler, a school counselor at Matt and mentor for the team, said the squad received a large portion of their points from the project component.

Team members were prompted by the theme to improve how a group of people can learn. The subject of knowledge could be anything, and the group of people could be anyone.

The team wanted to improve how people learn to spell and developed a website idea that pinpoints a learning style — visual, auditory, kinesthetic — and gives tips based on each person’s best strategy, Stiffler said.

For the game, in which they had to complete missions, they received points for making a simple, yet well-performing, robot that maximized the points they could accumulate through missions.

“The challenge is a fantastic opportunity for teams to take ownership of a project, take ownership of the competition and really give their own input,” said Soren Thomsen, head of educational development at Lego Education. “I see it with so many teams. The glow in their eyes is really just magical.”

Competitions began after eight weeks of preparation and Lego building.

This competition season is expected to be the largest in its 17 years, with about 26,000 teams “competing in hundreds” of qualifying and championship tournaments.

RoboKnights from Sharon Elementary and Mashburn Elementary’s The Beasts also competed in the state competition.