Emily Vance photo - Chris Morrissey is a lego robotics coach and the head of Parksville’s JunioTech program. This year his team will build a problem-solving robot to compete in B.C.’s First Lego League competition in Victoria in February.

Parksville youngsters design problem-solving robot

Lego robotics team gearing up for gold in Victoria competition

If you thought building with Lego was all fun and games, think again.

Deep inside the rooms of the McMillan Arts Centre is the MakerSpace Lab. It’s home to a variety of Parksville Qualicum Beach artisans working in all kinds of mediums.

One of those mediums happens to be Lego. Chris Morrissey is Parksville’s Lego Robotics Coach.

“If somebody told me this was an available job position and I could start angling my career that way I would have switched a lot sooner,” said Morrissey with a laugh.

READ MORE: Parksville’s First Lego League team tabbed as ‘rising stars’

“It’s a strange title to have because they don’t train you for that in university. You kind of have to take the mantle up yourself.”

He works for an organization called JunioTech, which teaches children a range of skills from computer programming and robotics and script-writing and move-making.

For the second year running, Morrissey will be leading a group of nine-to-14-year-olds in an international competition called First Lego League.

The team is designing a robot out of Lego to navigate a pre-determined playing field full of obstacles.

The robot has to solve as many of the problems as possible.

The work involves four months of prep. He’ll work with the team to design the robot. Last year they spent 60 hours a week finalizing their design. All that hard work paid off as they came in third place out of more than 40 teams across B.C.

If they win the provincial competition, they’ll head to Houston, Texas, for a chance to compete internationally.

The Parksville branch of JunioTech all started when Daria Popovych and her family moved to Parksville.

READ MORE: Mid Island’s Lego community creating, co-operating

They had competed in the JunioTech program in Calgary. When their son was participating in a science workshop at MakerSpace, Morrissey overheard Popovych talking about how she wished Parksville had a Lego robotics program.

Morrissey jumped at the opportunity and the two started working together to make it happen.

“It combines first of all a lot of interests that I have had throughout my life, as well as I feel like I really would have loved it, having the opportunity for something like this being in my community,” said Morrissey.

“I do like working with kids, and I like the aspect of learning on-the-go critical thinking, just being challenged through puzzles. It’s one of the reasons I went to become an engineer.”

In addition to building the robot, the team also has to deliver a presentation relevant to the theme this year, which is ‘City Shaper.’ Their presentation will focus on designing ergonomic and inclusive buildings, with a focus on accessibility and environmental impact.

READ MORE: Lego League robotics program available for kids in PQB

“We have to come up with a problem that we can tackle, and provide our own take on a solution for it,” said Morrissey.

They’ll also participate in team-building exercises, and be evaluated on how well they work with the First Lego League core values: discovery, teamwork, fun, inclusion, inspiration and innovation.

“This seems to have offered the best of all worlds, in that I get to work with kids, and I get to almost mentor kids and help them develop those same qualities that I enjoyed as a youngster,” said Morrissey.

“There will be a few leaders that develop through this program. It’s not just about being an engineer and being able to build something fancy. The idea is, if you’re going to be doing any advanced projects, especially if you’re applying to work with NASA or Tesla … being able to work in a team is a huge component of our challenge.”

For more information, visit www.juniotech.com.

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