LEGO Robotics Team Advances to State Competition

Norfolk Collegiate’s middle school LEGO Robotics Team did it again! The team took first place in robot design and second place in robot performance in the FIRST LEGO League (FLL) regional competition on Jan. 23. Now they advance to the state tournament from Feb. 27-28.

The team, composed of Donavan B. ’26, Luke H. ’26, Jake H. ’26, Parker H. ’25, Austin H. ’25, Natalie K. ’26 and Bethuel T. ’27 and mentored by Colin M. ’25, coached by Skip Morrow and faculty member Ellen Alt, blew away the judges with their design and project in the virtual competition. 

How Does it Work?

FLL presents teams with a universal theme—this year’s theme is ways to get more people active—and challenges them to meet the theme through robot design and a project. 

This year’s team was composed of virtual and in-person students, which created new challenges and opportunities for the students. Another challenge was the mixture of veteran participants and students just beginning their robotics journey. 

Virtual students had their own robots to take home and worked with the more seasoned students over Zoom to learn how to code through mini-missions, such as coding the robot to go straight or turn around. Meanwhile, in-person students worked together to adapt an existing robot to this year’s challenge and to create new attachments for the robot. For example, the robot needs to push someone on a slide, do a pull-up on a pull-up bar, push over a park bench or work a basketball hoop.

“This meant building more practice robots so members could experiment and contribute from home,” said Austin ’25. “Usually, we would have our regional competition on-site at the hosting school with all the other teams in November, but this year parts of the competition were pre-recorded while the judging sections were done on Zoom. Although the experience was different, we still had a lot of fun, and we overcame a lot of unique challenges.” 

They focused on building a sturdy robot that could meet the tasks while also providing a small cushion for the unexpected. 

“We designed our robot so we can make a base attachment that attaches with gravity so we can easily switch between attachments to do different missions throughout the robot game,” said Luke. “We also made our robot with a more box-like shape so that we can wall square, meaning we back the robot against a wall, and then when it moves forward it moves in a straight line instead of at an angle.

Now the team is working on finetuning the attachments for the competition. 

“This time we included a color sensor at the front to help avoid operator errors; innovative new attachments specific to each mission accomplished this season; used gyro turn My Block; wall squaring; jigs for launches; gears for more torque; rubber bands to increase speed and power; and pins for strength,” said Austin. “These are a few of the robot’s design features.” 

If you don’t know what all of that means, that’s okay. The students and the judges do. 

“Every year I am deeply impressed with the ingenuity and dedication of our LEGO Robotics team,” said Charlene Loope, interim head of middle school. “This team designed their robot to have a different attachment for completing each challenge. They came up with that idea, designed it, built it, wrote the code to make it go and practiced until it worked.” 

The Project
This year’s challenge was to find ways to get more people active and playing, so the team surveyed several local parks to evaluate their inclusiveness and determined that not all are inclusive to all age groups and abilities. So, they came up with ways to make playgrounds more accessible to people with disabilities, with strollers, for grandparents and more. They even spoke to members from the City of Norfolk to pitch their ideas on how to get more people to the park and playing.

“The team’s accessible playground project demonstrates a strong sense of empathy and service to the community,” said Loope. “LEGO Robotics is engineering and design thinking in action and applied to the real world—it’s a terrific fit for our middle school!”

The students couldn’t agree more.

“I am most proud of the impact our project could have on the community,” said Austin of the challenge.

“I feel like our idea of having parks in Norfolk more inclusive of all ages and disabilities would lead to greater enjoyment and health benefits and better use of our open spaces and resources.” 

What they most want our community to know is that “even though we were virtual, we were able to meet on Zoom and were able to get things like the robots so that we could continue to compete,” said Donavan.

“I would like people to know that we are just kids,” added Jake, “and anyone with the right amount of practice can do this, not just a select few.”

“If you’re interested in robot design, programming, community projects and STEM in general, I recommend trying FIRST LEGO League,” said Austin.

What’s Next
Our Oaks will be busy thinking of ways to improve their robot game performance and project idea before heading to the state tournament Feb. 27-28.

“We’re also looking to do more outreach to share what we have done and promote the program,” said Austin.

The students are also discussing taking their project to the next level. If they do, they will be looking to partner with an area community service or organization to raise the funds to improve a local park.


Middle/Upper School Campus

Lower School Campus