Students travel to Sioux Falls for robotics competition

posted on February 28, 2012

Who says Legos are just for little kids?

Six students from Red Cloud Middle School traveled to the other end of South Dakota this past weekend for the First Lego League Championship, held at Augustana College in Sioux Falls. Middle school science teacher and second-year Red Cloud volunteer Maria Moreno took the three male and three female students, along with the robot that they built and programmed.

Altogether, more than 500 students from 62 teams across South Dakota competed at the event. According to Moreno, Red Cloud’s team and a group from Rapid City were the only Native American teams that took part. In preparation for the competition, students designed, built, and programmed autonomous robots – made entirely of Legos – to accomplish prescribed missions on a 4x8’ playing field. Teams were also expected to give presentations on research projects illustrating how they had tackled a problem and proposed a novel solution.

The event featured a special tribute to Dr. Dan Swets, Kevin Anderson, and Joshua Lambrecht, Lego League leaders who were killed in a plane crash last December. The crash occurred when the three were en route to Rapid City for a practice competition for area teams, one that the Red Cloud group took part in. The men were credited by many for leaving a legacy that will continue to enrich young lives for many years to come.

The Red Cloud students met together on Saturdays, as the demands of preparing for the competition made simply meeting after school insufficient in terms of time. During these sessions, they used a computer program called Lego Mindstorms (, which enables users to create customizable and programmable robots. These robots may then be instructed to do various maneuvering and other physical tasks, and even speaking.

Even though the Red Cloud team did not place in the top three, Moreno said that the experience overall was very enriching. “The overall purpose of the event was to get kids involved in science and engineering, but to make it fun at the same time. And the students did not just learn about building and programming robots; they practiced many other skills, including team-building, cooperation, and even dealing with failure and bouncing back.”

Moreno hopes that Red Cloud can continue to take part in the event, which is the largest competition of its kind in the state. Furthermore, the team that wins the South Dakota championship qualifies for the First Lego League World Festival, held annually in St. Louis, MO. And who’s to say that Red Cloud students should have anything but the highest aspirations?