Students build Lego robots in district-wide challenge

  • Posted: Thursday, March 28, 2013 12:22 a.m.
    UPDATED: Thursday, March 28, 2013 1:47 a.m.
Koontz Elementary School 5th graders, Sarah Grooms, Sharren Georhe and Kayla Romano explain their project to the judges at the Elementary and middle school district-wide Lego challenge. The theme was farming corn or manufacturing a product with corn. photo by Jon C. Lakey, Salisbury Post.
Koontz Elementary School 5th graders, Sarah Grooms, Sharren Georhe and Kayla Romano explain their project to the judges at the Elementary and middle school district-wide Lego challenge. The theme was farming corn or manufacturing a product with corn. photo by Jon C. Lakey, Salisbury Post.

SALISBURY — Rowan County elementary and middle school students brought farming and robotics together Tuesday evening for this year's 2013 Lego Challenge.

Hundreds of students, parents and teachers gathered at West Rowan Middle School for this year's competition, which had a farming theme.

AIG Director Kelly Feimster said this is the second year of the challenge, which fits into the school system's STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) curriculum.

“Robotics is definitely in that engineering piece,” Feimster said. “The students are learning to program and learning to tweak and make changes, real-world scenario.”

In the cafeteria, Lego structures and other toys were placed on table tops in pre-set configurations. There, middle school students built and programmed Lego robots to perform a series of timed challenges.

Classrooms in a nearby hallway were filled with miniature farms, harvesting equipment, processing plants and cooking devices.

Elementary school students, who were mostly members of academically and intellectually gifted (AIG) programs, used Legos to show the path that corn takes from the farm to the home.

Each group chose a snack food that contains corn and researched its ingredients. They then built Lego models to illustrate where the ingredients come from and how the snack is made. Each model had to have at least one motorized, movable part.

When the judges came around to each table on Tuesday, the students presented their research with the help of their models and a tri-fold poster.

At the start of Woodleaf Elementary School's presentation, the students donned fake mustaches and sang a song to the tune of “Old MacDonald.” They then took turns speaking about the importance of corn, how the crop is grown and how it becomes part of multi-grain Pringles.

When one student pressed a button on a computer, their model came to life and illustrated each stage of the process. Last was a head with a chomping jaw, enjoying the final product.

“We all were engineers, and I helped build the irrigation system,” said Sarah Day, a fifth-grader at Woodleaf. “It was really fun, and very educational.”

Skylar Jahnke, also a fifth-grader, said the group spent about five weeks preparing for the contest.

“We went through a lot of snacks,” Skylar said. “Our two favorites were Takis and multi-grain Pringles.”

Sarah added that the group decided on the multi-grain chips because it was a more original choice. They learned a lot about what goes into snacks and how they are made, she said.

Woodleaf Elementary School won the Picasso Award for the most creative and artistic display. Other winners included Enochville Elementary School with the Simply Awesome Machine Award, Bostian with the Amazing Movement Award, Landis with the Little Einstein Award and Knollwood with the Explosive Ideas Award.

Millbridge Elementary School won the Programmer Award for in-depth and creative programming.

“It's pretty exciting,” said Erik Ellams, a fifth-grader, who was in charge of programming for Millbridge. “I've been a fan of Legos for a long time.”

Jana McIntyre said she helped develop the slideshow that the group used to present its research. All of the students helped with designing and building the model, which focused on Cheetos.

Erik and Jana both said they liked competing in the Lego Challenge.

“I thought it was just going to be an opportunity to be with my friends, but it was very fun,” Jana said.

Jeanna Gregory, AIG teacher at Millbridge, said she appreciates that the project involved a lot of problem solving and teamwork.

“It's a unique opportunity for building lifelong skills that will hopefully prepare them for the future,” Gregory said.

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In one of the four middle school challenges, the students' Lego Mindstorms robots had to corral four animal figurines from a field area and moving them to a barn.

For another challenge, the robots had to find and “harvest” plastic vegetables by bringing them back to home base. The students could “market” the produce for extra points by placing it in a tractor bucket or lifting it onto a table.

Knox Middle School placed both first and second with its two groups of students. One of Corriher-Lipe Middle School's two groups took third place.

Ethan Todd and Anna Gobble, both seventh-graders at Corriher-Lipe, got one of the highest scores in the vegetable-harvesting task by repeating the same successful program over and over again.

“I think it was really fun to do this,” Ethan said. “The computer is challenging, but you get used to it.”

He said the groups received the tabletop layouts beforehand so they could practice.

Anna said she likes the idea for the competition, “because it helps kids learn more about robots and how they move.”

Some of the students paused mid-challenge to connect the robots to their laptops and make programming changes. That way, they could nudge a wayward machine in the right direction for the next run.

“It gets the kids involved in teamwork and builds math and science skills,” said Becca Glenn, technology facilitator at Knox Middle School. “Hopefully, we're building the next generation of engineers, computer programmers and scientists.”

Many of the students at Tuesday's event said they like engineering, but they're not sure about their career field just yet.

Booth Pfaff, an eighth-grader at Knox, said he has four shelves of Legos at home, and he signed up for the robotics team to find others who shared that interest.

“After a while, it got really hard,” he said. “The robot didn't do what I wanted it to do.”

Christian Burns, a seventh-grader, said he participated in last year's contest and noticed that there were a lot more students competing this year. He agreed with Pfaff that the tasks were fun, but definitely not easy.

“I liked the computer part of it,” he said. “I think we did good for having such a hard competition.”

Contact reporter Karissa Minn at 704-797-4222.

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