More than just play

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The Robo-Titans team recently competed in its first-ever FIRST LEGO League competition and walked away with the "Rookie Award," given to the top first-year team.

Not every 9-year-old knows how to design, build and program a robot.

But the kids on Jeff Hendricks Robo-Titans team are becoming experts in the field.

The kids are part of a FIRST LEGO league team, where children learn to design and build robots using special LEGO kits. Hendricks is a engineering research and development manager at a local technology company.

The program includes a 10- to 12-week period in which youngsters form teams, build robots that can complete individual tasks as part of an overall challenge, then compete at a local tournament.

The robots are programmed using object oriented programming versus traditional methods which creates a more visual interface. Coaches and technical mentors help teach engineering principals, mechanics, software, system architecture techniques, and problem solving during the robot development.

Hendricks said it was an excellent and rewarding experience.

“I was fulfilled with seeing our team of third- to fifth-graders develop in math, science and engineering fundamentals that they would not normally experience until high school or college,” he said. “The mentors all realized our success when all of the team members were excited to start the next year’s challenges.”

Team members included children from Camas and Vancouver schools. They are Jordan Erickson, Nellie Gast, Jordan Hendricks, Hayden Minich, Asher Minich, Gabe Mukobi, Jordan Slotto, Maggie Wells and Owen Wilks.

Mentors were Dave Erickson, Steve Sotto, Rick Wilks, Casey Martschinske, David Gast and Jeff Hendricks.

Last month, the team participated in a competition at Salmon Creek Elementary School in Vancouver, against 14 other teams. While they didn’t win the overall competition made up of grade school and middle school teams, they came away with the “Rookie Award,” which is given to the first-place, first-year team.

“I was proud,” Hendricks said. “We were competing against teams of middle schoolers. It was a great way to introduce parents and their kids to science and technology.”

Jordan Hendricks, his son, has been building and programming robots for four years now and enjoyed the opportunity to compete on a team.

“I hadn’t been to a competition before and the chance to program and build a robot was really cool,” he said. “

Teammate Owen Wilks, a third-grader at Lacamas Heights, agreed.

“I thought building the robot was pretty fun, and the programming was, too,” he said.

During the competition at Salmon Creek Elementary, the teams were judged on four elements: Table performance of the robot, a presentation, a technical interview, and teamwork.

“Out of the 14 missions, the team solved 11 with a simple hardware solution and five software programs,” Hendricks said.

Those who are interested in starting a FIRST LEGO League team can visit for more details.