Each fall, teams from across the region storm into Utica Community Schools for the annual ThunderQuest competition.
The largest regional competition for Lego Robotics brings teams area together to promote, science, engineering, problem solving and teamwork.
"Even if it is 8 a.m., you can walk in the gym and it's electric. You feel like you are at a championship Red Wing or a Pistons game," said Switzer Principal Jake Palmer. "There is a focus on team spirit and making sure every child who competes feels like a winner because of what they have accomplished."
First Lego Robotics introduces younger students (ages 9-14) to real-world engineering challenges by building LEGO-based robots to complete tasks on a thematic playing surface.
Created by inventor Dean Kaman, the competition is the entry level tournament for students involved in FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology). Kaman created what he calls "a sport for the mind" to encourage interest in science and technology.
"This is a great program for kids that want to use math and science skills to learn how things work," said Pascal Roy, coach of the tournament champion Gummy Guardians at Crissman Elementary. "It also teaches them how to present, how to solve problems, and how to work together as a team."
Students like the tournament aspect of ThunderQuest.
"Basically, it’s just fun watching the robot go and accomplish challenges," said Gummy Guardian team member Aidan Dupke. "You really have to really use your brain power."
Teammate Kathryn Roy agreed.
"It teaches you a lot of things and you get to be with your friends," she said.
In addition creating and programming a robot, students must also address a real-world situation and present their solutions to area community leaders. This year's problem was Nature's Fury.
"I am an engineer myself, and I solve problems for a living," Roy said. "I teach these kids how to use these skills and certain methods to solve a problem."
The ThunderQuest is the first step in local team's participation in the state and international competition. Over the past two years, UCS students have represented Michigan at the First Lego League World Tournament.
Palmer said it was natural for UCS to be a stepping stone to these tournaments through ThunderQuest.
"We are fortunate to be in an area that is recognized for innovation in robotics engineering," Palmer said. "The students are doing the exact same thing their parents do at work. Even though it is Legos, they are working with automation and solving real-world problems."
Utica Community Schools Board of Education