“When geese are flying, they form a V shape,” says CD Venkatesh, an Intel software engineer. “The front one takes most of the air’s force, the next one less, and so on. Over time, other geese take the lead. So it’s all for one, one for all.”
When Venkatesh told this story to some 2nd and 3rd graders in Beaverton, OR, it struck a chord with them. So when the three boys and three girls decided to form a competitive academic team in 2006 with Venkatesh as coach, choosing a name was easy—Team AFOOFA (“All for one, one for all”).
For the past 11 years, the Oregon Robotics Tournament & Outreach Program (ORTOP) has offered the FIRST LEGO League (FLL) pre-engineering program to help young students begin exploring technical careers at an early age to meet high-tech industry and economic needs. Oregon technology corporations and industry associations collaborate with the Oregon University System, hundreds of volunteers, and major youth organizations to implement the program.
In January 2012, the team, now including students from several schools, marched into the ORTOP state tournament in Hillsboro, Oregon with high hopes that in their final year of eligibility they could finally win the big prize. They were competing against 119 other highly skilled teams from Oregon and Southwest Washington, winnowed down from 400 teams that had excelled in qualifying tournaments.
Each team consisted of four to ten students ages 9-14 who were given about 12 weeks to prepare for the tournament, including construction, design, and programming of the LEGO robot, and completion of required scientific research. The teams used off-the-shelf LEGO robotics kits to construct unique working robots, each of which completed as many missions as possible on a 4-foot by 8-foot playing field.
Each year, FLL defines a challenge theme that drives team activities. In the 2012 “Food Factor” challenge, teams explored how food is grown and processed and the safety issues that come up along the way. Each team developed and presented a research project on food safety and what they recommend to increase the safety of a particular food, discussed technical aspects of their research with judges, and showed their ever-important teamwork skills.
Finally, Team AFOOFA gave a memorably on-target performance. Their reward? The top prize, first place for the Intel Oregon Champion’s Award, the most prestigious award of the competition. They also earned the opportunity to go to the next round, the North American Open FLL Championship at LEGOLAND in Carlsbad, California where they won the Project Innovation Award.
Team AFOOFA is already paying it forward, readying the next generation of LEGO competitors by teaching robotics classes and forming a robotics team at Hillsboro’s Reedville Elementary School. At a recent session, about a dozen 4th and 5th graders, Team AFOOFA, and three Intel volunteers were huddled around LEGO robots they had assembled from LEGO Mindstorms kits. The groups tackled how to program their robots so they’d go backwards and forwards, and the eager students marveled at their developing skills.
"...has helped me a lot in school and helped me know more about myself and what I need to work on in soft and hard skills. It has helped me go above and beyond what you learn in school, where they teach to the whole class, not necessarily to your individual personal interests."
-- Prathyoosha Chaya, 12-year-old 7th grader