Tuesday, January 9, 2007

FIRST LEGO League Robotics at PS 261 Brooklyn

Last Wed. after school I stopped by for what I thought was a few minutes (that turned into an hour and a half) to visit the 4th/5th grade robotics teams (called "Nanorama I and II") at PS 261K in downtown Brooklyn in Region 8. They are preparing for the FIRST LEGO League tournament to be held at Riverbank State Park in upper Manhattan on Jan. 27/28 where 155 teams from NYC area schools (both public and private) and community centers will compete by building robots out of LEGO blocks that must complete a number of tasks (in 2 1/2 minutes in each round) related to Nanotechnology, this year's theme (Nanoquest).

The teams are coached by teachers Maureen Reilly, Allisyn Levy, and Jennifer Lindauer-Thompson. I was still there an hour an a half later observing the incredibly well organized operation as the 22 children accomplished an amazing amount of work with the guidance of their teachers.

After an opening warm-up session they broke into distinct groups – research, programming, building – and ended with a whole group sharing session.

Maureen, a 2nd year teacher, began the program last year and recruited Alyson and Jennifer this year after getting support from Brain Pop. Maureen is not your average robotics coach as she worked for LEGO for 7 years and is still a consultant, even getting to go to Denmark every summer to visit the Mecca of LEGO.

Jennifer meets with the group preparing a research report on Nanotechnology, which will be presented to a panel of judges at Riverbank

Allisyn works with the programmers

A pep rally send-off was held for the robotics teams at the school the Friday before the Brooklyn tournament. A Daily News reporter was in the building for another reason and, looking in, asked what the rally was for. She was incredulous when told it was for the robotics team. Another pep rally will be held on Jan. 26th the day before the massive citywide event.

Teaching Nanotechnology as it relates to one of the FLL challenges

How she stores all the stuff - this is just a small section as Maureen's classroom is the Brooklyn version of LEGOLAND.

Maureen and I discussed the idea of getting Region 8 coaches and may be some other Brooklyn teams together post tournament to plan a follow-up robotics event in the spring.

Nanomaniacs gather around the competition table at the Brooklyn borough FLL tournament at Brooklyn Tech HS on Dec. 9

Maureen prays for a good score

FIRST, the organization behind all the excitement, bills these tournaments as sporting events for the mind. We expect well over 1000 people at the Riverbank gymnasium each day as teams come with cheerleaders, colorful banners and tee-shirts. The excitement is pumped up by a d-jay, a jumbo TV screen and all sorts of other activities. The first time I saw one of these events 5 years ago when they had only 35 teams, I was hooked and have been a volunteer registration and team recruitment coordinator for NYCFIRST.

No matter how much I tell people how great an event this is, they are still overwhelmed when they actually see this in person. FLL is for ages 9-14 and we have elementary, middle and a number of high schools with 9th graders all taking part in the same event. AND THEY ALL HAVE SO MUCH FUN. And their teachers too, who often tell me this is one of the most enjoyable things they have ever done as a teacher, despite all the incredible work involved.

The NYC event is special because it is so massive and is one place where children from the poorest schools mingle with and compete with children from the most exclusive private schools. A teacher from PS 193 in Brooklyn, a rookie school that has jumped in with both feet, sent an email after the Brooklyn tournament (with 27 teams) with a quote from a child who said that was the best day of her life. She ain't seen nothin' yet.

Volunteers are needed as:
Team Quers
Crowd Control
Research/Tech Schedulers
Field Re-setters

Contact Elizabeth Almonte at: nycfllvolunteer@yahoo.com


  1. Norm! Thanks for the vitit, your glowing review and for all help and support you give to all of us NYC FLL coaches.


    (from the Brooklyn version of LEGOLAND)

  2. Dear Norm:

    Thank you for your wonderful Blog article on our team and for your encouragement. We hope you can come again. Thank you again for adding such a big piece about us to your Blog.


    NANORAMA (Building a better community)

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