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La Jolla team advances to First Lego League World Championships: Service project addresses lead in school drinking fountains

La Jolla’s tradition of producing engineers is continuing into the next generation with Team Water Works, comprised of middle-school-age students from La Jolla.

The thriving and ambitious team has been collecting awards in First Lego League engineering competitions for almost a year, and has qualified to compete in the World Championships in Houston next month, themed “Hydro Dynamics.”

Team Water Works is one of four teams from California and one of 108 teams from the entire world that scored well enough to advance.

Representatives Annie Peppers (13), Jordan Morrow (12) and Roland Breise (13) explained that there are four components to the upcoming competition: programming a robot, completing a service project, testing the team’s core values and exploring robot design.

Coach Devin Breise noted: “It’s not enough to do a robot project or a good project, you have to do all four well to be named a champion.” And they plan to.

For the robot competition itself, the team of eight starts with a box full of Lego parts and an 18-piece challenge (which was issued in August), and must conceptualize, design, build and test the robot to complete the tasks.

“We’re trying to program the robot to complete the challenge within two-and-a-half minutes and get the full amount of points,” Annie explained.

However, Roland added, “They design the board so that a perfect score is not attainable.”

But that’s not stopping team Water Works. Capitalizing on lessons learned from qualifying tournaments thus far, the team still thinks they can get a perfect score. For the water-themed service project, they’re going big, hoping to address lead in public school drinking fountains.

“We came up with a device that would be cheap and efficient that schools could purchase to filter lead from water,” Annie said. Water Works recently completed a controlled experiment to see how their filter works, but some off-math yielded inconclusive results. When the device is ready for some real-world testing, the team hopes to install it in two drinking fountains at La Jolla High School, pending District approval.

For the Core Values component, the teams are evaluated on how well they work together. Jordan explained: “This part looks at skills we’re supposed to take with us that will help us as we get older — such as good sportsmanship and professionalism.”

If the interview with La Jolla Light is any indicator, Water Works should do just fine, as they respectfully listen to each other to answer questions, and wait their turn to add on.

“They test this by putting us in a room with judges and giving us an assignment (on the spot) that we have to complete. They judge how well we work as a team, if we are kind to one another and don’t interrupt each other — and stuff like that,” Annie said. Roland and Jordan nod and smile in agreement.

Lastly, in the seemingly self-explanatory Robot Design category, Roland said judges will look at both the robot itself and the attachments the young engineers select. “They want to see what we do with them, how we built them and what components are used, like gearing and structural support ... and then there’s the programming. They want to see how we use our sensors, our environment and mechanical alignment.”

Team Takeaways

Regardless of what happens in Houston, team members and coaches can already appreciate the benefit of being on the team.

“It’s helped me a lot, especially the core values component, which helps me deal with my brother,” Annie joked. “The project has been great, too, because designing something that could help the world makes you want to find more problems in the world and try to help. It gets kids, especially girls, into engineering, which I think is cool.”

Jordan reflected: “We’ve learned how to talk to people and that’s getting me prepared for interactions I think I’ll have as I get older.”

Coach Breise said: “There are three elements that make the magic: You can’t get anything more perfectly aligned with where we want to go as far as STEM learning, problem solving, etc.; it involves teamwork, not just people writing code by themselves; and it is totally hands on, they learn by putting their hands on stuff and experimenting. This team inspires me on a daily basis.”

Readying for Houston

In addition to meeting twice a week to get everything prepared for the World Championships, Water Works is fundraising and seeking sponsorships. The team needs $10,000 to cover their trip, and set up a GoFundMe page to collect donations: They’ve raised nearly $1,700 thus far.

Learn more about the team at

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