Legos are the building blocks for a tournament students at the York Country Day School will be entering Saturday.

This is the school's first year participating in the First Lego League, an international organization and competition centered on Lego robotics and research.

The tournament is the culmination of preparation during an after-school club at the York school, said Lisa Riker, head of middle and upper schools. About 24 students in grades 4 through 8 will participate in a qualifying tournament in Exton, Pa.

Riker said the theme of this year's competition is "Nature's Fury," which encourages students to think about problems related to national disasters around the world.

The competition: Teams of about six students will be judged on how well their robot navigates disaster-themed challenges on an obstacle course. Riker said some challenges will include using the teams' robots to rescue people and pet figurines from "flooded" areas and removing branches from objects without hitting electric wires placed below.

Riker said teams will also be judged on a research project they completed before the competition. The teams needed to propose solutions to a problem created by natural disasters in another country.

One of York Country Day School's teams worked on the need for a tornado alert system in the country of Bangladesh, Riker said. The students discovered the country has a tsunami warning system, but not for tornadoes.

The students corresponded with the country's head of the department of disaster management to confirm no such warning system exists, Riker said. Then they proposed some solutions for creating an alert system, and focused on designing drones that could distribute supplies such as food and water after a tornado hits.

Robot future: In addition to the robots and research, teams will also be judged on core values, such as how well they work together. And it's not all about robots, Riker said.

"Dance parties and crazy hats are encouraged," she said. "It's not all computer programming."

Riker said all four of the school's teams are rookie status, and probably won't move past the qualifying tournament this year. But she said the content mirrors much of the students' programming and coding curriculum at the school, which will enrich the classroom and the competition in the future.

Regardless of how the teams fare at the tournament, Riker said the robots will live on: The after-school program will continue weekly after the competition because of its popularity with the students.

-- Reach Nikelle Snader at