LIVINGSTON, NJ - On May 20th, more than 40 teams gathered at the JR. FLL expo from more than 20 different towns in New Jersey, including MAJEC- a team consisting of five boys in Berkeley Heights, who, through all of their persistence and hard work, ended up winning awards and medals at the expo.

JR. FLL is an acronym standing for “Junior First Lego League” (alternatively “First Lego League Jr.) and is a program that introduces young kids to robotics, teamwork, and gentle competition. For older children, there are more advanced programs such as First Lego League and First Tech Challenge, all of which are rapidly spreading through New Jersey and being encouraged in schools. Every year, there is a different theme, the JR. FLL theme for the 2016-2017 year being pollinators. MAJEC, a Berkeley Heights Jr. FLL team, is hoping to rise through the ranks of these programs and become the best programmers they can, starting with their presentation on bees and bats.

This team, consisting of James, Max, Calvin, and siblings Ethan and Ryan, worked for a total of five months constructing a model involving bees and bats with a moving motor, making a poster, and working on a presentation, an impressive amount of dedication for first through third graders. They said that they enjoyed the program and hoped to do it again, their favorite part being using the Legos and motors to build a rotating model and moving crane into their bee and bat ecosystem. They mentioned that the most important thing they gained from this experience was the knowledge that working as a team benefited them all, and the parents agreed. When asked, the parents listed a variety of benefits, including building confidence, inspiring creativity, project management, teamwork, and presentation and communication skills. They said the easiest part of the program was the fact that they were all genuinely interested in this program and they became fast friends. Still, it was difficult to get them to focus at times. Although, they added it was a wonderful program and they were gladly going to encourage their kids to do it in the following season.

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The day started out when the team members arrived, set up their poster and model, and ran through the presentation a few times, as if it was the dress rehearsal of a play. Since  they had extra time before the judging began, they immediately wanted to do all of the fun activities set up around the expo, including bounce houses, a petting zoo, pony rides, and even free snow cones. Max, one of the team members, said, “One of my favorite parts about this day is all of the fun activities they have set up!” The children jumped in the bounce houses, picked up chicks, played games, and picked out snow cones before it was announced that the judging was soon to start. Speeches thanking the sponsors were given, and the children went back to their station.

They did “check-ups” on their model and ran through their programs a few times to make sure that everything was running smoothly before the judges arrived. It was a long wait, but as soon as the judges arrived, the well-prepared team swiftly answered his questions regarding their research on bats, the only night pollinator in the world, how their crane functioned, and about the team itself. He asked about the bat houses they had made and their research on how they could model an ecosystem. The judge wondered what the motors did and how they benefited the environment, and MAJEC worked as a group to answer his questions correctly and efficiently.

Afterward came a lunch break and more games until the much-awaited awards ceremony took place. Every team, coach, and mentor gathered around the event, hoping that their team would get the award they desired. MAJEC sat and waited for ten minutes, watching other teams get the creativity award, an award for original models, and more, clapping in praise after every single one. Suddenly, their team name was called. The five boys froze, and so did their coach, and they hoped their award would be one they were waiting for, one that they had worked so hard to get- and then received what they had deserved, as they were announced the winners of the “Super Researchers Award”. The boys crowded around the JR. FLL sign and smiled wide, wearing their hard earned medals and posing as Calvin held the certificate high with pride. They had done it.

They had won the “Super Researchers Award”. “What’s so cool about this award,” the team mentioned, “was how the research was what we spent the most time on.”  They wore their medals with pride the whole day and were glad that their goal was reached.