4-H helps Lego robotics teams

Schultz Bruce, Johnson, Kirsten D., Hester, Katina M., Vanderlick, Esther C.

News Release Distributed 11/30/10

MANSURA, La. – The LSU AgCenter 4-H program helped students participate in a statewide robotics competition in New Orleans, and one of the teams received an award for its rookie performance.

Students in the 4-H program from Avoyelles and West Baton Rouge parishes participated in the First Lego League statewide competition in New Orleans recently (Nov. 20).

“The amount of work that went into preparing for the event was nothing short of amazing,” said Kirsten Johnson, LSU AgCenter 4-H agent in West Baton Rouge Parish that fielded one of the teams.

Lego League is a robotics program for youngsters ages 9 to 16 to get them excited about science and technology and teach them valuable employment and life skills.

The theme of this year’s competition focused on biomedical technology with the theme “Body Forward.”

Esther Boe, LSU AgCenter 4-H agent in Avoyelles Parish, said the mission of First Lego League and 4-H are complementary, stressing teamwork, problem solving and work ethic.

Boe said the Aim Techs team from Lafargue Elementary School in Avoyelles Parish received the “Rising Star” award at the state competition for placing 20th out of 63 teams in its rookie appearance at the event. Another team from Avoyelles Parish, the Avoyelles Parish Charter School Vikings, was ranked No. 15, she said.

Boe said Wayne Lemoine, parish superintendent of schools, gave 10 schools $1,000 each with funds from a grant from the National Defense Education Program to start a robotics team to compete in the First Lego League.

“The superintendent wants to incorporate robotics in all of our schools,” Boe said.

The competition involved four components, and much of it did not involve robots. Each team had to undertake a research project to learn about a disease. “They also had to come up with an innovative solution to a problem involving the disease,” Boe said.

Johnson said a team that studied brain aneurysms proposed that a laser be used to cauterize veins to stop excessive blood flow, and use medical adhesive to seal the rupture of a blood vessel. The teams had to make formal presentations of their work.

The robotics competition required teams to build and program robots to complete 10 tasks on an obstacle course that involved the human body. For example, the robots had to place a broken bone in a cast or retrieve a syringe.

Building and programming the robots required math and innovation when things didn’t go as planned, Boe said. “They had to do a lot of problem solving.”

Building the robots requires original thinking, Johnson said. “There’s no set design for the robots, so they had to come up with what works for them.”

Johnson said 4-H volunteer Jayne Jason of Port Allen prepared the West Baton Rouge Parish team for the event by working with the youngsters during weeknights and weekends. “They put in an average of five hours a week.”

Jason said she enjoyed watching the children learn and discover new things.

“Their excitement is amazing,” she said. “It was exciting to watch the kids develop.”

Jason has been a volunteer leader since her oldest child was in fourth grade, but her children are now out of school. She said the robotics program provides opportunities for children who don’t participate in 4-H livestock programs.

The students attended sessions on five consecutive Saturdays to prepare for the New Orleans competition, Jason said. “It was a high level of commitment.”

The eight-member team received a grant provided by Dow Chemical to compete in First Lego League. The children were from Port Allen, Erwinville, Rosedale and Brusly, Jason said.

One team member is now contemplating a career in the biomedical field, she said.

Katina Hester, LSU AgCenter information technology analyst, said one of the goals of the First Lego League is to inspire children to pursue studies in science and technology when they reach high school and college.

“Studies have shown that we wait too late to get kids exposed to science and technology,” Hester said. In June, she gave 25 Avoyelles Parish teachers six hours of instruction on the competition and robot building to prepare for the competition.

“Almost all of them were newbies,” Hester said. “They caught on real well, and they are eager to bring this to the kids.”

At last year’s competition, a team from Ascension Parish led by Hester finished ninth out of 56 teams, she said. Boe’s team from Avoyelles Parish won the teamwork award.

Bruce Schultz

1/4/2011 1:10:48 AM
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