CONCORD — The Loopholes, a First Lego League team from Mount Airy, competed in regional competition here on Nov. 19. The team won a trophy for Core Values – Inspiration, received high marks in robot design and project, and were one of nine teams out of the 33 who competed who will go on to state competition at NC A&T University in Greensboro on Jan. 21.
The Loopholes — so named because of their skill at finding loopholes in the rules to solve their mission — are coached by Glenda Edwards and Beth Shaw. They are an all-girl team, a relative rarity at robotics competitions. Out of the 33 teams competing in Concord, only three or four were all girls, said Edwards. “There are girls on some of the other teams, but by far, the biggest portion are boys, at least 75 percent.”
“It is unusual,” said Edwards. “Robots tend to be a boy thing. Programming tends to be a boy thing. Coding tends to be a boy thing.”
The loopholes came out of Girl Scout Troop 41255. The five girls on the team are members of the troop, but not all of the troop members are on the team.
“They were getting bored with badges,” said Edwards, and when she asked them what they wanted to do, “Lego League looks interesting” was one of the answers.
“It’s kind of a pricey thing to get started. You have to buy the robot kit, and there are registration fees.” Edwards approached the Girl Scout Council, and learned the council would offer a sponsorship, paying registration fees and loaning the girls a robot kit.
And so, The Loopholes were born. They advanced to state competition in their first year, and have done so for each of three consecutive years. This year, the team consists of Katie Hooker, Cameron Shaw of Elkin, Karlie Gwyn, Olivia Edwards and Madison Lawson.
Three of the team members have been there from the start, one joined up last year, and one came on board this year. Eligibility for Lego League competition starts with fourth grade, but The Loopholes didn’t get started until seventh grade. They are now high school freshmen and nearing the end of their Lego careers.
According to the North Carolina First Lego League website, the yearly competitions “entices children to think like scientists and engineers, provides a fun, creative, hands-on learning experience, teaches children to experiment and overcome obstacles, builds self-esteem and confidence and inspires children to participate in science and technology.”
As her team has matured, Edwards said her coaching style has changed. “You don’t teach fourth-graders the same as ninth-graders. As they get older, they like to figure things out themselves.”
“My job is stepping back and letting them fail, be frustrated, and then figure it out. We’ve learned as much by failing as when things go right,” said Edwards.
The girls were never, ever, even vaguely interested in programming, said Edwards. “My programmer would never have taken a class in coding. But she’s good at it. And same with the builders.” If not for the team, they wouldn’t know that.
“It’s a more encouraging environment because they are all girls. They test things, they say things, they try things they wouldn’t do if there were boys on the team.
“Boys have stronger personalities, are more outspoken, and girls tend to hold back, so as not to be constantly talked over.”
Edwards said her own daughter joined a different academic group at school, and they sat her in the corner sewing costumes. She said it didn’t last long, but it did happen.
“It’s not good or bad. It’s just the way it is.”
Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699.