All those lunch breaks spent tinkering with Lego have paid off for two local Lego Mechanics teams.
The teams from St. Teresa of Avila Catholic School and St. Clement Catholic School earned gold and silver, respectively, at last week’s Waterloo Region Technological Skills Competition, held at Conestoga College.
The competition was hosted by the Waterloo Catholic District School Board.
St. Teresa teacher Cheryl Elliot-Fraser explains they start the Skills Canada club at school in November, with students participating in Lego Mechanics, Lego Robotics and Coding. The Lego Mechanics group was the only one to medal at this competition.
“They had practices once a week where we would set up different Lego challenges for them to build and then once they built them they would modify some of their challenges,” Elliot-Fraser explained.
Every school uses the same specific Lego kit. To prepare, the students would build something and then they would modify it. A lot of the time they modified it by adding a battery pack or they would change the way they were building it so that it could go up a hill or complete a variety of other tasks.
“They really worked on the modification this year on ones they built. They also worked on building it quickly because it is a competition, whereby they’re only given a certain amount of minutes to build it and then to modify it. So this group did a lot that way. They themselves set time limits of ‘we would have it built within a certain time and then we would work on modifying it within a certain time limit,’” Elliot-Fraser said.
Two of the students had competed last year, while two were new to the Skills Canada competition.
She says in past years they’d have the students build a project from the booklet that they’ve been practicing with for the first challenge. But this time right from the start they had to modify the project, which usually they don’t do for a Grade 5/6 competition.
“The very first one that they had to do was build a car and then build also a float because it was based on the Canada 150 theme, so the float had to have a flag on it and they had to go up a hill that was on a 45-degree angle,” Elliot-Fraser said.
Before they even went to the competition they worked on various strategies as to who would put what together and how they would put it together. The students who’ve been involved before noticed that the students from other schools who figured out ways to work together well were the ones who succeeded.
Teachers and parents were able to watch the competition but weren’t allowed to provide input or assist the students.
But clearly, that wasn’t a problem for the students.
“They’re great collaborators, really worked hard, put a lot of time and effort into preparing for this and it paid off,” Elliot-Fraser said.
St. Clement teacher Kelly Munro says the students started preparing when they returned from the Christmas holiday. They practice two or three times a week at lunch.
“I would just give them challenges week after week, things like make a car that pulls a load that’s heavy or light, make a car that will go up this ramp. They made a ferris wheel one week. And then they basically just practice building,” Munro explained.
Two of the students had competed in Skills Canada before and two were new this year. This is only the second year St. Clement students have participated. Their second challenge was to make a street cleaner with a whirling device in the back.
She says the students were excited and jumped up when it was announced they were receiving silver medals for their work.
“They worked really well together. It was great to see the kids learn to get along and navigate each others’ strengths and weaknesses,” Munro said.
The provincial competition for all levels of competition will run May 1-3 at the Toronto Congress Centre.
Munro says the appeal for students is the hands-on nature of the challenges.
“They go to the Skills competition and they’re given three challenges that they need to complete by the end of the day and it’s just them. They have to problem solve through everything, while getting to build and experiment their way through things,” Munro said.