Return to Headlines

Rookie DFE robotics team turns heads at regional competition, qualifies for state championship

Published Monday, November 19, 2018

DFE robotics team

Pictured above is the Devon Forest Elementary robotics team, the DFE DragonBots, at the November 10, 2018 FIRST LEGO League Into Orbit tournament. (Provided)

When teachers at Devon Forest Elementary decided they would serve as coaches for the school's first-ever robotics team, they had no idea how much effort students would place into the competitions.

Now, they and many others in the Lowcountry know, robotics at Devon Forest is to be taken seriously. It's not the doing of teacher coaches or parents. Instead, it's the product of a passionate group of 10 and 11-year-olds. They believe in teamwork. They welcome challenges, and they are showing they don't take "no" for an answer.

The rookie Devon Forest Elementary robotics team won the Core Values Award at the November 10 FIRST LEGO League Into Orbit tournament held at Summerville High. The regional competition measured the children from Goose Creek against others from schools all over the Lowcountry -- grade levels as high as 8th.

Parents, teachers and judges agree the team had an impressive showing in what's typically a competition for middle-schoolers. DFE teacher coach Christie Calvin said their performance "completely embodied what Devon Forest is."

FIRST LEGO League Orbit competitions present participants challenges to which teams must create solutions. Teams are given scores based on how they respond to judges and in some cases, how robots are able to carry out tasks. It's more about creativity and cooperation and not the type of battle the entertainment industry would have you believe.

In the case of DFE, they were challenged to identify a problem an astronaut would encounter in space and create a solution. The team identified loneliness as a cause of depression and decided they would send a companion animal into space with an astronaut -- a ferret.

"They actually researched this pretty extensively," Calvin said. "...For every potential problem they encountered, they provided a solution."

Representatives from NASA served as judges for the competition, and there wasn't a question they asked that didn't receive a well-prepared response.

"They solved every problem that NASA presented. The original plan was just to go out and have fun, but they really just razzle-dazzled," Calvin said.

The way the members of the team presented, they appeared mature beyond their years. Calvin said the most impressive part was that they weren't instructed or coached to do it.

"This is what they are learning in our schools," she said. "I wanted to high five every teacher they've had for the last five years. ...The judges said they were just blown away by these kids, their questions and the way they responded."

On occasion, the NASA judges would tell the DFE team, "no" or "not the best choice." However, each time, the children figured some way to make it feasible. The whole time, they were also cheering for their competitors.

While there were other awards at the tournament, the Core Values Award is really what FIRST LEGO League is all about. Judges said DFE team members were the best representation of the values considered most significant at the competition -- discovery, innovation, impact, inclusion, teamwork and fun.

"It was kind of an amazing thing, watching them go," Calvin said.

In winning the Core Values Award at the regional tournament, DFE has qualified for the state championship scheduled to be held on December 8 at Cane Bay Elementary.

Brian Troutman