Robotics competition teaches life skills

By Kile Brewer
Posted 12/20/17

ORANGE PARK – While the kids may disagree, most adults at the FIRST LEGO League robotics competition would tell you that it’s not all about the robots.

While the kids are preparing their …

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Robotics competition teaches life skills


ORANGE PARK – While the kids may disagree, most adults at the FIRST LEGO League robotics competition would tell you that it’s not all about the robots.

While the kids are preparing their projects and completing the research portion of their year’s work, the adult sponsors and parents notice that the kids are doing more than playing with LEGOs and learning about science, technology, engineering and math.

“Some of the kids that never fit in anywhere now fit in somewhere,” said Leslee Bryan, Clay County District Schools Robotics coordinator. “They learn how to work as a team. They have a home here.”

Throughout the process of building and programming their robots, as well as the more intensive and time-consuming research portion of the project, students learn how to identify their individual strengths. The 10-person teams can then use that to assign certain parts of the project to specific team members. They also learn how to work together as a group to overcome challenges and differences of opinion and ultimately get their project done in a way that fulfills the goals of every team member.

“Everybody has to work together,” said Paterson Elementary School student James Hanson, 9, who participated in FLL for the first time this year. “I’m gonna do it again. It was kind of fun and kind of challenging at the same time. Sometimes we fight and argue, but we always have to work together to [meet] our goal.”

Paterson was one of three Clay County schools, and one of 14 schools that competed Dec. 13 at Robo Thrasher One, the first of three qualifying tournaments for the Northeast Region of FLL to be held at the Thrasher Horne Center. Three teams from each competition will advance, along with teams from other qualifying events throughout the NE Region. Robo Thrasher Two and Three will be held at THC on January 4 and 5 next year.

During the event, teams present their research project to a panel of judges. The project centers around the theme of the year, with this year’s theme being water use and conservation.

“It’s very real-world,” Bryan said. “Teams research a problem, identify what is the problem and what is a solution to that problem. If there is a solution, they will identify whether or not that solution can be implemented in the real world.”

Paterson took home the top prize in the research portion of the competition, but didn’t quite make the cut to move on to the regional level of competition. However, through their research comparing commercial car washes to car wash fundraisers, they found that car washes actually waste very little water, especially when compared to garden hose types of car wash events. The team will be featured in a national magazine, Carwash Magazine, where the team’s coach Jen Seco spoke about their findings throughout their months of research.

“The best part is that they’re building public speaking and leadership skills,” Seco said. “[FLL] really makes them think critically about ‘Where is the problem, and how can I solve it?’”

In addition to their presentation, each team will also compete on the FLL robotics board to round out the competition. The board stays the same year to year, but the goals placed around the tabletop change. Designed to look like a map and built over the top of a grid, the board features 10 tasks all centered around the current year’s theme. Teams program robots to either use optical sensors and follow the “roads” on the board, or use math to calculate the distance robots need to travel in various directions to move through each of the tasks.

“The board was more challenging this year,” said Kathryn McNeill, 10, also of Paterson. “The missions are further apart. It makes it more fun.”


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