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First EMS team powers up for Lego League competition

Students in an after-school activity at Ellsworth Middle School were to show their skills in Lego-building at a regional competition this past weekend.

The nine fifth-through-seventh graders comprise the school's first-ever Lego League team, according to EMS Teacher Tim Shock. Shock said Thursday he oversees the team's weekly gatherings and provides some guidance, but it's up to team members to generate ideas for their projects and figure out how to create them.

"The kids are the ones who make it happen," he said, noting they frequently also work on their efforts on their own time.

The theme for this year's competition is "power," so the local team came up with a display including wind turbines, a freight train loaded with coal, a power plant and other items, all made of Legos. The teacher said they began with Lego kits, filled with unassembled pieces of the colorful plastic toy that can be snapped together.

Problem-solving is an integral part of the process, he said. The team also compiled a power point presentation for the competition, addressing both the negative and positive aspects of energy issues.

Teams were allowed to start on their projects in early September, but it was later that month before Shock was able to form the first team here, he said. The most difficult part was meeting the requirement the team number no more than 10 members, as 23 EMS students had shown interest. He recruited other teachers for input about reducing the roster in a fair and equitable way.

Shock said he'd heard about Lego League while attending a Cooperative Educational Services Agency (CESA)-11 workshop as well as another session at UW-Stout in Menomonie, where the regional competition was held. Twenty-two teams from this area were to compete there, with the winning team advancing to state. The top three teams from the state level are to go on to international competition, featuring students from Japan, Canada, Mexico, Finland and Norway, along with other countries, plus the U.S.

The Ellsworth Community School District Foundation provided the team here with a grant after Shock wrote an application proposal, he said. The funds are being used to buy the Legos, and for additional needs. It takes between $500 and $600 to get a team initially started; there's a $200 registration fee, he added.

The teacher didn't want to be overly optimistic about the team's chances for success at the regional event, it being their first time to participate. But he said he hoped to learn from this experience.

"We'll have a better idea of what to expect next year," he said, reminding the seventh graders on this year's team will still be able to participate as eighth graders.