TMCNet:  Building blocks of science

[January 24, 2012]

Building blocks of science

DONNELLSON, Jan 24, 2012 (The Hawk Eye - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- Instead of playing with Legos, Central Lee Middle School students have been using them to learn about science and technology.

Students from the school recently participated in the FIRST Lego League, created through a partnership between FIRST -- For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology -- and the Lego Group, which aims to inspire future scientists and engineers.

The Bacteria Busters, an eight-member team of Central Lee seventh- and eighth-graders, built a Lego robot and competed against more than 70 other teams in the Lego league's state tournament in Ames.

They showed judges what they've learned by running the robot through missions, problem solving and demonstrating core values, such as cooperation.

At FIRST, cooperation is displaying kindness and respect during competition.

"This is our third year doing this at Central Lee," said Hollie Weber, who coached the Central Lee team. "The kids have to decide what they want to do, what missions they want to try and how they want to design a their robot." Every year, FIRST releases a new challenge to engage students in hands-on robotics design and scientific research.

After the challenge has been released, teams have about three months to design, program and build their robots, and prepare an in-depth research presentation related to the challenge theme. Lego Mindstorms robotics kits are used to build a robot capable of completing tasks autonomously on a playing field. Team members can use any Lego parts to build the robot.

"Once the robot is built, they could program it to do whatever they want because there is no right way to do it," Weber said.

All the lessons focus on this year's Food Factor theme, which addressed food safety.

And although the students did not win the state competition, they outperformed past Central Lee efforts.

"We did better than we did at any competition and that was a success," Weber said. "We ended up with 99 out of a possible 400 points." The students were required to put their robots through various tasks to score points. One task called for the robot to knock down a pile a Legos or "bacteria" onto a table.

"One of their attachments would release the Legos or bacteria," said Lily Fuger, a seventh-grader. "Just getting it on the table and dumping it is worth 10 points." The catch is if a students touched the robot, they lost points.

The students used ultrasonic sensors to operate the robots.

"We used the sensors to the give the robot information because we can't touch it once it starts," said Lauren Hulsebus, a seventh-grader. "We can tell the robot to turn three times and it will do that." But, touching the robot wasn't the only way to lose points.

"If it gets out there and it begins to malfunction or you run the wrong program, you will lose points," Fuger said.

The competition had about 18 challenges for the students.

As part of the FIRST Lego League competition, students also researched food safety.

"They decided to focus on ground beef and what problems exist with ground beef," Weber said. "They looked at spoilage issues and ended up focusing on E. coli because they knew it was deadly." Even though the state competition is done, the robot remains in use.

"I'll use it with the sixth-graders and introduce them to this technology and wait until next year's game to come out," Weber said.

___ (c)2012 The Hawk Eye (Burlington, Iowa) Visit The Hawk Eye (Burlington, Iowa) at Distributed by MCT Information Services

[ Back To Homepage ]