The Harker School’s lower school has two teams of grade 3 students competing in First Lego League (FLL) this year. FLL comes out with a new challenge every September based on a real-world topic involving science, and each challenge has three parts: the Robot Game, the Project and the FLL Core Values (which center around teamwork and gracious professionalism). In September 2011, the Food Factor Challenge was announced, and students at the lower school formed two teams (which can each have up to 10 students), named Robo Creators and Mindstorm Mastermind.
The project these two teams are exploring this year is food safety; they must investigate their food and find one way to improve its safe delivery to them. Recent scares around food safety, including the Listeria contamination in cantaloupes that led to 15 deaths in the U.S., were front and center for the two teams in early October, as they visited the Elkus Farm in Half Moon Bay.
The teams were exposed to organic farming techniques, food safety issues around animals and livestock and possible cross contamination sources in mixed environments. In addition to some serious discussions on food safety the kids had tremendous fun feeding chickens, goats, horses and numerous animals on this trip. As more than two thirds of the U.S. food supply comes from non-local and even international sources, better understanding and insights into these solutions via research from more than 200,000 children in 55 countries around the world in this year’s FLL competition will hopefully prove invaluable to this effort. FLL also hopes the project exposes students to new areas of science and technology, and introduces them to career options they never would have thought about.
Starting with a scrimmage in late October, the Robot Game portion of the challenge really got underway. To participate in the Robot Game, teams must program an autonomous robot to score points on a themed playing field. The lower school’s two teams were split into two different tournaments so that they don’t compete against each other. On a weekend in mid-November, Mindstorm Masterminds spent a full day at their regional qualifier tournament. According to team coach Jyoti Baid, “they had an amazing time,” and walked away as champions. They’ll now go on to compete at the state level. Part of their qualifying tournament involved a closed-door interview about the robot’s design. Baid says the students “walked in, promptly set up their gear, did a great job with the interview questions and behaved extremely professionally as a team.” By the end of the event, the head judge had announced that Mindstorm Masterminds was at the top of each category. They also ranked in the top four at the tournament for their robot’s design.
The following weekend, Robo Creators competed at St. Lawrence with an equally impressive performance, moving them to the state level competition as well. They had strong performances across all key areas, with the support of team coaches Jijen Vazhaeparambil, Gayatri Moorthy and Merwyn (Merv) Andrade. Andrade said the students had a “great day” competing. The team additionally won top honors from among the 15 teams competing for their innnovative research work on what they call a “Nitro Cabinet” to extend shelf life and prevent contamination of cherries.
Both teams will compete at the state level this month.