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calendar   Monday - December 08, 2008

Lego Land

My boys love legos.  I think we have over 10,000 bricks and parts in our home at last count.  My oldest, the 11 year-old, also is an engineer.  He can dream of and build just about anything.  A couple of years ago, we heard about the F.I.R.S.T. Lego League.  FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) is an organization started by Dean Kamen (yeah, the Segway guy) to get kids excited about science which started this competition for 9-14 year olds.  It is an intense, two month season of research, robot building and teamwork that culminates in regional and state-level competitions.

In the middle of September, the challenge for the year is announced.  There are four aspects to the competition that each contribute 25% to your overall score:
- Research project - This is the team’s research presentation on the topic of the year.  This year’s topic was: “How does the climate affect your community?”
- Teamwork - How well does your team work together?
- Robot Design - How well is your robot designed for the challenges
- Robot performace - This is the part the kids really look forward to.  Its a timed event of 2:30 where the robot the kids designed (using the Lego NXT system) try and accomplish as many of the year’s challenges as possible.  Each year, there are a potential of 400 points to be gatherd.

When the challenge was announced this year, we had no robot base, we had no practice table and most importantly, we had no team.  So we called a few people we knew who might be interested and found 4 other kids to join us...two more boys and two girls..a rookie team of 6 kids who have never worked together before.  We ordered the base robot kit and the year’s challenge kit (to build the challenges with) and had one of the dads build us a practice table.  We started meeting in the beginning of October The regional tournament was in mid-November, so we only had about 6 weeks to prepare.  Our expectations were pretty low.  This was going to be a “fun” year of just getting our feet wet and seeing how it all worked.

The kids worked real hard, redesigning the robot four or five times until they were satisfied with the stability and performance capabilities.  here is what they ended up with:
image

For the research project, they chose to study the affect of salt on the roads and come up with an alternative solution. (they chose to present the use of “Jet Dryers” that NASCAR and the Airports use to dry the road surfaces).

We went to the regional tournament knowing we were a first-year rookie team and jsut wanted to have fun.  Our robot could consistantly score in the low 100’s (out of the possible 400), so our expectations were not very high.

In the robot performance, we scored a 140 (best score of three runs), which was the second best for the day (our frieds won the top slot for performance with a 145).  The kids were elated that they had done so well.  Apparently, scores all around the nation have been low this year due to the complexity of the board.  When we were at the awards ceremony at the end of the day, we were shocked to find out we had won the overall tournament (the combination of all four scores from teh different categories) and would be moving on the the state tournament in just three weeks!

There were some changes they wanted to make in the design based upon some neat ideas they saw other teams use, so we went to work.  As we changed on aspect (the front forsk, for example), it gave them an idea to change something else (the sweeping arms).  Eventually, we changed every attachment and every program.  The kids were having fun, but getting a little nervous that we had actually redon the entire solution in just a couple of weeks.  We practiced and practiced and had the ability to get nearly 300 points, but not withing the two and a half minute time limit for the run.  They had to decide which pieces to jettison so we would be within the time limit.

This past weekend was the state tournament.  39 teams in thier devision (younger kids) from around the Virginia and Metro DC area gathered at James Madison University for the two-day event.  On Saturday, they competed in their teamwork and research project intervies and judging.  Yesterday was the robot design judging and the performance runs.  They had ten tournamen tables set up and were running groups through every ten minutes all day (80 teams all together for the two divisions, four runs each: 1 practice run and three judging runs).  They did very well in all three of the interview judging sessions, so the robot performance was going to be key

The practice run was a disaster (we scored 60).  We made a few programming changes at a practice table and the first judging run was better (125).  The second run got us up to 160.  Then the third run didn’t go so well with us scoring only 120.

We did not end up winning any awards (the top robot score for our division was 275...well done!), but the kids had a fantastic experience, learning a lot about science, robots and the climate.  Overall, they finished in 6th place.  Out of 39 teams, we felt that was a strong showing for our little band of rookies. 

When we got home last night, my boys immediatly started talking about about how they could improve for next year, building a few test attachments and seeing how they would work.

Now that the frantic season is over, I can get back to being more engaged in politics and other things.  Its amazing how such an activity can completely dominate your life for a time.  Thanks for letting me indulge you with a little glimpse into the MrChristian household.


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Posted by Drew458   United States  on 12/08/2008 at 09:24 AM   
Filed Under: • PersonalScience-Technology •  
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