An investment by the Motorola Solutions Foundation in promoting STEM careers -- science, technology, engineering and math -- with local Girl Scouts, is paying big dividends for one North suburban troop.
Nine members of Troop 40671, who all attend Woodlawn Middle School in Long Grove, have worked since September on a robotics team called The Moovers.
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In January, the all-girl team of sixth graders was the overall state champions at the FIRST Lego League state tournament held at Forest View Educational Center in Arlington Heights.
Next month, they leave for the FIRST Lego League Invitational Open Championship in Winterhaven, Fla., before accepting an invitation to Mannheim, Germany for the European Open Invitational tournament.
"It's fun and it's all new for us," says Anisha Rao, 12, of Kildeer, "but that's why I like it. I like learning new things."
Two years ago, Motorola's Solutions Foundation awarded 10 Girl Scout troops in the Greater Chicago & Northwest Indiana Council the seed money needed to enter the competition. Troop 40671 members have continued on their own ever since.
FIRST Lego League was created in 1999. FIRST is an acronym, For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology, and over the years, numbers of teams competing worldwide has soared to more than 16,000, as of 2010.
Its creators wanted to put participants in a team atmosphere that made robotics fun and accessible for elementary and junior high students. Each year, FIRST officials set out a different "challenge" that is released in September, and gives teams six weeks to meet.
In response, teams work to program an autonomous robot to score points on a themed playing field, that develops a solution to a problem they have identified. Regionals take place in the fall, before the state competition in January.
This year's "challenge" involved food safety and preparation, and incorporated elements of chemistry and microbiology. Teams had to create a robot that would complete a series of food-related missions -- from picking up bacteria to moving things to the sink -- all within 2.5 minutes.
"We learned about gram staining, and gram positive and gram negative bacteria," Rao adds. "It's more about chemistry, and we haven't covered that in school yet."
The team divided into groups last fall to build and program their robot out of LEGOs, and later they developed their research project that focused on listeria detection in milk. They also filmed an infomercial to explain it to the judges.
"Mostly, we're working on hitting all of the missions," says Kelly Starr of Long Grove. "We're trying to take off time and score more points."