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Robotics and Problem-Solving for the Future

                This December, Natrona County School District #1 hosted the FIRST Lego League Challenge Wyoming Championship once more. Wyoming School-University Partnership met with Cyndee Guthmiller, who serves as the program facilitator for the robotics program at NCSD #1 as well as the FIRST partner for Wyoming, to learn about this long-standing Wyoming opportunity.

                The FIRST program (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) is an international program that started in Manchester, New Hampshire. The robotics program operates with technology challenges in mind so that students are building their understanding of science and technology while developing critical and creative thinking skills. The FIRST program highlights a group of core values which include discovery, innovation, impact, inclusion, and teamwork. Each year the program has a theme among all its partners which the students will address to a group of judges as part of their science and technology challenge. The program is split up based on grade level and includes differing expectations of what needs done based on which group the team is part of. This robotics program has been in Casper, Wyoming for about fifteen years and has continued to grow in terms of the number of teams appearing from all across the state.

                On December 4th, 2021, two of the program groupings held their state challenges. The first group was the Kindergarten through third-grade students who participate in the FIRST Lego League Junior Expo. The second group was the fourth through eighth-grade-students who participate in the FIRST Lego League Wyoming State Championship. The theme for this year was cargo connects where students explored how materials are transported, sorted, and delivered. For their robotics challenges, they needed to build a LEGO robot that could carry materials around an obstacle course. Then, the team would discuss with judges how they believe technology and science can be used to assist in the problems related to cargo transportation. This year was a bit different from previous years as the robotics challenge was held in person at the Ford Center in Casper, but teams met with judges over Zoom to discuss their cargo connection solutions. In total, 36 teams from across the state were present to showcase their appreciation for this program and compete with their knowledge and skills.

                Cyndee Guthmiller did mention what makes this program different than some other robotics/technology programs that she has seen. One of the main pieces that she sees from year to year is gracious professionalism wherein teams are willing to support one another if problems arise with their LEGO robotic creation. They are more than happy to give advice before the challenge to ensure other teams are able to compete at their best and to operate with great integrity in the work that they are doing. In addition, the students are asked to discuss solutions to large-scale problems; this requires a great deal of time, research, and critical thinking. Lastly, she mentions that students are expected to build new creations from year to year so that they are advancing their skills and are able to build upon new information learned. She has appreciated that Introduction to Computer Science is now a requirement so that every student has some informational background to build upon before beginning in the FIRST Lego League Wyoming State Championship.

                The FIRST Tech Challenge Wyoming State Championship, which is available for seventh to twelfth graders, will be held on February 19th and 20th, 2022. They are continually looking for volunteers to assist with the judging or event details and would encourage anyone to get involved as no computer science background is required to be a volunteer. For more information on this program or if you are interested in volunteering, please contact Cyndee Guthmiller at cyndee235@myncsd.org.
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