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KTL students learn about engineering, robotics through LEGO
Team advances to NorCal championship
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The Keyes to Learning Robotics Team, pictured left to right: Taylor Biondi, Hannah Thomas, Joseph Mattos, Makena Sousa, Max Tyson, Annie Moen and Try Moen. - photo by JONATHAN MCCORKELL / The Journal

The LEGO building blocks most kids grew up with have come a long way. While the old blocks are still around, today’s LEGOs include attachable programmable computers to activate gear mechanisms and pulley systems.

Locally, a group of fifth through seventh graders at the Keyes To Learning Charter School are discovering just how effective LEGOs can be as learning tools through the First LEGO League.

The FLL is a world-wide annual LEGO robotics competition that includes more than 200,000 9 to 14 year olds in 55 countries.

FLL introduces younger students to real-world engineering challenges by building LEGO-based robots to complete tasks on a thematic playing surface. FLL teams, guided by their imaginations and adult coaches, discover exciting career possibilities and, through the process, learn to make positive contributions to society.

Segway inventor Dean Kamen teamed up with LEGO to develop a fun, hands-on way for students to learn about engineering, math, science and computer programming — academic areas he feels today’s students are getting short-changed on.    

 “He combined engineering with sports and took a page out of the sports play book by making it a competition,” said KTL robotics parent coach Dan Biondi.

Dan and his wife Johanna Biondi discovered the competition and brought it to KTL along with engineering mentors Barry Vincent and volunteer Manny Sousa.

The students have responded — in just their first year the group of 14 KTL students has advanced to the NorCal championship after earning enough qualifying points at a recent competition in Livermore. This year’s theme is “Food Factor.” KTL students explored the topic of food safety and examined the possible points of contamination of food encounters. Missions included harvesting fish, cleaning poisons from farms and lakes, adjust cooking times, relocating pests and adjusting storage temperatures.

Students build robots using LEGO kits purchased from FLL. According to Johanna Biondi the kits, combined with running a team costs less than $1,000.

“If everyone pitches in it really isn’t that expensive,” she said.

FLL is open to any youth-centered organization, not just schools. Churches, Boy and Girl Scout troops and even just neighborhood teams are able to compete.

For more information on FLL visit www.firstlegoleague.or or