NEW PARIS — A group of New Paris Elementary students is learning about computer programming and technology in a very hands-on way.
The school’s first Lego Robotics team competed Saturday at Elkhart Memorial High School in the First Lego League tournament. The students chose a problem relating to this year’s theme, natural disasters, and presented their solution, answered questions from judges about it and showed how they programmed a robot to respond in a natural disaster.
“Anytime we can give students an opportunity to showcase creativity or a talent in math and science, we should provide it,” Superintendent Steve Thalheimer said.
The students made a presentation to the school board Thursday. They explained they chose a tornado as their natural disaster to respond to, and would develop the “I’m OK” app that would allow people in an area with low cell signals to send a message through the app to family members to let them know they were OK after a storm.
They then demonstrated how their robot would complete a number of tasks on a mat, such as rescuing a dog and sending a truck into a safe zone.
The students were judged three areas: knowing the core values set by FLL, their presentation on their problem and how successful they were in programming the robot, according to Monica Kegerreis, high ability and testing coordinator for the corporation and one of the team’s coaches.
Each task the robot was able to complete in 2.5 minutes netted the team a set number of points. They had three chances throughout the day Saturday to run the robot.
The students have enjoyed the process.
“I love robotics and Legos and my dad is an engineer and I’ve always wanted to be an engineer,” said fifth-grader Katelyn Tinsley. “This was a great opportunity I couldn’t pass up.”
Tinsley said programming the robot was harder than she thought it would be, but having fun with her team has been worth it.
Sixth-grader Ben Mullet agreed.
“I’ve met different people through this and made a lot more friends,” he said.
This year has been a pilot program for the Lego team. The other coach, Craig Fryman, is a New Paris parent and engineer and had volunteered to help start a program at New Paris. The goal is to look for coaches to expand to the other elementary schools and the junior high next year, Thalheimer said.
The corporation has applied for a math and science grant that would help fund other teams, and Thalheimer has also begun looking for local corporate sponsors.
Kegerreis said they chose FLL because the program relates well to children because it deals with something they already have an interest in — Legos.
“It gives kids an opportunity to do something they might not normally be able to do,” she said. “The emphasis really is on learning and discovery.”
FLL is also a worldwide program and is scalable; there are two higher levels where students could compete as the program grows, Fryman said.
The New Paris students earned the teamwork award on Saturday.