Vermont Public is independent, community-supported media, serving Vermont with trusted, relevant and essential information. We share stories that bring people together, from every corner of our region. New to Vermont Public? Start here.

© 2024 Vermont Public | 365 Troy Ave. Colchester, VT 05446

Public Files:

For assistance accessing our public files, please contact or call 802-655-9451.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Spencer Rendahl: Lego League

Suzanne Spencer Rendahl
Plainfield NH Elementary School FIRST Lego League Team and robot

In many ways, 2015 was a tough year, but a recent kids science competition gave me some hope for the future. In November my 10-year-old daughter participated in a FIRST Lego League robotics competition held at the Thayer School of Engineering at Dartmouth College.

Hers was one of 13 regional teams tasked with designing an autonomous robot built with Legos and solving a problem related to solid waste. This fall almost a quarter million kids age 9 to 13 in 80 countries participated in the challenge, designed to promote STEM subjects – Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math.

My daughter’s school team worked for months building, programming, testing, and modifying their robot.

The team also visited the Lebanon landfill, where they learned about the problem of methane release from decomposing garbage. But methane, a greenhouse gas, is also an energy source. So the team devised a theoretical way to capture methane from landfills to be used for power generation.

Competition challenges can provide real-world solutions. Two years ago a team from a Vermont town affected by Tropical Storm Irene took on the problem of towns being cut off from fresh water for a challenge about natural disasters. The team promoted an existing technology of using bath tub inserts to store 20 gallons of fresh clean water, a potentially life-saving several-day supply. A volunteer Lego League judge who works as an engineer for the federal government said he’s promoting that team’s idea for national disaster planning.

To compete, participants learn engineering principals – building something from scratch and testing and improving it over and over again. But they also had to learn to work as a team.

They got to see team work on a larger scale during the awards ceremony when two Thayer students talked about their Formula One Racing Team, which designs and manufactures a hybrid racing car for a national competition. The Thayer students showed how they worked together to design computer models, build the chassis in the machine shop, and eventually race the car. The Lego League kids barraged the Thayer students with questions. Is driving the car dangerous? How fast did it go? How big was their budget? One of my daughter’s teammates simply asked “Why do you do it?”

A Thayer student responded without hesitation “because it’s fun!”

My daughter’s team didn’t win any awards or go on to the state finals. But as she chatted away the entire ride home about how she wanted to learn more and compete again, I knew she was walking away with the grand prize.

Suzanne Spencer Rendahl is a former journalist whose work has appeared in publications including the Boston Globe. She lives with her husband and two children in Plainfield, NH.
Latest Stories