Local students to participate in FIRST LEGO League robotics competition

Published 11:20 pm Saturday, September 15, 2007

Representatives from two schools in the Picayune area joined students and teachers from all over the state at the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) LEGO League robotics challenge kickoff at Stennis Space Center on Saturday.

The two local schools that will be participating in the competition are Nicholson Elementary School and Roseland Park Baptist Church Academy. This is the second year of participation for both schools.

Maureen Pollitz, the gifted teacher at Nicholson Elementary, said there are four teams at the school, each consisting of 10 students. Pollitz works with the groups along with school librarian Michelle Carter, kindergarten teacher Kelly McCoy and physical education teacher Kristina Foss.

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In addition to the teachers, several high school students from Picayune Memorial High School and Pearl River Central High School that formed Team Chaos last year, as well as parents of children at the elementary school volunteer to help with the program.

Pollitz said the kids build the robots for the challenge using LEGO “Next Mindstorm” kits. The school has purchased three kits for the program and received three more through a Motorola grant last year, she said.

“We actually have enough kits for six teams. And we have about 15 students on a waiting list at the school. We just don’t have enough volunteers to help us out,” Pollitz said.

Pollitz said the program encourages students to work as a team to solve problems as well as teaching them subjects such as electronics, engineering, science, math and even language arts.

“They have to do the research in order to give a presentation. They have to decide how to build the robots, and they have to program them to complete the mission,” Pollitz said.

Dalton and Dylan Hedgepeth and Scott Michael Nguyen were in the program last year, and said they all had fun and learned a lot.

“It was a lot of fun. We learned about building robots and had to figure out ways to make it work. If we tried something and it didn’t work, we had to find other things to work with,” Dalton Hedgepeth said.

“We placed second in teamwork last year, and 10th in (overall) score. It was difficult in the beginning because we didn’t know anything because it was our first year. This year we have most of it down, so I think it will be a lot easier,” Nguyen said.

“It was fun programming and building the robots. Our team leader had to quit, and we lost two team members, so we had to get a whole different teacher. But we got first place in teamwork. I loved it and had a lot of fun,” Devin Hedgepeth said.

Bettye Gibson, of Roseland Park Academy, said the school has two teams made up of 19 students between the ages of 10 and 13 participating in the competition. Gibson said the groups are led by two teachers, along with parent volunteers and a high school student volunteer.

“We had two teams last year, and a lot of the same students are participating again. And they learned a lot and it was a valuable experience for them,” Gibson said.

This year’s challenge is called “Power Puzzle,” and will include several projects that the students must build their robots to complete. Each team will spend the next eight weeks researching and building their robots in preparation for state competition that will be held Dec. 8 at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College.

At the state meet, the teams will participate in three rounds of competition. The highest score among the three rounds will be the score used to determine the winner. There also will be prizes given for teamwork and research.

Some of the projects that the robots must complete include moving a LEGO dam into place on a “river” on a LEGO mat, coal and uranium “mining,” tree planting, placing wind turbines in certain areas and moving materials for the power plant “supply” to the power plant on the mat.

The kickoff was held to demonstrate these projects to the students so they could ask any questions they had about the project. The students also can go online to the LEGO League website and email their questions to League officials.

After the LEGO League demonstration, participants were treated to a demonstration of two FIRST Robotics teams’ robots. The FIRST Robotics program is the high school extension of the program. Team Chaos from PMHS and PRC High School demonstrated their ball-playing robot, while Gulfport High School demonstrated a robot from several years ago that they had modified to shoot T-shirts into crowds at sporting events.

For more information about the FIRST LEGO League, visit www.usfirst.org.