WILLIAMSTOWN — After a race to build the Lego version of the Saturn V rocket, which took the first astronauts to the moon in 1969, Williamstown Elementary School students fared well.

They were well-organized and motivated, but their effort fell short in the last stages, and they wound up in third place after two other five-person teams of Williams College students finished their rockets first, during a competition Friday at the Paresky Center at the college.

It was a long shot to begin with, but it was an important life experience for the younger students that held important lessons about commitment, focus and organization, according to Steven Miller, Williams College associate math professor and instigator of the race.

Also, they had fun.

Even for college math students, putting together a complex model made of 1,969 pieces is no easy task.

The winning team, which called itself the Roman Empire, took 25 minutes to assemble its rocket. To prepare, members practiced building the model from beginning to end four times.

Miller noted that the elementary school team didn't have that opportunity.

And after the second Williams College team, The Byzantine Empire, finished after 36 minutes, the elementary school team of 17 third-, fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders pushed on with focus and determination. It finished its ship in 44 minutes.

Miller told the members that they had the fastest time ever for a team of Earth people younger than 13 building a Saturn V Lego rocket.

The event was organized by Miller's Williams College Winter Studies math class (Mathematics of Lego) and the Adventures in Learning class at Williamstown Elementary, which Miller also taught during the special winter program this year.

Miller noted that the youngsters handled the process quite well.

"It's important for them to deal with complex tasks and understand that complexity is not to be feared," he said. "And they learned more about using time effectively. They had to think about how to do it before they did it, which allows them to spend less time on certain tasks."

Melody Blass Fisher, Adventures in Learning coordinator at Williams College, said the younger students were excited about the challenge, hardly noticing that they were learning stuff.

"This is something they'll carry with them their whole life," she said. "They really get into it, and they have to think about things like teamwork, assigning roles and preparation."

Scott Stafford can be reached at sstafford@berkshireeagle.com or 413-629-4517.