Nine Middle Schoolers Win First Place at the First Lego League Robotics Scrimmage

By: Paula Green

Nine middle school students from North Allegheny, Pine-Richland, Hampton, Fox Chapel and Pittsburgh school districts won first place at the Western PA First Lego League (FLL) robotics scrimmage.  The event was held on Saturday, Dec. 5, at Sewickley Academy.  The competition was fierce but Techno Trash was victorious.

The winning team consisted of – Felipe Bergerman, Eli Prem, Owen Prem, Coleman Walsh, Jack Walsh of North Allegheny; Kush Bandi of Pine-Richland; Ethen Oh of Hampton; Siddharth Yende of Fox Chapel and Nate Sirlin from the Pittsburgh School District.

The team is coached by Maria Yamanaka, co-founder and owner of the GreenE Academy, who since 2011 has been training children in robotics, programming and video game design.

“Many schools in the region build FLL teams with students involved in their STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) courses. Since we are independent of any school, we build our team by inviting the summer campers who have shown an interest and have the skills to play FLL (teamwork, persistence, problem solving and robot design and programming).  That’s why our teams end up being formed by children from many school districts,” said Yamanaka.

“FLL helps to teach kids about working on projects with a team that are more long term, as the competition goes on for several months,” noted Coleman Walsh.

“I have been involved in First Lego League for three years.  A small group of us have been together the entire time.  Each year, a couple of new people join and add to our team,” remarked Nate Sirlin.

“I would encourage others to join, sometimes it’s frustrating but the excitement you get in the end is well worth the pain,” stated Ethen Oh.

“This year’s theme ‘Trash Trek’ explored ways to reduce, reuse, recycle or repurpose trash.  Children were judged on the robot game performance, the quality of their robot design and programming, their project research presentation and their adherence to the FLL core values,” noted     Marcel Bergerman, of Carnegie Mellon University and assistant coach of team Techno Trash.

“I grew up watching my older brother play FLL and I didn’t know how exciting this could be until I joined the team four years ago, said Felipe Bergerman.

The team members worked hard and enjoyed the competition.  “FLL is a really fun activity that teaches you a lot about robotics.  It is a great way to learn about robotics and programming,” Eli Prem commented.”

“FLL is a good opportunity because in our very near future robotics will become an even greater part of our lifestyle,” Jack Walsh pointed out.

“I think we won the competition because we worked hard on the game table. Our robot was much more complex with four motors and multiple sensors,” mentioned Kush Bandi.

“It was amazing to see how far we’ve come since September and have a major accomplishment, but I know that there is still a long way to go before we can be ready for the championship in January,” said Siddharth Yende.

The Western PA FLL Grand Championship will be held on Jan. 9, at La Roche College.   The competition is open to the public.  Owen Prem noted that, “FLL is competitive like physical sports.  There’s something for everyone.”