After winning the First Lego League state tournament for the second year in a row earlier this month, Trinity Lutheran’s World Changers are starting to think their work is actually living up to their team name.

Each team in the 72-team tournament at Iowa State University had to create and present an idea that would help people during a natural disaster.

Rachel Eckert, one of the World Changers’ four students from the Davenport school, said her team developed an idea for a smartphone application that would automatically translate wireless emergency alerts for non-English speakers.

“Winning is fun, but it’s not all about winning,” said Rachel, 13. “It’s really about inventing something and knowing that you’re the one doing it to help people. It’s an opportunity to change the world.”

The World Changers were not the only FLL team from the area to compete well in Ames. Riverdale Heights Elementary's Riverdale Rocks Robots finished in second place and Pleasant Valley Junior High's MARRVStormers took home the bronze.

Bettendorf Middle School’s Robodogs Black received the Judges Award, and Rivermont Collegiate’s Robots on Floor Laughing received the Gracious Professionalism Honorable Mention Award.

Other Quad-City state qualifiers included Bettendorf Middle School’s Robodogs Gold, Pleasant Valley Junior High’s Rogue Nerds and the Lego Eagles from Mulberry Elementary in Muscatine.

About 4,000 people attended the competition, which lasted about nine hours from beginning to end. An additional 528 watched from home via webcast.

Dave Kessler, coach of the MARRVStormers, said the tournament’s atmosphere inside the college’s engineering halls provided an invaluable experience for students at the elementary and middle school level.

“It helps kids understand what college feels like and what it means to be a college student,” said Kessler, whose son Mark, 14, competed for the MARRVStormers and hopes to study neuroscience down the road.

Area FLL teams on the other side of the river also competed last weekend at the Illinois Central State Championship. In their second year as a team, The Goonies from Frances Willard Elementary in Rock Island received the Teamwork award, the JETsons from Jordan Catholic in Rock Island received the Strategy & Innovation Award, John Deere Middle School’s Darthbotics won the Judges Award for the Moline school, and the Orion Avengers from Orion Middle School took home the Ambassador Award.

Michael Carton, who coached The Goonies and teaches first grade at Frances Willard Elementary, said he was most impressed with the life skills his team of fifth- and sixth-grade students gained through their FLL experience.

"It not only opens students eyes to the possibility of engineering as a career, but it also teaches ways to work with others and overcome a lot of adversity," he said.

Carton hopes Frances Willard will adopt a robotics program into its curriculum to boost the school's STEM education like many other schools in the area have recently done.

Pat Barnes, executive director of the Quad-City Science and Engineering Council, said the interest in robotics and the FLL in the area over the past five years has grown dramatically.

“We’re seeing more and more students of all types and all schools taking the opportunity to expand their programs,” Barnes said. “It’s a win-win experience for kids because they get to work with practicing engineers and IT professionals, but in the end, the students do all the work.”

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Jack Cullen covers health and the outdoors for the Quad-City Times.

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