LEGOS AND ROBOTS AND KIDS, OH MY … Aspen Middle School plays hosts to robotics tournaments today |

LEGOS AND ROBOTS AND KIDS, OH MY … Aspen Middle School plays hosts to robotics tournaments today

Jeanne McGovern
The Aspen Times
Teacher Caroline Hanson helps students build, program, and perfect their robots and projects during an after-school practive session.
Jeremy Wallace/The Aspen Times |

If you walk into the Aspen Middle School gymnasium today, you’ll find some spirited competition. But don’t expect to see basketballs flying or volleyballs being spiked. Today’s games involve Legos, motors, computers and some 20 robotics teams vying for a spot in the FIRST Lego League Colorado Championship.

In short, it’s a robotics revolution.

“We want to change the culture by celebrating the mind,” says inventor and entrepreneur Dean Kamen, who founded FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology,, which has launched a host of motivational and educational programs for children. “We need to show kids that it’s more fun to design and create a video game than it is to play one.”

Toward that end, FIRST Lego League challenges children to think like scientists and engineers; this year, that includes the Trash Trek Challenge. The team names — Trash of Clans, Rubbish Robots, First Class Trash, to name a few — reflect the challenge before them in today’s Mountain League qualifier.

As part of the Trash Trek Challenge, teams were required to do the following things in their quest to learn more about the world of trash: Build an autonomous robot, program the robot, research a real-world challenge, present an innovative solution to the challenge and compete in a sportslike tournament.

Today, that tournament includes 10 teams from Aspen Middle School; there also are teams from Aspen Country Day School, Basalt, and Glenwood Springs, as well as from mountain towns like Steamboat Springs and cities like Grand Junction competing.

And like all sporting events, it’s about more than just winning.

“It involves public speaking and research; it also involves teamwork and core values and respect and cooperating in the process of competing,” said Caroline Hanson, the Aspen Middle School enrichment teacher who leads the robotics program. “It also has the technology piece, … the coding piece, the robotics piece, the building piece, which is really the main hook for the students.”

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