Bay View, Gordon, Martin Middle in LEGO Robotics Championship Saturday
On Saturday, January 13, 2018, members of the Bay View, Gordon and Martin Middle School (MMS) Robotics Clubs will take part in the RI First Lego League Robotics Championship at Roger Williams University. "Hundreds of Students and their Robots will compete for a Champion’s Award and Scholarships at the Tournament," said state organizers in a press release this week. The teams are vying for an opportunity to win the Champion’s Award, and to compete alongside teams from around the globe at the FIRST WORLD FESTIVAL in Detroit, Michigan, in April. Each student on the Rhode Island League Champion’s Award-winning team will also receive a $20,000 ($5K, renewable 4 years) scholarship from Roger Williams University. The FIRST LEGO League season in Rhode Island is managed by Rhode Island Students of the Future, and sponsored by National Grid, Textron Charitable Trust and the Verizon Foundation.
Forty teams from across the state have advanced from the qualifying tournament system to the FIRST LEGO League state championship. Five of those teams are from East Providence, including Edward R. Martin Middle School’s the Marvelous Manatees, Gordon School’s Gatorbots and 3 teams from St. Mary Academy Bay View, S.M.A.R.T., S.M.A.R.T. 2.0 and the Intellibots.
FIRST LEGO League is a robotics program for students aged 9 - 14. Teams use the LEGO Mindstorms kit to build a robot that can score points on a game field that includes missions and obstacles related to an annual theme. The 2017-2018 theme is HYDRODYNAMICS. But the FIRST LEGO League program is about more than robots. "The teams spent weeks exploring how to improve the human water cycle, and developing a range of innovative solutions to the problems they discovered. They also designed, built and programmed a robot to complete missions on a pre-built game table where the missions represent concepts from the water cycle. FIRST LEGO League, a popular hands-on science, technology, engineering and math enrichment program, combine the excitement of robotics with a research project that encourages scientific literacy," said Thomas Hargreaves, Martin Middle School teacher and coach of the MMS Marvelous Manatees.
"The robot and the building with LEGO is a hook to introduce students to science and engineering skills and careers" said Rebekah Gendron, the President of Rhode Island Students of the Future, the non-profit organization that manages FIRST LEGO League in Rhode Island. In addition to building a robot that scores points for completing water related missions on the game table, teams learned about water and how communities find, transport, use and dispose of it. They identify a part of the process that can be improved on, and create an innovation solution to solve that problem.
"Teams focus on real world problems, and they are encouraged to meet with professionals to learn about current practice and solutions. The teams are learning to conduct interviews, do research, create innovative solutions, and present their findings in public. These are all skills that are important to creating strong communities.” said Gendron, an East Providence School Administrator.
At the state championship, teams will begin the day presenting for judges who evaluate their project, robot design and core values, and practicing with their robot on the competition boards.
“We give the kids structure to show us what they did,” said Dick Taylor, of Tiverton, a volunteer who serves as the Rhode Island FIRST LEGO League judge advisor. While the projects are all related to the water theme, Taylor said that what the kids focus on will vary widely. “FLL gives them a chance to follow their interests, and to learn more about the community around them,” said Taylor.
The East Providence teams are entering the state championship with a strong record of success. At the December 2, 2017 qualifying tournament, the CyborGators from the Gordon School won the robot design award, S.M.A.R.T. 2.0, from St. Mary Academy Bay View, won the project award, and S.M.A.R.T., also from St. Mary Academy Bay View, won the second place robot performance award and the core values (teamwork) award.
Gordon has been participating in the Lego League for over ten years. The team's successes have included a trip to the international championships in Atlanta as well as awards from Save the Bay, and the experience has paid off for alumni in their high school careers as well.
Hargreaves of the Marvelous Manatees from Martin Middle School said his favorite part of FIRST LEGO League is the opportunity to create a team that’s inclusive of kids of all grades and many different interests. “Every year I am amazed by the number and types of students that join the Robotics Club. They get to know each other and work together to accomplish their final goal, to find a solution to a problem, build and program a robot and have fun doing it!” Proof of the success of Hargreaves program at Martin is the number of students who stay involved after they move up to the high school. “I am lucky to have students return to Martin, once they get to the High School, to mentor the new teams and teach them what they learned while they were competing,” he said.
Representative Jim Langevin, U.S. Congressman from the 2nd District, will speak at opening ceremonies Saturday, which begin at 12:15 pm. The event is free and open to the public in the Roger Williams University Recreation Center, in Bristol, from Noon until 5 pm. Robot game matches will happen between 12:30 and 4:15 pm.