Playing with Legos is not always what it used to be.

Texas students gathered Saturday at Harmony School of Innovation to unveil robots programmed from Legos. Twenty-three teams of students put their robotics work to the test on tabletop courses they designed.

“They’re basically building programming skills, teamwork skills, engineering skills, problem-solving skills,” said Tiffani Cortez, an engineering teacher at Harmony in Waco. “It’s just a whole bunch of skills that give them the basis for hopefully pursuing some kind of STEM career.”

The pursuit of science, technology, engineering and mathematics seemed to be at the forefront of the competition for students who have spent months preparing for the event sponsored by FIRST Lego League.

A five-student team from West Ridge Middle School in Austin was thrilled to try their robots based on the concept that headgear tracking astronauts’ brainwaves can produce vital information about the effects of confinement and isolation on mental health.

“We want to be here because a lot of us really do love robotics,” said Aman Sulaiman, 11, who wants to be a neurosurgeon one day. “It’s always really fun doing it.”


St. Louis Catholic School fifth-grader Emily Vancleave prepares her team’s robot for competition at the FIRST Lego League Central Texas Area Qualifier.

Other career goals of the team — artificial intelligence engineer, heart surgeon and computer engineer — hinted at the intricacy and forward thinking displayed at the competition.

“I just like seeing how everything can come together after days of programming,” said Casey Wei, another member of the team.

Participants in FIRST Lego League are encouraged to develop solutions to real-world problems and use a Lego technology to design, build and program a robot. More than 320,000 participants have competed in 1,450 events in 98 countries, according to the league.

A team from Harmony School of Innovation in Carrollton made robots that perform tasks up and down ramps and push a solar panel across the area.

“The feeling that you have when you work together as a team and accomplish your goals, and then you get to see the robot move across the field and do a mission, it’s a really good feeling,” said Harishankar Anoop, a fifth-grader on the team.

He said work on the project began in the fall.

Rubrics for the judges focus on how well the teams demonstrate the league’s core values: discovery, innovation, impact, inclusion, teamwork and fun.

Phillip Ericksen joined the Tribune-Herald in March 2015 as a sports copy editor. That November, he joined the news team. He has covered higher education, city hall, politics and crime.

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