As a Lego robot car ran a route map on the competition table, every member of Team Steam Rollers held their breath. 

Ten seconds later, the car went off the track.  Its controllers, Gus Walston and Thomas Thatcher, sighed with disappointment. Walston, who built the robot, and Thatcher, who programmed it, placed the car back at the starting area.

Members of the team cheered with joy and relief as the car made a successful run, putting the Steam Rollers safely through the second round in the Mid-Missouri FIRST Lego League Competition on Saturday at Jefferson Middle School .

FIRST — For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology — pairs adult coaches with team members in grades 4-8 to research real-world problems, brainstorm a solution and then build and design a robot using Legos. 

The competitions "teach kids a bunch of different things," said Ethan Lauchstaedt, a 15-year-old who participates in a higher level of the FIRST Tech Challenge Tournament but was volunteering to help younger competitors on Saturday with what he said is "the first engineering experience" for many of them.

The tournament this year asked the young robot engineers to build a city, Lauchstaedt said. 

Students scored points for using Lego robot vehicles to transport and stack small blocks. Teams also earned points by hitting a Lego swing to help a Lego character on a wheelchair climb a bridge. The top seven finishers will go on to compete in Camdenton on Dec. 7. 

In the lounge, all 16 teams showcased their community projects on tri-fold display boards. 

The Steam Rollers aimed to increase accessibility around school areas in the Kirksville School District. The team decided to address the problems by proposing to build new side walks, speed bumps and parking lots.

On the other side of the lounge, Team Eastwood from Eastwood Elementary School in Marshall focused on robotic service for rural communities.

Mia Shannon, 9, saw the robots as a source of science and technology education. She said it was a valuable chance for her to solve problems for the community. She said she and her teammates gathered at school every Monday and often spent the whole morning on their robotic project, Robo On The Go.

Aleksandar Simic, almost 10, the only team member not from Eastwood Elementary, joined his teammates after school every Monday afternoon. Though Eastwood didn't win in the second round, team members came away feeling good about the experience.

"We scored 200 in the first round," Simic said. "This is pretty good for our first year."

Meg Lisenbardt, 9, said the 2-year-old team is aiming to do better in the future.

At the Lego competition, it seemed as if everyone came away feeling like they had succeeded, even if they didn't win.

"It's great to see the joy on their faces as they exit," said Lauchstaedt. 

  • Education reporter, Fall 2019 Studying print and digital design Reach me at, or in the newsroom at 882-5720

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