Great Neck’s own Team Lego Crystals, the only FIRST Lego League Junior (FLL Jr.) team selected from New York state, won the Amazing Movement Award in the 2016 FLL Jr. World Festival Expo, a junior division of the FIRST Championship held in St. Louis, MO, at the end of April.
The FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Championship is a robotics competition that attracts thousands of students from all over the world each year.
Team Lego Crystals is comprised of four girls and one boy from three elementary schools in Great Neck: Holly Krause, a third grader from Saddle Rock; Chloe Ning, a second grader from Lakeville; Ellen Wang, a third grader from Lakeville; Mofan Yu, a second grader from Baker; and Ellen Zhang, a second grader from Baker.
In FLL Jr., young children learn to build models from Lego elements with a programmed and motorized part. Each year, FLL Jr. presents a theme or challenge for children to work on. The 2015–16 FLL Jr. theme was the Waste Wise Challenge, which encouraged children to look at the trash industry differently. At the expo, Team Lego Crystals presented its model of a program-driven garbage processing center, which sorts waste according to its size.
In contrast to teams in other districts that are often run by schools and churches, Team Lego Crystals has been organized and trained entirely by parents. A year ago, when Chloe’s father, Feng Ning, wanted to enroll her in the FLL Jr. program, he couldn’t find a team in the Great Neck area.
Ning spoke to a few parents who shared his enthusiasm and together they started the program on their own. After ordering a setup kit from the FLL Jr. website, with Ning as their head coach, the parents took turns giving their children training lessons on a weekly basis. The parents enjoyed the flexibility of picking and designing training materials for their children. Instead of using Lego’s own software, Ning chose to teach the children Scratch, a programming language often used by older children in higher levels. The graphic-based Scratch language made the children fall in love with programming immediately.
Since all the parents hold advanced degrees from the nation’s top universities like Columbia and Yale, the team’s success was hardly a surprise. However, to the parents, having their children participate in FLL Jr. was not about competition.
Ning found that training Team Lego Crystals offered him an opportunity to spend meaningful time with his daughter and really get to know her. Ning also viewed FLL Jr. as a proper way to introduce young children to STEM.
“STEM ultimately is not about competition,” Ning said. “It is about creating solutions, communicating solutions to others and the final goal is solving problems. FLL Jr. actually asks kids a lot of things to mimic such a process.”
To the children, the World Festival Expo was the best spring break retreat. They were joined in St. Louis by more than 40,000 students from more than 40 countries. Mofan loved watching robot matches at the FIRST Robotics Competition, the high school section of the FIRST Championship, which the Great Neck South High School Robotics Team competed in. Click here and here to read more about the Robotics Team.
Holly said that she couldn’t wait to get to the next level and that she already had some ideas for Animal Allies, FLL Jr.’s challenge next year.
Check out Feng Ning’s FLL Jr. blog, www.legocrystals.wordpress.com, for more information.
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