Eight-year-old Natalie Hurley joined Junior FIRST LEGO League (Jr.FLL) to “build with LEGO” and “meet cool people.” What she got was so much more.
Last May, as a second-grader, she and her fellow “LEGO Queens” of Junior FIRST LEGO League Team 248 embarked on an amazing adventure. Natalie and her teammates—Avery Dodson, Miriam Schaffer, Amber Yu, Claire Winton, and Lucy Clair Sharp—from Tulsa, Okla. were invited to the White House to present President Obama with their DISASTER BLASTERSM LEGO model and Show Me poster.
Engineering and LEGO Queens Coach Suzanne Dodson never expected her season to end with such an honor.
“I wanted (the girls) to get comfortable with motors, gears, and the ideas behind computer programming. I also wanted them to realize that you’re never too young for creative problem solving, and that if you’re willing to work hard, you can achieve just about anything,” she said.
The once-in-a-lifetime meeting with President Obama signaled that mission completed.
The 2013 Jr.FLL DISASTER BLASTERSM challenge tasked teams to explore the awe-inspiring storms, quakes, waves, and more that we call natural disasters. The hope was that participation would empower Jr.FLL team members to make a difference and to feel prepared if they learn about or face a natural disaster in the future.
In the case of the LEGO Queens, it did.
In September 2013, Colorado experienced the worst flooding in nearly 50 years after a storm dropped 17 inches of rain in one week. The floods killed eight people, destroyed about 2,000 homes and 200 businesses, damaged more than 16,000 homes, and crippled 200 miles of state highways and 50 bridges. About 6,000 people were evacuated from mountain towns cut off by floodwaters.
The LEGO Queens were particularly impacted by the idea that first responders couldn’t reach small towns because the bridges had been washed away. Inspired, the team set out to invent a flood-proof bridge that would retract when it detected rising waters.
“We came up with an awesome idea to help people,” Natalie said. “And engineering is mostly about helping people.”
The model the team designed mechanizes the bridge with motors and gears in the correct ratios. A computer program developed by the girls would cause the bridge to retract when flood conditions set in through a motion sensor in the riverbed.
The President spent nearly 10 minutes with the LEGO Queens, chatting about their project. By all accounts, the girls answered all of his questions while exhibiting excellent presentation skills and Gracious Professionalism.
“The LEGO Queens—an all-girl team that rocked tiaras while writing simple computer code—demonstrate that you don’t have to give up on being girly to enjoy science, technology, engineering, and math,” Coach Dodson said.