When Milla Fishler was 3 years old, she started playing with a robot named Dash. When she turned 5, she started to use computer programming to customize Dash.
Now at age 6, turning 7 next month, Milla has been placed as a finalist in the Wonder League Robotics Competition. She took sixth place in the ages 6-to-8 competition. Over 35,000 students participated in the international competition this year, and her age range included 2,717 teams.
Milla has already been in two major robotics competitions and shows a passion for programming. She’s not only received sixth in this competition, but her robotics team was one of two junior league teams in Washington to go to the Houston, Texas, championships in the First LEGO League Jr., and received the Cooperative Model Award.
Julia Fishler is Milla’s mom and coaches her other robotics team, Rockin’ Robots, comprised of kids ages 6 to 8 from Maplewood Heights Elementary School who meet every Sunday. Julia is a software engineer at Microsoft, but said she tried to get Milla involved in sports and dance. It turned out she preferred programming.
Julia still wanted to find an outlet for Milla to learn about teamwork. She found out through Hazen High School’s robotics team that there was a junior league, so she started a group with Milla and her friends.
“It just turned out to be the best experience for her,” Julia said. “The kids have learned so much about how to be good teammates and how to support each other.”
The team created a moon base for this year’s theme. The eight kids problem-solved on how to create oxygen, clean water and move supplies on their LEGO moon base. Julia invited two local rocket scientists who live in Renton come to a meeting so the kids could pitch their moon base idea to them.
“It was the most adorable thing ever,” Julia said.
Milla started working on the five challenges for the Wonder League competition, outside of her robotics team, in late September 2018. She spent the entire month of March finishing the final project of the competition, Julia said. In the last project of the ocean-themed challenges, she needed to use the robot to get an egg (ping-pong ball) to a nest (plastic cup) so it could hatch in a safe environment.
While it was surreal for her daughter to be in the top six in the world, it didn’t totally surprise Julia. Another part of the competition involved creating backdrops, so she also got to use her other passion, arts and crafts, in the competition. She said her daughter worked really hard, staying up late to program.
“I felt bad because this is such a great brain activity and she’s really trying so hard to find solutions at these challenges, but she also needs to sleep because she’s 6 years old,” she said.
Wonder League began from Wonder Workshop, which creates robotics platforms for kids of all ages, and created Milla’s robot Dash. CEO and co-founder of Wonder Workshop Vikas Gupta said parents and teachers can give rise to a new diverse generation of problem solvers by helping all kids get access to robotics and coding. This year, almost half of the competition’s 35,000 global participants were girls.
Julia is jealous of her daughter’s generation, and how kids now have access to doing the things they would have only daydreamed about in the past.
“We had to make-believe, and now she imagines things and creates them in real life, which is very, very cool,” Julia said.
After Milla’s successful year, it’s back to the drawing board for the Rockin’ Robots, who were having so much fun they are going to meet every Sunday this year aside from a short break during the summer. Julia said she’ll keep coaching as long as they’re interested, and they’ve already began next year’s project.