The toy robots Maine middle schoolers will be showing off Saturday may not save a life, but the thinking that goes into them could, according to Maine Robotics organizers.

“The robots are part of it, but the other part is doing a lot of research,” said Desiree Spaulding, teacher for the Lewiston School Department’s gifted and talented program. “They learn as much as they can about a natural disaster and create a solution to deal with it.”

The Maine Lego League Championship is scheduled from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at the Augusta Civic Center, 76 Community Dr., Augusta.

It brings 64 teams of six to 10 middle school-aged students together in a test of skill and creativity. The FIRST Lego League event is the younger sibling to the high school-aged FIRST Robotic Program’s Pine Tree Regionals, which was held at Lewiston’s Colisee last summer.

“It has the same level of intensity,” said Benjamin Goff, program administrator for Maine Robotics. “The robots may be a lot smaller, but the kids get just as excited.”

U.S. Senator Angus King will be speaking at the contest opening ceremonies. He and Acting Education Commissioner Jim Rier will tour the event after his remarks.

Central Maine is well represented. Lewiston Middle School is sending three teams to the competition, Jay’s Spruce Mountain Middle School is sending four teams and Auburn, Oxford Hills, Poland and Gray are all sending teams.

“We’ve had a team since it started here in Maine, so we’re pretty proud we’ve been able to keep it going for so long,” said Luci Merin, director of Community Learning Center after-school program at Auburn Middle School.

This is the 13th year for Maine Robotics Lego League program. It uses the plastic blocks and programmable parts to teach kids the basics of computer programming and robotics. But it goes well beyond that according to Spaulding, teaching general problem-solving techniques and creativity.

“I’ve been doing it for six years, so I know that some of my students have gone on to college,” she said. “They come back and visit, and they’ve said they have majors in technology and robotics because they had the start with this program.”

This year’s challenges is centered on the Nature’s Fury theme. Beginning in September, teams of five to 10 students were asked to choose a kind of natural disaster to research. Lewiston’s teams picked tornadoes and tsunamis. Teams were asked to prepare for those disasters, stay safe during them and rebuild afterwards.

The competition is broken into two sections. First, the teams needs to come up with an innovative real-world way to prepare for their chosen disaster or to survive it and present it to judges at the competition. They can create a comic, present a skit, sing a song or tell a story.

The second section involves the robots. Teams need to program their robots to navigate a disaster course, completing 19 missions in two-and-a half minutes. Each mission completed earns different points, and missions range from rescuing a Lego-sized family, clearing a runway for a Lego cargo plane or moving a Lego ambulance into position.

The winner of Saturday’s match in Augusta will go to the LEGO League national finals April 23 in St. Louis, Mo.

[email protected]


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.