JMS teams place at FIRST Lego League

Students use teamwork, creativity to solve challenges

Jemtegaard Middle School robotics students learned there is more than one way to take out the trash when engineering, teamwork and creativity are applied.

Ten students participated in the FIRST Lego League Regional Qualifier on Saturday, Dec. 5 at Skyridge Middle School in Camas. Competitors ranged from fourth to eighth grade, with representatives from throughout Clark County and beyond.

The competition centered on a Trash Challenge which asked teams to explore the world of trash, from collection, to sorting, to smart production and reuse.

Students were asked to work as a team to invent a solution to the societal problem of trash through a research project, create their own LEGO robot to accomplish trash-themed ‘missions’ on a playing field, and show how well they practice FIRST LEGO League core values, according to Cherise Marshall, JMS Robotics and STEM teacher.

The JMS team Robo Bonobo Dodos, which includes Kyra Pierce, Kaylee Timmons, Garret Flowers, Sean Marcos, Moises Arriola and Sean Seifert, won the Southwest Washington Champions Award. This award recognizes a team that embodies the FIRST LEGO League experience, by fully embracing core values while achieving excellence and innovation in both the robot game and team project. They also took sixth place out of 18 teams in the robot game.

The JMS Digidogs team which includes Mathias Hight, Ivan Davydenko, Dillon Tuite and Kolton Andrews, earned third place in the robot game.

Both teams were invited to the state semi-qualifying round, which will be held in Seattle Jan. 23 and 24.

The FIRST organization (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) was established to inspire young people’s interest and participation in science and technology. The core values they promote are gracious professionalism and cooperation.

“I have seen a lot of kids take on natural leadership roles,” Marshall said. “Some did not even know they had that skill. Some students know more than others about robotics and others know more about how to go about research. I witnessed a lot of teaching of each other.”

She continued, “At first there was some bossiness and ordering around, but once students saw that was not an effective way to work in a team it began to change. They began to understand their strengths and see and appreciate strengths of others in their team.”

This is the second year for the robotics program at Jemtegaard and the first year the school has had a robotics club participate in FIRST Lego League.

The robotics class is a popular one at JMS and there is a waiting list for students to be a part of it. Currently, the class is only open to eighth-graders, but next year there will be a seventh-grade class added.

Robotics is also taught as a part of an enrichment class that is open to all and meets three times a week. Students are only allowed in the club after they have completed a basics of robotics course, and learn skills such as using various sensors, getting the robot to make decisions, and using loops in their programming to repeat actions.

According to Marshall, the most challenging aspect of the competition was the robot games which required students to build a robot to successfully complete 12 separate missions.

“The students had gotten frustrated with things not working the first time,” she said. “But they have learned to develop perseverance and truly understand how to work as an engineer, which is to learn from their mistakes and come up with solutions to their problems. They have also learned to slow down. To do well at this work they need to do a quality job and do things right as they go along.”

Marshall and her co-teacher, Tim Davis, were provided training from Randy Steele of the Olympia School District and also attended a conference in October to gain robotics experience.

“We do a lot of self-teaching,” Davis said. “We are learning together and are trying new things together. There is some trial and error going on as we work to deliver this program.”

According to Marshall, the research portion of the competition was an important part of the process and gave students the chance to learn about accessing credible research outside of the school walls or the internet.

“We asked our students to reach out to professionals in our community and to ask them questions,” she said. “Those contacts led to speakers in class, Skype speakers and field trips.”

Locally, students were helped by representatives of Waste Connections, Vancouver Waste and HP Electronics Recycling.

“My main goal for the students is for them to have fun,” said Marshall. “Primarily, because I want them to have a positive experience with opportunities in science, technology, engineering and math. But they get so much more. They build self-confidence, knowledge and life skills.”