One teacher at Mayflower High School has stepped outside her comfort zone to lead students in a new robotics program.

The school district’s gifted and talented teacher Linda Riley said she first became interested in robotics as a tool for teaching years ago after attending a conference where the LEGO Group held a demonstration using its EV-3 robot to solve a Rubik’s Cube.

"I was amazed and thought that was perfect for my students," Riley said.

At the time she was teaching in another district, but she said the program was a hit among the kids involved there.

When she came to Mayflower this year, Riley said she first implemented a robotics program with a product named Dash and Dot for younger students, but was later contacted by Meredith Novack, the regional director for FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), an organization that was designed to teach, inspire and interest young people to participate in science and technology.

According to FIRST’s website, Dean Kamen, the founder of the program, said that it is more than just robots.

"The robots are a vehicle for students to learn important life skills," Kamen said. "Kids often come in not knowing what to expect — of the program more of themselves. They leave, even after the first season, with a vision, with confidence and with a sense that they can create their own future."

Riley said Kamen perfectly described what FIRST is.

"FIRST robots are larger in scale and much more advanced than the Lego products," she said. "I hesitated at first to jump in that deep but finally took the leap out of my own comfort zone. I’m glad I did."

Riley said her high school students who are on the team have not only learned about technology, but have thrived in the process.

"[They] have learned more about technology, hard work, persistence and teamwork than I could ever expect in a typical classroom setting," she said. "I love each and every one of those kids and feel like a proud mom."

The team competed at its first regional competition recently at Barton Coliseum in Little Rock. There, they won the 2017 Rookie All-Star Award with their alliance scoring a perfect match for one round, tying the world record for points scored.

"I couldn’t have been more proud of them for achieving so much in such a short time," Riley said.

Briawna Stigall, FIRST team member, said the biggest challenge for her was the learning curve.

"I have always been used to knowing the answer to what I was asked," she said. "In robotics, I didn’t have the background knowledge to be able to answer these questions."

Stigall said she took to videos, articles and other research to figure out the steps.

"The most rewarding part was winning our first match," she said. "After all the work we went through, it made it feel real, kind of like we did this, we’re here and we plan to do our best."

Earning the all-star award also gave them to the chance to compete against more than 100,000 people in the FIRST World Competition in April in Houston, Texas.

"It’s exciting and just getting them there is a challenge but as a team we will get there and proudly compete and make Mayflower schools proud," Riley said.

She said she plans to not only continue the FIRST program and Dash and Dot, but expand the program further with the Lego EV-3, which would allow both early grade school through high school students to have the opportunity to join in on the robotic learning fun.

"Robotics is an amazing tool for teaching and I would invite anyone interested to contact me for more information," Riley said. "I encourage surrounding schools to get started and challenge them to do what we are leading with at Mayflower."