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Students look at seniors’ challenges in robotics program

Elkhart Schools' robotics teams competed Thursday in the annual school corporation contest.
Marlys Weaver-Stoesz
Posted on Oct. 11, 2012 at 1:00 a.m. | Updated on Oct. 11, 2012 at 5:55 p.m.

ELKHART — More than 25 teams of students from Elkhart elementary and middle schools gathered Thursday afternoon at Cleveland Elementary School to show their skills at working with robots.

Elkhart Community Schools’ annual robotics tournament Thursday determined which teams of students will continue to the FIRST Lego League ETHOS Qualifying Tournament, a regional competition, at Memorial High School in November.

Teams this year constructed and programmed robots out of Lego pieces to perform tasks that can be challenging for the elderly. Through this year’s contest theme, the Senior Solutions Challenge, students could program the robots to do tasks like walk up stairs, fix and move a broken chair and raise a flag, organizers explained. The robots operate on a “game board” with Lego versions of stairs, chairs and other objects placed around the space.

More than 125 fifth- through eighth-graders are involved in Elkhart’s robotics program, according to Faith Schultz, Elkhart’s high-ability program supervisor. Teams gain points for the tasks they can complete in a two-and-a-half minute round on the board.

“It’s engineering,” Schultz said. “It’s science, technology, engineering and math all put together.”

Math concepts come up quickly in programming the robots, Schultz said. For example, instructing the robots to turn certain directions can involve entering in the number of degrees in a rotation.

Many teams have also been working with “senior partners,” she said, who are older individuals in the community who can talk to the kids about what activities can be challenging for them.

Aron Allen, 11, a sixth-grade student at Beardsley Elementary, said he joined his school’s robotics program because he likes playing and working with Lego pieces and thought the program would be fun.

“The programming part and using the light sensor is challenging,” he said, “but other than that, it’s pretty easy.”

His involvement could one day also add to his resume. He’d like to be a Lego designer when he’s older.

Megan Fitz, a coach for Pinewood Elementary’s three teams, said that the program gets the kids to do hands-on work with math and science and develops their problem-solving skills.

“It gives them kind of the big picture,” she said. “They need to think about what they want to do and then build it from the details.”

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