February 5, 2014

Through stranded ‘cats’ and ‘tsunamis,’ local students excel in Lego competition

PG-13, a robot made mostly out of Lego blocks, gets its name for two reasons.

It’s an abbreviation for Pleasant Grove Elementary School 2013, the location and year of its creation. And, as fifth-grader Karle Wright explained, “he’s dangerous” and violent like a PG-13 movie.

“He accidentally killed the cat so many times,” she said.

Before any worried parents call the school they should know the aforementioned cat isn’t real. It was a stuffed animal PG-13 had to save from a model tree in a small scale rescue simulation played out on a Lego table.

And even though the simulation often ended with the cat crushed or thrown, the students “finally figured out how to save him,” student Kyle Felker, 11, said.

Pleasant Grove students in Amy Zock’s gifted class created Lego robots like PG-13 to compete in the Georgia First Lego League at the Georgia Institute of Technology last month, where they placed 11th in the state. The students were recognized with certificates given by members of the Whitfield County Schools Board of Education at their Monday night meeting.

To qualify for the state contest, the students had to win a regional competition at the Northwest Georgia College and Career Academy and three super-regional contests in Acworth. The competition brought in 2,500 elementary and middle students from across the state, according to the contest website (

“We did pretty good,” student Andy Menendez, also 11, said with a big grin. “We’re pretty proud of it. Actually, it’s embarrassing. Just a little bit. I don’t know why.”

The theme of the competition was countering the disastrous power of nature. Students had to brainstorm ways to use robotics in small scale disasters on Lego tables.

“There was a tsunami mission where you had to go and push all the water off into the lake with one of our robots,” student Connor Johnson, 11, said. “It’s exciting. It felt really good — especially it being our first year doing this — to get to move on as far as we did. We won against some middle school kids and we are fifth-graders.”

Another scenario had the students trying to rescue an abandoned Lego man they dubbed “Little Kyle” after Kyle’s likeness.

“We couldn’t really reach him with our robots, so we quit trying,” Kyle said, sad that his Lego twin was “lost” during a storm.

Zock said her students “really enjoyed” the competition and learned the ins and outs of programming a robot. Each Lego creation in the contest had to be autonomous, running on computer directions and not controlled remotely.

“It was pretty cool,” Kyle said of his overall experience.

Text Only