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Lego league teams spreading in Lake Orion Schools



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December 25, 2013 - By Leslie Batoha

Review Special Writer

Students from fourth and fifth grades in Lake Orion's schools have brought back America's favorite toy with a whole new twist.

Couple Jeff and Jennifer Byrnes, who head the Mindstorm Maniacs Lego program at Blanche Sims, initially started the team at an elementary level for their son-- and it has gained a lot of popularity since then.

"When our son, Michael, became old enough to be involved with Lego League, we decided that he should have a chance to be involved at the Lego League level," Jennifer said.

The kids programmed Lego robots that were made from a "Lego Mindstorm NXT kit." The robots had to perform different functions in a two and a half minute time span based on separate challenges.

Lego League is more than just building and competing with Legos, however. "There are two parts," Jennifer said. "The robot portion and the project portion."

The project portion of competitions was "really exciting because the kids really start getting into the research and getting excited about creating their solutions."

This year, the theme was "Nature's Fury." The members of the team had to study a natural disaster and figure out how to solve it. After choosing to study volcanoes, the team interviewed a volcanologist and a local geology teacher to find out more.

"After about six weeks of narrowing down their research, [they] chose to try to create a solution for farmers in Hawaii-- to prevent volcanic fog that is harmful to their crops." Jennifer said.

All of their hard work paid off as the boys won two awards at Nature's Fury: first place in robot programming and first place in robot performance.

"Seeing the kids excited about doing well [is my favorite part,]" Jeff said.

The plan was to spread the Lego League program beyond the walls of Blanche Sims, and Jeff and Jennifer have succeeded. There are now two Lego Leagues at Oakview Middle School, and one at Orion Oaks elementary school.

"This was our first year as part of the Lego League," Orion Oaks coach Mike Beem said. "The kids named the team 'Team Epic Lego Dragons.' It's a little goofy, but I like it."

The members, nine boys and one girl, started working on their robot in September of 2013, and although the kids may have been young, they managed to build a working one in only six weeks.

"It's amazing to see how the kids were able to learn and figure out how to program a robot in such a short amount of time," Beem said.

As the coach, Beem got to see how all of the kids worked together during practices and during the competitions.

"There's this word in the league called 'coopertition.' It means that even though all of the teams are competing against one another, they're still working together to do the best that they can."

The teams are spreading across Lake Orion, and are open to everyone interested. The kids will be practicing all throughout the winter and spring to prepare for their next season in September 2014. According to Beem, the teams are "a lot of fun," and a way to "expose kids to engineering, research and innovation."

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