Missouri kids compete, learn with Legos

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COLUMBIA — More than 20 schools from Kansas City to Columbia gathered at Jefferson Middle School Saturday for the FIRST Lego League Tournament. 

FIRST Organization, a non-profit group, sets up the FIRST Lego League competition for school kids in grades 4th–8th.

Alex Terwelp, a teacher and coach for the Columbia Independent School’s FIRST Lego League club, said there are three parts to the tournament.

First, teams who register must do so back in August, and the competition begins with a research project based on a given theme. Then, he said teams must agree to follow the organization’s core values, including teamwork and respect among other things. The third phase of the tournament is the building phase of the team’s Lego robot.

Kate McKenzie, the tournament director, said the tourney has made its way to Columbia in the last few years. She said Columbia has joined Kansas City regions to expand the competition’s participants and judges.

McKenzie said when teams register in August, they receive a kit from FIRST Organization. It is the same kit for everyone.

“They build robots based on the obstacle course to try and do as many of the tasks on the board as possible to gain points,” she said.

She added FIRST Organization stands for “For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology”.

“It’s a big encouragement for inventing, learning and engineering and design, but it also encourages collaboration, sharing ideas, learning from each other and teaching other people.”

The balance between competition and cooperation is an important aspect and FIRST coined the term coopertition, Terwelp said. 

“It’s making sure that you’re being appropriate to all the members of all the teams, but also going out of your way to help them.”

McKenzie said in Kansas City there are around 160 teams and only 10 in Columbia.

“We are trying to grow the program and we want more kids to participate,” she said.

She mentioned it’s relatively expensive to start a team, costing around $1200. She said a CPS grant for about $20,000 should help create more teams.

On the agenda for the league is to expand the competition for younger age groups.