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LEGO Builders Converge on Cedar Rapids

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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - As the Thunderbots watched their Lego creation go to work in the gymnasium of Prairie Point Middle School on Saturday, team member Calvin Smith waited to jump in.

"The robot uses its frame to go over the obstacles," Smith explained, holding the robot up for us to see.

Calvin made his own unique attachment that fits to that robot, programmed to carry out specific tasks.

"It moves up and down and it grabs stuff," Smith said, showing us the arm.

Even when it didn't work exactly as planned, Smith and his teammates were getting hands-on experience in teamwork.

This was the Nature's Fury FIRST Lego League Challenge, with Mother Nature the master of ceremonies. Goals on the tables revolved around problem solving in natural disasters.

"There's all sorts of different ones about tsunami waves, giving them supplies and equipment, water, it's a big theme," said Katie Allen, one of the referees.

"There's approximately 20 missions," explained Guy Smith, Thunderbots coach and Calvin's father. "Each one scores between 15 and maybe 30 points."

Teams get points for every mission they complete.

"The supply truck is not in the yellow region," said Allen, critiquing one team's performance. "You guys did not get the evacuation sign because it has to stay up."

With an atmosphere more closely resembling a sports event than a science quiz, the participants probably don't realize that they're learning how computers and engineering work in the real world.

"The kids get their own hands on the computer and do all the programming themselves," Smith told us.

In here, they're limited only by some simple rules, and their imaginations.

"If we aren't sure, we give it to them," said Allen. "It's a game. They're having fun."

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