Griffin students prepare for regional robotic competition


girls_legos_horz_heads togetherALEXANDER CAIN :::

Fifth grader Ansley Potter has been studying robotics, both at home and at school.

“My brother wants to grow up to be an engineer, and with him building all these things at home, it got me interested in it as well,” Potter said. “He got a robot for Christmas and I’ve actually been helping him to program it.”

Potter was recently able to put her knowledge to use in front of judges at Crescent Elementary School in preparation for the FIRST LEGO League team regional competition that will take place on December 7th at Carver Road Middle School with teammate Kennedy Evans.

The theme of this year’s competition is ‘Nature’s Fury,” where students must come up with come up with new inventions or take something and enhance that already exists to help save lives in catastrophic storms.

Potter and Evans demonstrated how a programmed robot could push a miniature ambulance into a “safe zone” on a table similar to the size of a pool table. The robot had to first reach the ambulance, push it into the safe zone, then return back to its original location. Along the way, obstacles included a plastic tree, a truck, and a LEGO house.

Potter and Evans were two of 14 students from Crescent Elementary were participating in possible scenarios, but only seven will go on to compete at the competition, according to Crescent Elementary School First LEGO League Coach Debi Hancock.

“They demonstrated their plans on Wednesday and had only been working for about two hours over two days to create them. It’s been rushed, but the students stepped up to the plate and have done their best,” Hancock said.

Students will be judged in three categories: Project, where they will be watched and judged as they demonstrate their ideas; Core Values, where the judges will watch for teamwork activity and core values and Technical, where the teams will be interviewed and judged based on their designs and methods of approaching a problem.

Scenarios for the FIRST LEGO challenge include having the robot vehicle move an ambulance to safety; moving a supply truck to safety; picking up and moving miniature people and pets to safety; lifting a house to a higher point to avoid flooding; and moving supplies and equipment to a safe distance from an affected area.

Carver Road Middle, Atkinson Elementary, Jackson Road Elementary, Crescent Elementary, Kennedy Road Middle and Cowan Road Middle will all be competing in this year’s LEGO challenge.

The robotics lessons and hands-on experience learned by students at schools such as Crescent Elementary come from the STEM program, or Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.  Last year, the National Science Foundation awarded the Georgia Institute of Technology and the Griffin-Spalding County School System a five-year, $7.3 million grant for the program.

Led by Georgia Tech’s George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering in collaboration with the Center for Education Integrating Science, Mathematics and Computing (CEISMC) – the program’s goal was to provide about 5,100 Griffin-Spalding County students in advanced manufacturing learning experiences, such as working with robots and creating items using computer design and 3-D printers.

“For example, at Carver Road Middle School, we targeted the STEM program and a program called “AMP-IT-UP” through our eighth grade math and science classes,” said Pamela Davis, Event Coordinator for Carver Road Middle School. “What STEM and Georgia Tech want to do is target students who otherwise not know that they have this gift for science and math.”

“We start at the beginning of the school year to prepare. At the moment, we have 27 teams that will be participating in our Nature’s Competition this year. At Carver Road, the students in the STEM program rotate out at the end of each semester.”

Advanced Manufacturing and Prototyping Integrated to Unlock Potential, or AMP-IT-UP, aims to inspire students to study STEM topics, particularly manufacturing, by exploring their creativity and watching their creations come to life.

Mat Fluker was another student who demonstrated with partner Thomas Smith to three judges as part of the mini-competition within Crescent Elementary.

“We worked on getting one person to a certain spot and had to make an arm for the robot to be able to do that. It was pretty hard,” Fluker admitted. “The program is as simple as possible but it can be tough. We tried to get the robot over to where it needed to be and my partner and I had to test it over and over again.  I think we did well. I always like to build things and when I grow up I want to be an inventor.”

Excitement shone on the faces of Smith and Fluker as their robot finally did as the two had hoped it would after multiple attempts.

“We decided that it would be easier that instead of having the exact size angle, that we would go at it as a straight angle,” Smith explained to the judges after rewriting the program to get the operation to work.

At Crescent Elementary School, the STEM program – including the robotics studies and creation that come as a result of the program – is successful for both students and the school system, according to Crescent Elementary Principal Beth Gaff. Last year when the LEGO competition came to the Griffin-Spalding County School System, Crescent was among the schools that competed.

“It was something new to all of us last year. Our teachers are looking for those students who show great mathematical skills and problem solving skills. Teamwork is a big part of it as well. The students are given a problem and have to solve that problem. It is a great event that reaches out to those students who are interested in robotics and programming the robots, and it is a great extension and enrichment activity and a great challenge to our students.” Ω



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