Pine Bluffs Elementary team members Tanner Long, 12, center left, and Shane Shutts, 12, watch their team’s robot run the obstacle course during the Laramie County Robotics Scrimmage on Saturday, Nov. 9, 2019, at Storey Gym in Cheyenne. The winners of the competition will get a chance to compete in December’s Wyoming State Robotics Competition in Casper. Michael Cummo/Wyoming Tribune Eagle

CHEYENNE – As teammates and coaches from Cheyenne’s Meadowlark Elementary looked on, their Lego robot slowly rolled forward and stacked blocks on top of each other.

“Nice try! Keep going!” said Sarah Holle, one of the coaches for the Meadowlark team, following one of the test runs.

Using their robot, the team was trying to find a new use for the old Cheyenne Regional Airport terminal. The team’s idea?

“We would change it into an aeronautical flight museum,” said team member Jace Ketcham, 11.

Their project was in line with the “City Shapers” theme for the second annual Laramie County Robotics Scrimmage, which was hosted Saturday by Laramie County School District 1 at the administration building and Storey Gym.

“They had to look out in the community for things that were an issue,” said Julie Calkins, the district’s science coordinator. “They have to choose, as a team, what mission they’re going to accomplish, and then they have to figure out how they’re going to do that.”

During the day, about 20 teams from local elementary schools participated in the First Lego League, which was divided into two competitions based on grade level.

Saturday’s scrimmage served as a dress rehearsal for the State Robotic Competition next month in Casper, and Calkins said it helped the teams last year.

“We had one of our elementary teams take second place overall in the state, and it qualified them for an international competition,” Calkins said.

The team members from Meadowlark Elementary said the presentation aspect of the competition is important.

“It’s a little stressful,” said Ketcham, to which his teammate, Vesper Seitz, quickly added, “Very stressful.”

Seitz, 11, said despite the stress, the competition becomes fun once it gets started.

“It’s a great opportunity to learn how to code because our world is very rapidly changing, and coding is becoming one of the new things,” Seitz said.

Since kids are coding in class, Calkins said they should get a chance to use their skills in a fun, competitive setting.

“Coding is another language, and the younger you are when you learn a language, the more proficient you’re going to be at it later on,” Calkins said. “These kids are ready to code, they want to code, so why wouldn’t you let them code?”

Though kids have the desire to code, it still requires persistence. Jessice Freeman, a teacher and coach at Bain Elementary, said her school’s students started coding last year as part of their curriculum, allowing them to develop some initial background knowledge.

“Coding itself is challenging,” Freeman said. “It involves a lot of trial and error and a lot of patience and flexibility on their part, but I do feel like they’re getting to where they need to be.”

While most teams had been working on their robots since the start of the school year, others were participating on short notice. Freeman said her team just started in October.

“Everything just started way later than what we would’ve preferred it to start,” Freeman said. “Coming into this scrimmage, we felt a little bit behind where we needed to be, but watching how the kids stepped up this morning in front of the judges ... they did awesome.”

Calkins said the competition has long-term effects, helping kids to thrive in college and beyond.

“One of my favorite things I hear them say is, ‘Now I know why we did that today in class. I get it. That will work here,’” Calkins said. “How awesome is that to make our instruction applicable in their everyday life?”

Tom Coulter is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle’s state government reporter. He can be reached at tcoulter@wyomingnews.com or 307-633-3124. Follow him on Twitter at @tomcoulter_.

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