Saturday, August 6, 2016

Robots Rock!

This was the first year Hawthorne had a FIRST LEGO League (FLL) robotics team. FIRST (which stands for For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) provided fourth and fifth grade team members with hands-on opportunities in Robotics. They were able to design robots, identify and solve science-based problems, develop models, and apply engineering and math concepts. 

Data from a 10 year evaluation of FIRST demonstrates the benefits of these programs. 98% of the participants improved their problem solving skills.  95% of the participants increased their time management skills. 93% of the participants increased their conflict resolutions skills. 76% of the participants strengthened their communication skills. 88% of the participants were more interested in doing well in school.  87% of the participants were more interested in going to college. 

A FIRST LEGO League challenge has four parts: a research assignment, robot design judging, a robot game, and exhibition of core values.  

For the research assignment, our team was very moved by a movie they saw that showed a beached whale who eventually died because his blow hole was blocked by trash.  We wanted to protect sea animals from the dangers of plastic. We knew that it was good to recycle, but we learned that reducing and reusing is even better. We recognized that everyone drinks a lot of soda so we wanted to design a better soda bottle that needed less plastic.  They prototyped some different ideas and shared them with our teacher Mrs. Ross, who is on the Green Team for our school.
For the robot game, students design and program a Mindstorm robot to solve missions on a special obstacle course. By mid-January, we were able to score 156 points on the robot game.  We used the engineering design process to repeatedly improve and in our final match at the tournament, we scored 329 points. As our principal likes to say “We are the best at getting better!”

For the robot design, students share their strategic thinking about how best to build and program their robot to meet the challenges of the robot game. Since we are a rookie team, we wanted our robot design to be simple and reliable. For our chassis we started with the Base from the Core EV3 Educator kit and added the medium motor to control the arm.  We researched different attachments and our first one was a push plate (like a bulldozer).  Tyler figured out how to easily attach the plate to the arm of the robot. We created a bumper, but we discovered the push plate could do that too.  We also invented a hook.  We decided to start with the easiest missions and work on them one by one until they could be mastered reliably.  Then we added more missions until we exhausted the 2.5 minute limit.

For the core values exhibition, teams are judged on important life skills including teamwork, sportsmanship, and leadership. In school, we follow the Leader in Me (7 Habits of Happy Kids) program. The robotics team has helped us practice Habit 1: Be Proactive - (I am a responsible person. I take initiative. I choose my actions, attitudes, and moods. I do not blame others for my wrong actions. I do the right thing without being asked, even when no one is looking.)  The team also exhibited gracious professionalism because they wished competing teams’ good luck and shared what they learned with each other.

Through FLL, participants not only hone their STEM skills, but also learn how to be effective leaders, creative problem solvers, and better members of their communities.  At the end of the tournament, the team members were proud of what they learned especially about persistence.  They had a lot of fun too!

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