Students test science & technology skills at robotics competition

  • Written by Shannon Michael, Features Writer

Washington FIRST Robotics, a competition whose goal is to inspire students to be science and technology leaders, held its Seattle Qualifiers #1 and #2 FIRST LEGO League (FLL) events at Ballard High School in Seattle the weekend of December 7 and 8.

There were 45 teams competing, including teams from Northshore, Kenmore, Timbercrest, Skyview, Leota, and Canyon Park junior highs, as well as three teams representing Cherry Valley Elementary in Duvall.

Nature’s Fury was the theme for this year’s competition. The challenge for each team was "Prepare. Stay Safe. Rebuild." when natural disasters strike.

All teams went through a morning judging program, where they were judged for robot and programming designs, a proposed solution on an issue researched relating to natural disasters, and on a teamwork challenge. In the afternoon, each team competed with their robot on the Nature’s Fury Challenge course.

Three teams, comprised of students participating from several Snoqualmie Valley schools, represented Cherry Valley Elementary. They were Duvall Brainstormerz, Robotic Mustaches and Lego Eruptions. Ten students made up each team, all in fourth through sixth grade.

Fifth grade teacher Ronda Ish coordinated the FLL participation at Cherry Valley Elementary, but a group of parent volunteers coached each team. "This is an after school enrichment program that our school sponsors," Ish wrote in an email.

While the Cherry Valley teams did not move on to the second round of competition, having finished 32nd, 33rd, and 39th out of 45 teams, they still had fun participating in the competition.

Timbercrest Junior High Robotics Club had four teams participating in the competition, with two teams competing in the FLL and two teams entered in the FIRST Tech Challenge.

"Both FLL teams put in a good showing in all parts of competition, but they both earned particularly high marks for teamwork and cooperation," wrote Josh Caldwell, TJH’s computer apps, computer science and robotics instructor.

Timbercrest’s two FIRST Tech Challenge teams competed for the second time with other regional teams, ranking 14th and 17th. These rookie teams are currently reworking and refining their robots for their next competition on December 20th.

Northshore Junior High’s technology education and science instructor Dave Boze was enthusiastic about what the students got out of participating in the competition. "The kids were just awesome. They learned to work together, support one another, problem solve, make adjustments in the moment of competition, and in the end were happy competitors," he wrote in an email.

One of the highlights of the competition for the students was when NJH Principal Josh Sanchez showed up to watch them compete. "The kids were excited and energized with his presence," Boze wrote.

The NJH team placed 15th in the competition. "After scoring 89 points in the first round, and just 59 points in the second round, the kids found a way to score 159 points in round three," wrote Sanchez in an email.

The Kenmore Junior High FLL Colts came in first place in the Project competition. They came up with a solution to keep street drain covers cleared of debris. On the judge scoring rubric for this event they received exemplary on every item. "All the team members did a great job and handled themselves in a very professional manner," wrote KJH Principal Kimberlee Armstrong in an email. Despite winning the research award for their project, the KJH team did not advance to the next level of competition.

Skyview had two teams participate in the FLL competition, coached by technology education instructor Doug Pumputis with the help of volunteers Greg Dunn and Robert Dooley.

Over 25 students helped in the development on both the robot missions and the project presentations. Students were assigned specific missions to develop robot attachments and workable programs, then compiled their solutions into one robot for each team and looked for ways to complete as many of the missions as possible.

"Despite having some robot mechanical issues they did a good job of working as a team and finding ways for everyone to be a contributor," Pumputis wrote in an email, adding, "They learned about successful collaborative strategies while taking on some challenging robot programming."

Canyon Park Junior High’s team finished in 25th place in the Robot Challenge. "The students worked tirelessly in preparation for this competition," wrote Todd Mass, technology education instructor at CPJH, in an email. Sixteen students participated in the event.

Also competing was Leota Junior High, led by technology education instructor Dan Sander. They placed 14th in the competition.

FIRST is the acronym for the national movement’s mission: For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology. The qualifying event was for teams ranging in age from nine to 14. The largest financial supporter of the statewide program is the Washington State Legislature, followed by The Boeing Company, the Bezos Family Foundation, Washington FIRST Robotics Board of Directors and US FIRST, Inc.

Statewide, over 6,500 students are expected to participate in Junior FLL (for 6-9 year olds) and FLL competitions this year. The semi-finals will be held in Seattle on February 8-9, and in Moses Lake on February 15.

The Washington State Championship will be at Central Washington University in Ellensburg on February 22.

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