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On being a Minion


Molalla's rookie First Lego League team competes at state.

by: PEGGY SAVAGE - Rodney Gray, Ethan Lazar, Michael Kemp, Bo Sether, Cameron McManigal .Molalla’s Minions, which formed as a new First LEGO team in July, found themselves on the fast track to competing in the state championships.

Last month, the 10-member team of 11- and 12-year olds qualified for the state competition after winning first place in Core Values and third place for the Ace Award during their first competition held last month at Memorial Middle School in Albany.

“We are a rookie team, and to get to state as a rookie team is really cool,” said 11-year-old A.J. Deardorff, during one of the team’s final practice sessions before the state championship.

In Molalla’s FLL team meeting the 10 team members, all between the ages of 9 and 14, break up into groups to focus on different aspects of the team competition.

While they worked, several members of the team talked about their experiences over the past six months, in which they learned not only how to build a robot, but how to work together as a team.

Teams compete in three areas, said Georgia Hunter, 11. First, the team designs and programs a robot made of Lego pieces to complete tasks and score points on a playing field. Then, teams are judged on "core values," an integral part of the FLL program. Core values help the kids learn and practice real-world skills, such as teamwork, professionalism and friendly competition. Then in the competition, teams embark on an adventurous challenge based on current, real-world issues. This year’s challenge is called “Nature’s Fury,” where teams learn about natural disasters and how people can handle a flood, quake, avalanche or other disaster when it hits.

by: PEGGY SAVAGE - Georgia Hunter, Cori Oster and Sadie Courtney work on Core Values poster for state FLL competition.“There are different aspects of the competition learning experience where we touch on each thing,” Georgia said. “Part of that is programming and engineering, but there’s a lot more to it.”

The team, made up of kids from Molalla’s middle and elementary schools, have put in hundreds of hours of practice and team building exercises since January. They meet three days a week with their coach, Blane Lazar, a Molalla teacher.

Team members are AJ Deardorff, Sadie Courtney, Cori Oster, Georgia Hunter, Abbey Briley, Ethan Lazar, Bo Sether, Cameron McManigal, Brandon Orick, Michael Kemp and Rodney Gray.

The group formed in early summer and started working as a team in July.

“And none of us knew anything when we started,” said Cori Oster, 12. “But so far we’ve put in more than a hundred hours of practice.”

“ In the beginning, we all worked on the robot, and if we continue another year – and we will – we will all learn about programming like IXL after the state competition.”

by: PEGGY SAVAGE - Ethan Lazar and Michael Kemp put robot through its paces at Molalla Elementary SchoolThursday, the kids talked about how they became interested in joining the team.

“I joined because the coach is my dad, and computer programming is one of the fun things I like to do — that and play with Legos,” said 10-year-old Ethan Lazar.

“I joined because I like Legos and I thought programming would be a cool thing to do, and some of my friends were joining,” A.J. Deardorff said.

Ethan and A.J. are two of the engineers on the team who built the final robot.

A.J. said to start out, they downloaded the NXT program to the team computer.

“We had to do mini-missions on one site, with a mini-robot and it gave instructions on how to build a mini robot,” A.J. said.

The team said they built the first trial robots by following directions from a kit.

“Then we looked at the course and built a robot to go over specific obstacles in the course, and it did,” Ethan said. “We went through six robots, before we finally found one to do it all. One of our early robots was too heavy, and it would fall forward and smashed. We tried treads on another one, but they kept catching on things.”

“So we created our own robot,” A.J. said. “We built it from scratch, and it’s awesome.

We’d built one just a few weeks away from the competition, but it just wouldn’t turn, so we had to come up with a new one fast.”

The team named their final robot’s Kevin – which, the kids said, is the most common of the Minion names.

“We chose it because our favorite of all the minion names in the movie is Kevin,” said Georgia Hunter, 11.

The kids as a team chose “Minions” as the team name after trying out a few others that didn’t work.

The first team name they tried out was “Pre-Teenaged Mutant Ninja Programming Turtles,” but they quickly decided that was way too long.

The kids described the four sections of their team.

n The engineers are the people who build the robot and come up with the ideas for the robot.

n Field development are the people who make sure everything is set right — they are always looking for problems in the program.

n Programmers are the people who work on the computer.

n Head of FLL core values is Cori.

n Head of the project is Georgia.

“We each work in areas of our own interest, that way we each are doing what we really enjoy,” Georgia said.

Cori explained the importance of Core Values.

“It’s about teamwork, about getting along,” she said. “So we make a poster that includes all the things we’ve taken away from working together as a team – how we turned into a team and evolved as people.”

by: PEGGY SAVAGE - Coach Blane Lazar and A.J. Deardorff time robot performing tasks And how did they evolve as people over the past six months of working as a team?

“I’m more aware of my surroundings now,” Georgia said. “I didn’t realize how I was coming off a certain way, but now I know not to act that way at all.”

Cori said, “I’ve learned to be more aware of how I act towards other people.”

A.J. said, “When I was little, I did team sports, but got into computers, where you don’t usually work as a team. But here, we do work as a team.”

“We all trust each other in this group,” Ethan said.

“Almost every day, we hear someone say ‘I want to join this team, I want to do Lego Robotics too,’” A.J. said. “So in the spring, we will teach other kids how to do programming and field development.”

“So they can have this experience too,” Georgia said.