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All-girls LEGO robotics team ready for international stage

Members of Roxie's Rockers will compete at the FIRST LEGO League Razorback Invitational

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FARMINGTON — The members of a Farmington all-female LEGO robotics team are eager to test their talents on an international stage as they prepare to attend a LEGO robotics invitational later this month.

Members of Roxie's Rockers have been perfecting their LEGO robotics skills since forming their team in the fall of 2014 and spending hundreds of hours practicing in the home of Erica and Derek Rawson.

The nine-member team featuring girls ranging in age from 11 to 15 finished in third place at the FIRST LEGO League New Mexico Region Championship on Feb. 11 in Albuquerque.

The girls' performance at the state tournament qualified them to attend an international invitational competition hosted by the FIRST LEGO League.

The team chose to attend the FIRST LEGO League Razorback Invitational from May 18-21 at the University of Arkansas campus in Fayetteville, Ark. A total of 72 teams from the United States, Canada, Guam and Puerto Rico will compete at the invitational.

During a LEGO robotics demonstration in the Rawsons' garage last week, the members of the Rockers said they were experiencing a wide range of emotions as they prepared to attend the Razorback Invitational.

"We've grown as a team together," 14-year-old Hannah Chavers said. "Although we get new people in our group each year, the people that do keep coming back makes this community a family."

Some felt nervous and excited while others stated it was a pretty amazing feeling.

"It's just an awesome feeling that we got it," 12-year-old Olivia Rawson said. "All the hard work in the three years has paid off."

The team was born when Olivia and sister Emily Rawson decided to participate in a qualifier tournament in Durango, Colo., in December 2014.

A grant from the Powerhouse Science Center, which presented the tournament, helped get the team together. The organization loaned the Rockers a LEGO Mindstorms robotics kit and paid for the team's registration fee.

Since then, the Rockers have continued to practice and refine their LEGO robotics skills, along with developing teamwork skills.

During the tournaments, teams compete in four categories — robot design, robot performance, project and core values.

Judges evaluate the design, programming and quality of the LEGO robot teams used in the competition in robot design.

During the robot game competition, team members use a LEGO Mindstorms robot to compete in three two-and-a-half-minute matches to score the most points by completing an obstacle course.

Teams are interviewed by judges in the core values category, with team members asked about working together to prepare for the robot game and their submission for the project competition.

Roxie's Rockers took home a presentation award for their project. The Rockers developed an educational board game and wrote a play about endangered animals and insects that help pollinate plants.

The project category was the favorite part of the competition for 14-year-old Mari Caldwell, who enjoyed conducting the research for the board game.

Olivia Rawson said she enjoyed programming and testing the robot for the competition.

"I just love being to figure out the puzzle of it," Olivia Rawson said. "It's really hard, with all the degrees and turns, I love it. I love figuring that out."

Meghan Shea, the mother of Mari and Ali Caldwell, said her daughters have learned a lot by joining the team this year.

"They have learned so much from these girls about programming and engineering," Shea said. "It's been absolutely fantastic."

She has witnessed them build their teamwork skills by learning how to respond to each other and each person's unique characteristics.

"They know how to treat each team member, which I think is such a stellar sign of maturity," Shea said.

Joshua Kellogg covers crime, courts and social issues for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4627.

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