Lo­cal young­sters en­joy­ing a hands-on in­tro­duc­tion to build­ing ro­bots

The Woolwich Observer - - FRONT PAGE - VERON­ICA REINER

PLAY­ING WITH LEGO IS lit­er­ally a mov­ing ex­pe­ri­ence for a group of young tin­ker­ers mak­ing a foray into robotics. Lo­cal mem­bers of the FIRST (For In­spi­ra­tion and Recog­ni­tion of Sci­ence and Tech­nol­ogy) LEGO League took part in a prac­tice tour­na­ment last week­end in prepa­ra­tion for an of­fi­cial com­pe­ti­tion on De­cem­ber 1.

The Elmira Space Chick- ens, St. Clements Wild Goats and St. Ja­cobs Su­per Stingers got to show off their au­tonomous ro­bots en­tirely con­structed by Lego Mind­storm tech­nol­ogy. Teams had two-anda-half min­utes to pro­gram their ro­bot to com­plete as many tasks as pos­si­ble on a ta­ble-top play­ing field.

“They also have a project where they are given a real-world prob­lem and are chal­lenged to find a so­lu­tion them­selves,” ex­plained Heidi Wight, an or­ga­nizer for the Elmira team. “It’s what FIRST calls core val­ues, which are mostly cen­tred around sports­man­ship. They help each other out which makes for a re­ally fun en­vi­ron­ment.”

The real-world prob­lem typ­i­cally deals with chal­lenges faced by to­day’s sci­en­tists. Ex­am­ples of top­ics in­clude food safety, re­cy­cling, and en­ergy. The robotics teams col­lab­o­rate and brain­storm so­lu­tions. Then they share this in­for­ma­tion in the form of a pre­sen­ta­tion, hon­ing their pub­lic speak­ing skills.

Other core val­ues and skills hoped to build upon for the team in­clude in­no­va­tion, im­pact in ap­ply­ing what was learned to im­prove the world, the dis­cov­ery of new ideas and skills, in­clu­sion, team­work and fun. It helps these

mem­bers build real-world skills – kids in the LEGO league of­ten join the EDSS robotics team in later years. The Elmira Space Chick­ens noted that they had learned sev­eral skills dur­ing their time on the team, in­clud­ing pro­gram­ming and prob­lem­solv­ing skills.

“When it was run­ning at first, it was very wonky,” said Lily Hop­per, a mem­ber of the Elmira LEGO league. “When we re­al­ize some­thing goes wrong, we just have to go back to the com­puter and fix it.”

The team was also all in agree­ment that they learned the valu­able skill of pa­tience.

“Some­times when we do this, we pro­gram it, so we think it’s go­ing to do some­thing,” said Jamie Meiss­ner, an­other mem­ber of the league. “And then it goes and does some­thing com­pletely the op­po­site, and it’s like… ‘re­ally?!’”

This spe­cific robotics team – the FIRST LEGO League – is for kids in Grades 4-8. How­ever, there are op­tions for those in kinder­garten up to Grade 12 to join a robotics team. They are also men­tored in pro­gram­ming as well as struc­tur­ing the ro­bots by mem­bers of the EDSS FIRST Robotics team. Wight noted that she is con­tin­u­ally im­pressed by these high school stu­dents who act as men­tors.

“Last year was the first year that I coached a team,” ex­plained Wight. “When I asked the men­tors, ‘How do I give you credit for your com­mu­nity in­volve­ment hours?’ Their re­sponse was: ‘Oh, right, I guess this qual­i­fies as com­mu­nity in­volve­ment.’ They were vol­un­teer­ing be­cause when they played LEGO League, they had men­tors and they re­ally ap­pre­ci­ated it. So they just wanted to pay it for­ward.”

While the team cur­rently has six mem­bers, Wight said that there is a wait­ing list of about 10 peo­ple to join the team. She is en­cour­ag­ing other par­ents to start their own team.

“Ba­si­cally, we had friends who were coaches in FIRST LEGO League, and we saw how much fun they were hav­ing,” said Wight. “So as soon as our son was in Grade 4, we started a team of our own. And we just in­vited a few of our sons’ friends to be on the team. And then the EDSS FIRST Robotics team vol­un­teered to be men­tors to help us out.”

The team meets up once a week to work to­gether. The au­tonomous ro­bot took months of trial-an­der­ror to build. FIRST LEGO League has some 320,000 par­tic­i­pants and has a pres­ence in 98 coun­tries. For more in­for­ma­tion, visit www.firstle­goleague.org.

[VERON­ICA REINER / THE OB­SERVER]

FIRST LEGO leagues from the re­gion gath­ered at EDSS on Satur­day for a prac­tice tour­na­ment fea­tur­ing au­tonomous ro­bots made us­ing Lego Mind­storm. Among the teams that at­tended were the Elmira Space Chick­ens, St. Clements Wild Goats and St. Ja­cobs Su­per Stingers. Pic­tured is the Elmira team: Lily Hop­per, Jarod Wight, Hay­ley Brown, Emily Tettman, Dun­can Sproule and Jamie Meiss­ner.

[VERON­ICA REINER / THE OB­SERVER]

Com­peti­tors in the FIRST LEGO League put their cre­ations to the test ahead of a tour­na­ment next week­end.

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