Newport News Public Schools TV and the Telecommunications Center

LEGO robotics camera operators

The Telecom production team covered the Newport News Regional Qualifying Tournament for the FIRST LEGO League Challenge, which was held Saturday, November 6, at Crittenden Middle School.

The Challenge is a robotics competition for elementary and middle school students in grades 3-8.

According to the VA+DC FIRST LEGO League website, "teams of students ages 9-14 engage in research, problem-solving, coding, and engineering – building and programming a LEGO robot that navigates the missions of a robot game."

The annual challenge involves real-world problems encountered by scientists and engineers. Teams from all over the world work to complete the challenge.

This year’s challenge is called "Cargo Connect" and requires teams to build a robot to deliver cargo to different spots around the playing field. The robot must complete a series of missions in a 2.5-minute "robot game" to score points.

NNPS schools participating in the event were: Booker T. Washington Middle (two teams), Passage Middle, Knollwood Elementary, General Stanford Elementary, Katherine Johnson Elementary, and Deer Park Elementary.

Knollwood Elementary moved on to the semifinals, and Katherine Johnson Elementary and Passage Middle earned the Core Values Award, while Deer Park Elementary won the Robot Design Award.

The FIRST LEGO League Challenge provides a great opportunity for students to participate in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) activities that are fun and exciting. Participants develop their skills in critical thinking and teamwork, while building self-confidence.

Watch the video

According to NNPS STEM Instructional Specialist Kevin Nelhuebel, the regional coordinator for VA+DC FIRST asked him about livestreaming the event. 

"I told her we had the resources and talent to do livestreaming through Telecom," he said. 

Nelhuebel introduced Telecom Supervisor Ray Price to the coordinator and they planned it out, Nelhuebel said, with support from STEM Instructional Supervisor Tami Byron.

Because there was a high school football game Friday night, the equipment had to be brought from Todd Stadium to Crittenden late that night for setup.

Using the portable switcher (an ATEM Mini Pro from Blackmagic Design) allows the Telecom team to do multi-camera productions with a very small crew.

In addition to Price, who served as Director, Telecom Intern Brandon Hedgepeth was the Stream Tech/Graphics Operator, and Telecom grads Collin Smalls and Muriel Gamble were Camera Operators.

The livestream was a huge hit because spectators were not allowed in the school gym during the competition due to COVID-19 social distancing protocols. Family members of the students participating in the Challenge were particularly appreciative of Telecom and the livestream.

"They were ecstatic to see it online," said Price.

The video had well over 800 views on the Monday following the event.

Nelhuebel observed something he hadn't foreseen: The coaches were watching the video stream to see the other teams' tactics. 

"I thought that was an awesome use of technological scouting, giving it a whole new dimension," he said.

The Telecom team was asked to do the livestream again next year, so there will be more opportunities for watching robotics — and team tactics — online.