ASHLAND, Neb. — A handful of kids wearing black T-shirts with the pi symbol chanted "Go Geeks!" as their team raced to complete robot challenges.

The Omaha home-schooled team named GEEK — which stands for Gathering of Educationally Extraordinary Kids — joined about 1,000 other self-proclaimed geeks and nerds from Nebraska and Iowa who competed at the Nebraska Robotics Expo at the Strategic Air Command & Aerospace Museum on Saturday.

Bearing names such as Tech-Nerds of Lincoln, We Bot Da Fun of Sidney and League of Legos of Omaha, the teams have worked for months to build and program robots, and Saturday's competition was the culmination of their season.

The expo featured three parts: a head-to-head competition with Lego-based robots, obstacle courses based on classic games using remote-controlled robots, and a robotic-inspired art gallery.

Karly Black, a Nebraska Extension educator from Pawnee County, said robotics helps kids use critical thinking skills and improve their public speaking, because they have to present research projects to judges as part of the competition.

"I always joke, I can teach a 6-year-old to program a robot faster than I can an adult," she said. "They love experimenting and playing."

The Reusable Robot team from St. Albert in Council Bluffs matched the adrenaline and enthusiasm of a college basketball game.

After the countdown of "3, 2, 1, Lego!" the mostly fourth and fifth-graders screamed and threw their hands in the air, jumping around to take a peek at their teammates' progress.

In the FIRST Lego League challenge, teams have 2 minutes and 30 seconds to score various points by completing missions with their robots, such as pushing a toy truck down a track or picking up and moving an object.

"It's fun to program," said Jackson Wigington, 11.

Added Kennedy Sanchez, 10: "Once you get the hang of it, it's not too hard."

Connor Theisen, of the T2T Green Arrow team from St. Teresa's in Lincoln, already proclaims that he wants to be a computer programmer.

"(Robotics) brings out the best in you and teaches you things you need to know with life," he said.

In another hangar, teammates Ansley Gydesen, 10, and Kyla Paladino, 11, maneuvered their CEENBoTs through a maze based on the classic "Operation" game.

Gydesen was attempting to score points by pushing a tiny shoe on wheels across a ramp to join it with the other shoe. Her robot got stuck on a carpet crease, but Paladino used her robot to bump Gydesen's, freeing it. It was the first year doing robotics for the pair from Whitetail Creek Elementary in Gretna.

Contact the writer: 402-444-1068, alia.conley@owh.com

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