Building the Future, One Lego at a Time

“3-2-1 LEGO!” Three weeks later, the sound of parents, teachers and students kicking off another competetive round at the Adventist Robotics League Championships still echoes through the Sacramento Adventist Academy gym. “It is a growing movement within our Adventist schools across the North American Division,” says Mel Wade, Technology Director at SAA and the Executive Director of the Adventist Robotics League. “We have events and teams representing every region and Union across the country.”

Founded in 2003 by Mr. Wade, ARL is a recognized partner of US FIRST Lego League (FLL), a worldwide association of clubs that promotes science and technology education by helping students build and utilize robots made of special legos. With over 18,000 clubs across the world, FLL is the largest organization teaching robotics to students in grades K-12. “It was just a cool thing to do,” says Wade of the inception of ARL. “Larry Blackmer, who is now VP for Education at the North American Division, handed me a box with a robot kit in it and asked me what I could do with it.” Wade’s response to Blackmer’s question was simply one of curiosity, possibilities and motivation to provide opportunities for students. The North American Division sponsors the ARL, opening the doors for schools across North America to get the full FLL experience without having to compete on the Sabbath. All ARL events are held on Sundays.

After weeks of strategizing, building, testing, and refining their robots and then surviving regional competitions across the country, eight teams convened at SAA on May 5 to for a chance to be named this year’s champions. The teams are made up of as many as 10 students and at least one coach. Many teams include a number of “adult mentors” to ensure students have positive role models. At the heart of FLL and ARL is an emphasis on Core Values, team creativity, teamwork and positive attitude. “It is not about the robot. It is about the teamwork, and the knowledge they gain – the life skills,” says Mr. Wade. “The robot is just a vehicle to learn from.”

Each team is given a theme-based challenge which they must complete in two sections: designing a project and robot games. Because ARL runs as a partner of FLL, the themes, challenges, and rules are the same as FLL competitions and the emphasis is placed on helping students engage in research, problem-solving and engineering. Over the course of 10 weeks, teams must:

  • Build an autonomous robot that can complete pre-designed missions in 2 minutes and 30 seconds
  • Analyze, research, and invent a solution for a given challenge
  • Create a clever presentation about their solution to perform in front of a panel of judges
  • And work together as a team, showing gracious professionalism and ‘cooperitition’

The excitement built as the gym filled with participants, many visitors from the community, judges, referees and yes…robots.  Throughout the day, teams moved steadily through the various checks, having their team assessed by a group of community members who were assigned to evaluate teams in the areas of Core Values, Robot Design, and Project Presentation. Yet, the highlight for all teams is the robot games portion of the day. During the robot games, each team’s robot has 2 minutes and 30 seconds to complete as many tasks as possible on a table-top playing field. For this year’s challenge of “Senior Solutions” teams could choose to have their robots fix a broken chair, garden, walk the family dog and even go bowling! This year the “Gigabytes” from Stanwood, WA, emerged as champions. All teams were recognized for accomplishments in various categories during the closing ceremonies, reinforcing the ARL’s commitment to celebrating all students’ growth.

Registration for the next challenge has now opened and spots are filling up. “I am excited about the possibility of having one or more teams representing SAA as participants in next year’s challenge,” says Nancy Thornton, 5th grade teacher and a Project Judge this year. “It is so great to have students of different ages working together and helping each other.”

Currently the ARL organizes events for students in grades 4-8, but next year will see an expansion to include a new group for students in grades 9-12.

If you are interested in participating in the SAA Robotics Club next school year, please contact Mel Wade at

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