NORTH CANTON  Legos allow for children to build anything imaginable, but students at St. Paul School in North Canton are using them to solve real-world problems.

The school offers a Junior Lego League for grades K-3 and the First Lego League for grades 4-8. While building with Legos is normally associated as being a leisurely fun task, students spend countless hours perfecting designs and coming up with projects to help solve problems.

FIRST LEGO LEAGUE

The St. Paul Tech Tornadoes First Lego League Robotics Team competed in two tournaments in January and placed second among 21 teams in Akron and took top prize at the Champion’s Award at the district tournament.

Sam Fonner, Emma Curd, Will Bopp, Xavier Hinton, Parker White and Seth Snyder are members of the team and are heading to compete in the Ohio State Championship at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio Feb. 4-5. 

This isn’t the first time the group has gone to states. Last year, they competed against 48 of the top teams in Ohio, placing 19th. Overall, more than 500 teams competed across the state. That finish was quite the accomplishment, too, considering they were one of the youngest teams competiting.

Kevin Fonner, coach of the Tech Tornadoes, said the team represents some of the first kids that have gone through the entire program since its start six-years-ago. 

The First Lego League focuses on Lego robot design, core values and multiple projects each year.

Tim Short, who has been involved since the program began, also serves as one of the coaches.

"The adults only guide, they are not allowed to build," Short said. "Really, this is all them (the children)."

The older students work to create a Lego robotics board that has different missions a robot does. Each member builds a separate mission, which eventually all comes together on one giant board.

Students said they work on their own some, but a lot of it is teamwork. Perfecting the design takes time as the season for the league starts when school begins in August and students meet several times a week to work on their creations.

In all, about 40 students are involved among the two age groups.

The students said the reason they joined the league is because they enjoyed playing with Legos growing up and still enjoy building.

Short said the students do a lot of team building activities and sometimes it can be a challenge to get them to work together. All the activities are based around STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics).

"You don’t get to pick who you work with in life," Short said.

One of the biggest sponsors for the Lego leagues is Rockwell Automation, a Fortune 500 company that focuses on industrial automation.

Short said the reason he got involved was because of his son, Timmy, who always enjoyed playing with Legos. Short said he taught Timmy how to weld at age four and now he and his son are active in Scouts.

JUNIOR LEGO LEAGUE

Each year the children get a new topic to research and they learn about their topic through field trips and talking to professionals. Students build a Lego model and prepare a presentation that shows off what they learn.

The models come to life using a simple programing environment that uses motors and sensors in their model. Students also take part in an expo where they host other teams from around Northeastern Ohio. The teams that take part in the expo get to show off their work and participate in team building and engineering actives.

IMPORTANCE OF THE PROGRAM

St. Paul Principal Amie Hale said having the Lego leagues at the school is very important.

"It gives the students and opportunity to work outside of the classroom," Hale said.

Hale said there isn’t a textbook they have to follow as the students come up with all the ideas on their own.

"The kids are amazing with the ideas they come up with," Short said. "It is not about playing with Legos."

Short said there is a huge time commitment for students involved and sometimes it can be frustrating. He said he views the coaches more as mentors.

"It’s all about them figuring things out," Short said. "Sometimes you meet and don’t get anything done."