2011-01-27 / News

Lawn Avenue students learn science by using toys

By Cindy Cingone

Noah Simmons (from left) and Jay Patel compete in the FIRST Lego League robotic competition at Roger Williams University held earlier this month. Simmons and Patel were two of 22 students from Jamestown’s Lawn Avenue School that participated in the event. Noah Simmons (from left) and Jay Patel compete in the FIRST Lego League robotic competition at Roger Williams University held earlier this month. Simmons and Patel were two of 22 students from Jamestown’s Lawn Avenue School that participated in the event. Young students today are passionate about technology. Their skills and expertise are being challenged these days in the world of robotics. They are also passionate about toys and games, which makes the FIRST Lego League the perfect combination.

Legos teamed up with robotic technology 12 years ago and formed the FIRST Lego League, an international competition for elementary- and middle-school students arranged by the organization FIRST, and acronym meaning For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology. This is the 10th year that Rhode Island has participated in the event, and the first year that Jamestown students have represented the island with a team.

This year’s contest was held on Jan. 15 at Roger Williams University. For the first time, students from Lawn Avenue School’s fifth, sixth and seventh grades competed in the challenge. Three island teams were established from the group of kids: the White Knights, Beast 8 and the Nano Falcons.

The White Knights – coached by Jack Hubbard – consisted of Hope Benson, Sara Iacovelli, Murphy McDonough, Abby Bratton, Noah Simmons, Jay Patel and Gabriel Ricon-Zelaya.

Ben Carlisle, Tyler Atwood, Josh Neronha, Ethan Holt, Josh Drummond, Jacob Fisher, Isaac Spivak and Matt Drummond were on Beast 8, which was coached by Peter Travers. And the Nano Falcons, under the leadership of Joe Logan, consisted of Nick Drummond, Nathaniel Hough, Connor Smith, Gordon Gray, Sam Cowan and Josh Fisher.

The league’s goal is to challenge students from ages 9 to 14 by holding an annual robotic competition. The rivalry gets children interested in science and technology by creating teams and has them compete on a global scale. The challenge enables students to also learn valuable life and employment skills. Currently, 56 countries compete annually in the league’s Robot Game Challenge.

Each annual challenge has a theme. This year it was “Body Forward: How Engineering Meets Medicine.” The students were directed to work with their teams, along with a volunteer coach, to build and program an autonomous robot.

Rep. James Langevin, who spoke during the opening ceremony, urged students to “stay involved in science, technology, engineering and math throughout school, and carry with them the lesson they learned from the Body Forward season: that these are helping professions that create significant improvements in people’s lives.”

Along with Lego blocks and Lego Technic parts, the only other assistance teams could use was the Lego Mindstorms software technology to create a robot that could perform specific duties in a themed-playing field.

“The students build robots from kits, which include Lego parts, motors, sensors and a brain,” said Hubbard. “The school has made a significant and insightful investment in this equipment. The brick contains a computer, memory, battery, sensor input ports, and power output ports.”

This year’s project focused on biomedical engineering. The challenge posed was, “What happens when one of your body parts is damaged? Who fixes them if a human hand can not?”

Students were directed to discover innovative ways to repair injuries, overcome disabilities and build healthier, stronger bodies. Many of history’s medical breakthroughs such as microscopes and artificial limbs came about by scientists, engineers and doctors all working together. The project helped explain that through research, teamwork and trial and error can bring results and solutions.

Along with the three Jamestown teams, 55 other squads throughout Rhode Island competed; one of the Jamestown teams finished eighth out of the 58 teams for the robotic performance. Along with bragging rights, the students are competing for a chance to win scholarship money. The team S.M.A.R.T. from St. Mary’s Academy-Bay View won the competition, and each team member earned $20,000 worth of scholarships to Roger Williams University.

The three projects for the Jamestown teams were inserting a stent into an artery, placing a cast on a broken leg, and inserting a bone graft into a leg bone and then have the leg kick a soccer ball into a goal. The students also devised a robot to dispense correct medicine to a patient.

In addition to the robot game, the students had to do a research project. They had to come up with a solution to such medical problems as diabetes, Lou Gehrig’s Disease (ALS) and brain concussions.

Hubbard has volunteered for the robots club for the past 10 years. “As coaches, we provide the teams with guidance, but endeavor to help them find their own solutions to problems, which are typically in robot construction and programming,” Hubbard said. “We also help them to work as a team and have fun. Teamwork is virtually required by this process, which provides a strong learning experience for the kids.”

The students spent four months preparing robots to enter into the competition. The teams met every Wednesday to build and program their autonomous robots. Parent and school support was vital to the student’s rate of success.

Attendance was in full force at Roger Williams University the day of the event for Jamestown parents. Lawn Avenue School Principal Kathy Almanzor and Superintendent Marcia Lukon were also on hand to cheer the students on.

The robot challenge is a great opportunity for children to learn mathematics, engineering and science. The program is based on teamwork. Without the combined participation of the students, parents and faculty, the projects cannot move forward.

“I hope that it opens, or keeps open, the door to further education in engineering and science,” Hubbard said.

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