For the fourth year in a row, The Blockheads, a Cranston team of young LEGO enthusiasts and their coaches, have successfully qualified for and competed in the First LEGO League (FLL) competition.
The competition, for students aged 9 through 14, was held Jan. 11 at Roger Williams University. The event was sponsored in collaboration between Rhode Island School of the Future and Roger Williams University, and 40 teams competed.
The Blockheads team is comprised of Adam Santerre, a sixth-grader at Oaklawn Elementary School; Matthew Baker, an eighth-grader at Western Hills Middle School; Matthew Levin, a seventh-grader at Immaculate Conception Catholic Regional School; and Jared Santerre, an eighth-grader at Western Hills Middle School. The coaches for the team are Larry Levin, Chris Santerre and Steven Baker.
Last year the team took second place in the FLL competition and traveled to Legoland in California for the North American FLL Championship in the spring.
Beginning their work at the end of September, The Blockheads team worked meticulously on their LEGO models, engineering robots and creating a comprehensive research project as well. The team competed in the qualifying round of the competition in November, moving on to the next round this past weekend.
The research project is different each year, and the 2014 project theme was entitled “Nature’s Fury.” It involved a three-minute presentation in front of judges as well as the creation of a plan to help first responders find survivors after a natural disaster such as a hurricane, flood or other such disasters.
“We created a flag with the word ‘HELP’ on it, which is a low-cost, feasible solution, which can be used to help first responders find survivors during any disaster,” said Jared Santerre.
As part of their research, the team met with Robbie Lopez, a local first responder from the Rhode Island Emergency Management Agency, as well as several other first responders from different areas of the country. They participated in their first-ever conference call as part of their research.
Although the team has participated in the competition for four years in a row, they must take apart their previous year’s robot each time and start from scratch with a new robot every year.
“Each year we destroy the previous year’s robot and then begin to build a new one. That is always a very emotional day,” said Jared Santerre.
As a team, they must plan and consider their best strategies to complete all of the missions throughout the competition, which take a total of two minutes, 30 seconds to complete. A pre-built game table is provided to the team, which must be integrated into the missions completed during the competition.
The coaches agree that as much as the goal of the competition is success, failure teaches the team just as much. The backs of their team T-shirts state their motto: “Failure is always an option … and often spectacular!”
Although the team did not take home a trophy this year, all agreed that the experience was an experience of a lifetime.
Coach Larry Levin summed it up for the group.
“Competition [on Saturday] was fierce! This being the Blockheads' last year before aging out, they had high hopes, and although they went home without a trophy, the boys all agreed that the last four years was a great experience with memories to last a lifetime,” he said.