Robotics teams from two Santa Maria-area schools will compete in Los Angeles this weekend as part of the First Lego League Robotics Championship Tournament.

Vying for a spot at the national tournament, students on the Blochman Union Robocatz and Fesler Junior High Robotic Falcons teams will challenge more than 90 teams for a chance to compete in Houston.

According to Robocatz coach Christina Gordillo and Robotic Falcons co-coaches Michelle Bayly and Mark Wall, First Lego League gives students the opportunity to hone their critical thinking, collaboration and creativity skills while exploring the topics of robotics, coding and programming in an approachable fashion. Students were introduced to this year's First Lego League theme — hydrodynamics — earlier this year and have been working since late August to plan, prototype and program their creations.

For this weekend's tournament, teams will present a panel of judges with a solution to a real-world issue happening in their community. Teams consulted with various stakeholders and professionals to develop the solution, and have worked to prototype a potential project design to address the issue.

In addition to the presentation of their goal, teams will be judged on their "core values" — metrics designed to promote inclusion, discovery, integration and "coopertition" (a mix of cooperation and competition) — and design of their robot. All participating teams were given a standard-issue kit, Bayly said, and students were only allowed to utilize those components when creating their robot.

"To ask a bunch of 9-to-14-year-olds to identify a problem, develop a project and program a robot — all outside of school hours — is incredible," Bayly said. "You have to be highly motivated to do something like this. It's cool, but it puts a lot on them."

At a practice at Fesler on Wednesday evening, the Robocatz and Robotic Falcons delivered their goal and core values to the other team in a mock presentation. After exchanging tips and comments, the teams took to the tables — roughly 7 feet by 4 feet — for a couple of practice runs. 

"You get to decide which missions you want to execute," Gordillo explained. (For) the last part of the competition, students have designed and programmed the robots with the goal of completing as many predefined tasks as possible within 2½ minutes."

Mathew Burciaga covers education in Santa Maria and the surrounding area for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow him on Twitter @math_burciaga