Tornado Robotics Team Earns Top Spot in Regional Qualifier

lego robotics collage

This past Saturday, Turning Point School hosted the regional qualifying tournament for the FIRST LEGO League Hydro-Dynamics Global Challenge. FIRST LEGO League is an international competition that invites elementary and middle school students to research a real-world problem and then develop a solution. They also must design, build, and program an autonomous robot that is capable of performing a variety of tasks in the Robot Game. Our Robotics students in grades 5-8 have been preparing for this competition since Summer Camp in August and, since then, after school several days a week.

The theme for this year’s challenge was HYDRO DYNAMICS. The 24 teams who competed in the regional qualifying round on Saturday were tasked with learning all about water and how to improve the process of finding, transporting, using, or disposing of it. Our Tornado Gold Team designed their project around improving access to clean drinking water in rural areas and third world countries, while our Green Team tackled how to monitor and conserve everyday water usage with the “Sink Bit”—a technology that acts like a Fitbit for your sink.

Our middle and elementary teams participated valiantly, reflecting Turning Point values through their innovation, perseverance, and teamwork. In fact, our “Green Team,” composed of upper elementary students, took the “Champions Award”—first place overall, an exceptional achievement! They are now on to the Los Angeles Regional Championship where they will compete once again on Sunday, December 10. In the judging room, the Green Team scored high in robot design, project design, and core values. They also scored in the top 40% for Robot Performance, where students stayed remarkably composed and collected while programming their robots to perform timed tasks.

The fact that Turning Point School is able to sustain not one but three Robotics teams is a reflection of the skills and values students develop and embrace as students, from a very young age and from various areas of their school experience. Some of these skills include:

  • Systems thinking: Professional roboticists must be comfortable with complicated systems, as robots involve electronics, engineering, cognition, mechanics, and programming.
  • Programming: Students develop an affinity for learning new languages, and learn to think differently about how information flows.
  • Lifelong learning: Students understand that they can’t learn everything they need to know from a manual; they become adept at learning on the go and understanding that the field is always evolving.
  • Mathematics and science: Students love exploring abstract mathematical concepts and logical thinking that derives from both disciplines.
  • Judgment and decision making: Students are adaptable; they understand the need to implement these skills along the way as they develop new projects.
  • Critical thinking and analysis: Troubleshooting involves looking at a problem from different angles and reasoning ways to solve it.
  • Persistence: Students learn to to stick with a project, even when they get frustrated or encounter a dead end.
  • Technology design: Students need to create and develop a product that will actually work.
  • Collaboration: “We are a team.” This is the first core value of FIRST Lego League, and emphasizes the need for students to work together to become effective developers.

Robotics has been compared to sports, in that both pursuits require students to synthesize the skills they learn and apply them in new, uncharted ways. Real world applications mean we cannot rely on tried and true answers; we must generate our own unmapped solutions.

Our Green Team excelled in the areas mentioned above, but it was the individual judging room where their apparent poise and confidence earned them the “Champion’s Award.” They won this competition because in the absence of adult teachers and coaches they were able to shine by demonstrating their robot and explaining their thinking and development process clearly and articulately. We are so proud of our innovators, and of the learning that they spearheaded.


Dr. Laura Konigsberg
Head of School

*I would like to express my deep gratitude to Travis Reynolds, who has been coaching this group, who volunteered to host the competition and who organized it masterfully, and who continues to take the lead in innovating our academic technology curriculum and program. Thanks, too, to Judy Castro and John Wan, for assisting Travis with the Robotics program, and to all our faculty and staff who support this program. Finally, thank you to our parents, who so enthusiastically engage in our collective goal to provide children with opportunities to explore and stretch their interests and talents.

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