Forest Hills’ Pixelated Moon working on their robot.

Above: Forest Hills Library’s Pixelated Moon working on their robot.

Nearly 50 children representing nine teams from six branches, participating in Queens Public Library’s Robotics FIRST LEGO League, competed in the inaugural championship held on June 11 at the Flushing Library.

Is there a better way to spend the day than building robots? Not if you ask the competitors who got to show off their new skills in robotics during the event.

There were cheers, hugs, and high-fives. But above all there was a spirit of teamwork and learning through fun.

The kids, in grades 4 to 8, came from the Bayside, Forest Hills, Kew Gardens Hills, McGoldrick, Queensboro Hill, and Whitestone branches.

With guidance from branch staff coaches, they spent the springtime learning to work as a team and build, code, and program robots using LEGO MINDSTORMS® EV3, which combines LEGO® elements with programmable bricks, motors, and sensors.

The theme of the competition was INTO ORBIT, centering on space exploration and life on other planets. The challenge was to create robots that could work perfectly under challenging conditions in outer space. The robots were programmed to accomplish tasks autonomously on an INTO ORBIT playing field, like moving objects, leaping over obstacles, and rolling various gadgets down a slide.

The teams competed for the Champions Award, the highest level award given at the tournament, and were also awarded prizes for Core Values (primarily teamwork), Robot Design (reflecting the process and strategy behind a robot’s design and programming), and Robot Score (indicating performance on the playing field).

The McGoldrick Orbiters having a lot of fun!

The McGoldrick Orbiters having a lot of fun!

Bayside’s AstroNuts team received the Champions Award, while Forest Hills’ Robotic Rockets was first in Core Values, Forest Hills’ Pixelated Moon was second in Core Values, and Bayside’s Insert!Name!Here! was third in Core Values.

Whitestone’s Enthusiastic Engineers came in first place for Robot Design, Kew Gardens Hills’ Team Orbit was second, and Queensboro Hill’s Bananas came in third.

In the Robot Score category, McGoldrick’s Orbiters was first, followed by Bayside’s AstroNuts and Whitestone’s Fortniters.

But as the kids cheered each other on and did their best to accomplish their space missions, all the teams were winners that day.

“I’ve learned how to work together, how to code better, and how to build more difficult LEGO structures,” said Alex Evans, 11, of the Forest Hills Robotic Rockets team, who one day wants to work on coding video games. “This experience will help me with that.”

The staff also had a blast. “It was so much fun,” said Ricky Ong, Bayside Customer Service Specialist, who, along with librarian Angely Jibaja, coached the Bayside AstroNuts team who won the Championship Award. “We hope this competition will make them pursue careers in science.”

Queens Public Library’s Robotics FIRST LEGO League was formed last year after the Queens Public Library Foundation awarded competitive grants to several QPL branches, teaming up with New York City FIRST, a nonprofit that provides immersive, hands-on STEM education and robotics programs for 7,000 students annually.

The organization first trained staff from the winning branches during a two-day workshop held last December. Staff then worked with the kids at their libraries on specific projects, with the goal to empower them to become innovators, while also encouraging them to explore new career pathways.

“The partnership between Queens Public Library and NYC FIRST brings together two awesome institutions—libraries that provide democratic access to programs that enable intellectual and personal growth, and FIRST LEGO League, which helps to develop the next generation of innovative leaders,” said Norm Sutaria, NYC First’s Director of Community Engagement.

“In the course of building and programming a robot over the past few months, team members learned about themselves and others. We are proud to say that it’s not about kids building robots—it’s about robots building kids.”

Below: The Bayside AstroNuts with the Champions Award.

The Bayside AstroNuts with the Champions Award.