Area Youth Robots Headed to State

News Release

Area Youth Robots Headed To State:

Two Muscatine teams comprised of elementary and middle schoolers to compete at state championship in STEM-related activity.

They repeatedly chanted and cheered Saturday at the Putnam Museum in Davenport. “We are Tek-Konnekt. We are Tek-Konnekt. We are Tek-Konnekt. We are Tek-Konnekt.”IMG_20141213_103213_292

And by late afternoon, the team’s 10 members – Muscatine students in the fourth through seventh grades – had reason to cheer, winning the right to compete for the first time in the First Lego League state championships. To qualify, Tek-Konnekt had to place in the Top 6 among the 32 teams that competed Saturday at the Putnam. They were joined in the Top 6 by The Teacher’s Pets, another of the five Muscatine teams at Saturday’s competition.

Another 32 teams from around eastern Iowa competed Sunday at the Putnam.

At 9 a.m. on Saturday, Jan. 17, at Iowa State University in Ames, the winners from the two-day competition at the Putnam will compete against regional qualifiers from Elkader, Cedar Falls, Ottumwa, Dubuque, Estherville, Osceola, Maxwell, Cedar Rapids, Marion, Des Moines, Marshalltown, Sioux City and Council Bluffs.

IMG_20141213_092624_051“It’s very gratifying to see their hard work pay off,” said Chris Hoffman, who organized Tek-Konnekt and has coached the team at twice weekly practices at Grant Elementary School since late August. He was joined as a team coach by Kendall Emmert and Dave and Ann Mattes.

According to organizers of the national organization, First Lego League is a way for students ages 9-14 to learn about science and technology. In FLL, children:

  • Program an autonomous robot to score points on a thematic playing surface.
  • Research and create solutions to a problem as part of a group project. Since August, the members of Tek-Konnekt have worked to create a prototype manual to help senior citizens who have trouble operating iPhones.
  • Demonstrate their commitment to FLL’s Core Values by working together on a timed teambuilding exercise with no adults in the room to help. Saturday, the members of Tek-Konnekt were given 30 seconds to determine their strategy, 30 seconds to ask questions and then two minutes to complete a task that tested their memory.

By embracing the Core Values, according to the national organization, participants learn that friendly competition and mutual gain are not separate goals, and that helping one another is the foundation of teamwork.

Hoffman, who works as a training manager for HNI, said he had no previous personal experience with FLL, but turned to friends who had led teams when he decided to get involved this year. He made up his mind after watching Silas, the youngest of his four sons, get involved with, a website where anyone can learn computer coding.

“He started coding his own videogames,” Hoffman said of Silas, who is a fourth-grader at Grant. “He enjoyed that so I thought he would enjoy coding a robot … That was one of my biggest motivations because he’s pretty technical.”

But no one knew what to expect because of the team’s youth and inexperience. Silas Hoffman was one of five fourth-graders on the team, which also includes four sixth-graders and one seventh-grader. Some of the students on this team attend public school while others are home-schooled. Only two of the 10 students had previous FLL experience.

“I didn’t know if they could place in the Top 6,” Chris Hoffman said. “But their work was strong. I felt they would represent themselves well.”

Muscatine teams that competed Saturday at a First Lego League regional competition in Davenport and their coaches were:

  • Tek-Konnekt – Chris Hoffman, Kendall Emmert and Dave and Ann Mattes
  • The Teacher’s Pets – Natalie Oppel and Jana Fowler
  • The Block Heads – Alan Kilburn, Brian Decker and Andy Trosen
  • Lego Eagles – Nathan Simmering
  • Mind Builders – Ann Goodman

Tek-Konnekt has received financial donations from Rockwell Collins, Stanley Consultants, Musco, First National Bank, Community Bank and Monsanto. It has received donations of time and/or materials from HNI, Hoffmann Inc., Design House Plus, Grant Elementary School, Musser Public Library and Sunnybrook of Muscatine.

To help with expenses as both Tek-Konnekt and The Teacher’s Pets prepare to compete at the state contest, please send checks to the Grant School PTO, Grant Elementary School, 705 Barry Ave., Muscatine IA 52761. Indicate in the memo line of the check that it is for the benefit of the two FLL teams.

Chris Hoffman can be reached by email at

For more information on First Lego League, see

Grow Muscatine is a not-for-profit organization focused on enabling Muscatine’s prosperous growth and publicizing the good things happening in our community. Find us at and on Facebook: Grow Muscatine.


Becky Rodocker
Executive Director, Curriculum & Instruction
Muscatine Community School District


Janet Morrow
Director of Membership & Marketing
Greater Muscatine Chamber of Commerce & Industry


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