2014-01-09 / News

Lawn School will send two teams to robotics championship

By Ken Shane

Two Lawn School teams will compete at the robotics state championship on Saturday at Roger Williams University. The Jamestown squads are the Bearded Builders, coached by Jack Hubbard, and Back With The Pack, coached by Christian Cowan. 
Courtesy/Lynda Curtis Two Lawn School teams will compete at the robotics state championship on Saturday at Roger Williams University. The Jamestown squads are the Bearded Builders, coached by Jack Hubbard, and Back With The Pack, coached by Christian Cowan. Courtesy/Lynda Curtis There will be robots roaming the earth on Saturday – well, at least roaming the field house at Roger Williams University.

Two squads from Jamestown’s Lawn School are among 40 teams that will compete in the 13th annual First Lego League Robotics State Championship.

Jack Hubbard, a retired engineer, has been running the robotics program at Lawn School for 10 years. The program is fully funded by the Jamestown Education Foundation. According to Hubbard, students sign up for the program at the beginning of the year and are divided into teams. Jamestown fielded five teams this year for regional qualifying tournaments. Of those teams, two will compete at the state finals Saturday, including the squad coached by Hubbard.

Hubbard’s team, the Bearded Builders, is a quartet of sixth-graders who have been friends since they were 4 years old. Team members are Casey Egan, Adam DiBiase, John Schott and Caleb Delyi, and they finished third in the state tournament last year.

“They work together very well,” Hubbard said. “They respect each other and they exemplify teamwork.”

Each team is judged on three elements: robot building, core values and research. This year’s theme is “Nature’s Fury.” The Bearded Builders have responded by coming up with a plan to control and purify storm water.

“They have proposed a settling area with a large underground area to trap and filter the storm water,” Hubbard said.

Hubbard thinks his team will score well in the core values area. He said teammates have exhibited great patience and support for one another throughout the process. They offer helpful suggestions and observe each other without interfering.

“I think they’ll do pretty well,” Hubbard said. “You can’t always be sure, but they have very impressive programs. They won the prize for robot design in the qualifier, and it was well deserved.”

Mary Johnson is the executive director of the Rhode Island School of the Future. The name is a bit misleading, since it’s not really a school at all, but instead an organization founded 20 years ago to bring cutting-edge STEM education into after-school programs. Since its beginning, the purpose of the organization has morphed into running academic sports events like the First Lego League.

“The education in the school part of our name is no longer accurate, but what we’re doing is bringing kids who are between the ages of 6 and 14 into the world of science and technology with handson, inquiry-based, fun programs.”

Teams from public, private and parochial schools, as well as afterschool groups like the 4H and the Boy Scouts, take part in the First Lego League season of events. The Rhode Island School of the Future provides the infrastructure. In addition to the four qualifying tournaments and the state event, the season also includes a robot-only invitational tournament that will be held in late January. A total of 74 teams competed in the league this season, with 70 going to a qualifying tournament.

“Wherever there is a group of kids interested in getting involved, we support the coach and the team by providing training and education,” said Johnson.

Her organization also provides events so the kids have a goal to work toward.

There is money to be won at the state championship. Each member of the winning team gets a $20,000 scholarship to Roger Williams University. The squad also gets the opportunity to advance to either a national or international tournament. Additional awards are presented in a variety of categories including mechanical design, research and inspiration.

The state champions last year hailed from Middletown. The kids advanced to a competition in St. Louis where they won a first-place presentation award. They were invited to President Obama’s science fair that took place on the White House lawn.

The other qualifying team from Lawn School is coached by Christian Cowan, a software engineer. Back With The Pack is made up of five eighth-graders, including Cowan’s son. Team members are Travis Atwood, Connor Smith, Sam Cowan, Tyler Atwood and Colby Bush. They also made it to the state tournament last year, and won the award for best project at the qualifying round held at Salve Regina University.

The team calls their project “Storm Surge Oyster Buoy.” It proposes a method of taking some of the energy out of waves that pound the coast during storms, while at the same time using oysters to filter the water after a storm. The proposal calls for a series of buoys to be placed every 10 or 12 feet across a channel. Since the team is based in Jamestown, the proposal is specifically directed at the opening of the Great Creek.

“Instead of the waves making it all the way into Zeek’s Creek and eroding the marsh, it would break the waves a bit earlier so that they would have less effect on the marsh,” Cowan said.

Back With The Pack has applied to the robotics league for an innovation award. If granted, the youngsters will get the opportunity to patent their idea, and maybe present it to the Jamestown Town Council.

Like Hubbard, Cowan expects his team to do well at the state level.

“The kids form a really good team together,” Cowan said. “Their ability to work together as a team to solve problems is very good. I think the team is in good shape, and we’re looking forward to this weekend.”

Hubbard said the competition is important, but it’s not the highest priority.

“The competition makes it interesting, but the emphasis is on playing well and having fun,” he said. “They seem to be doing very well with that.”

The championship is on Saturday between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. Admission is free

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