LEGO Robotics Team to Compete in State Invitational
By Peter Erickson
Glacier City Gazette Intern
LEGO robotics are two words that awaken the imaginative child in all of us. There are two grade school teams in Girdwood working with these robotic blocks. The challengers aren’t creating anthropomorphized automatons as you may imagine. Instead kids focus on solving challenges faced by people today on a local, regional, and global scale.
The dream of a local LEGO robotics team was first held by Mike Edgington and Kalie Harrison who had been coaches on an East Coast team when they were a part of FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology). The not-for-profit charity is responsible for the creation of the LEGO league challenge. Believing a team to be a great fit for the community, they brought the idea to Erin Leighton at Four Valleys Community School (FVCS), a local non-profit.
“We were chatting with Erin about the possibility of doing it and Erin took the ball, ran with it and scored,” said Edgington.
FVCS secured sponsors amongst local community members and businesses, most notably the Girdwood Rotary Club, which footed the $1,000 tab for the LEGO kits and other necessities.
Two LEGO League Challenge teams formed, the Girdwood Robo Grizzlies and the Building Grizzly Storm. These teams work with two highly advanced kits of Legos. The base kit is the Mindstorms package.
“There’s a control, like a brain,” said Edgington. “Motors, sensors (color sensors, touch sensors, infrared sensors, gyroscopic accelerometer sensors) turned into Lego blocks so you can put them together. One of the advantages to that system is you can build something fairly quickly, you don’t have to go out and fabricate anything.”
The secondary kit follows a theme that changes yearly. This year it’s Hydrodynamics, so there are pieces that have to do with water logistics, wells, pumps and a building mat.
“This year’s one has a water treatment facility on it and you can set it up so you can see where the water goes when you flush the little LEGO toilet” said Leighton.
“The project is about finding water transporting water, processing it, using it, disposing of it.” Edgington said. The students are tasked with identifying a problem, ideally one that affects them on a local level, exploring that problem and proposing a solution that they’ve come up with.”
With kits in tow and theme in mind, the two teams went to three tournaments this past December. Teams were judged on three primary skills: working as a team (core values), research ability and robot design.
It’s not all Lego bricks and team building though. According to Edgington one of the problems is keeping the teams alive long term and a large part of it is getting adults involved who want to coach and learn about the program. There have been a few startup teams in Girdwood in the past but they we’re mostly parent run, “so when kids aged out,” says Edgington, “the teams would kind of cease.”
“We hope to keep this going, and we hope going through four valleys is what will give it longevity,” said Harrison.
While that may be a dark mark on the horizon, the present is bright for the twin teams. Building Grizzly Storm won in the Core Values section, while the Girdwood Robo Grizzlies caught the attention of several judges who urged them to apply for the state invitational. Both were accepted and will be attending the State Invitational Championship the 20th of Jan. Look for coverage in the Jan. 24 Gazette.