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Hobart sees its first LEGO league team

Written by Mike Siroky. Posted in Uncategorized

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Published on November 09, 2010 with No Comments

By Mike Siroky

Come down Main Street in Hobart and park in front of the library. Look across the street at St. Bridget’s School and look up.

There in the windows of a classroom are the simple letters L-E-G-O.

This is the subliminal way the first-time members of Exploding Pie, the FIRST LEGO league team from Hobart, choose to reveal themselves.

It is within that classroom, designated by the school, that the magical collaboration of parents, volunteer instructors and, most importantly, students of all ages, has begun.

FIRST is an acronym for “For the Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology.”

The competition involving the FIRST LEGO Challenge has several age-specific robotic programs. The FIRST LEGO League is a global robotics and innovation program designed to bring out interest and enthusiasm for science, teamwork, technology and discovery for children between the ages of 9 and 14.

With the adults to advise and guide , but never actually do the work , the team meets twice a week to explore this yearís challenge. The ìBody Forward Challenge” is a two-part robotics challenge that requires research to complete the Project Phase, plus science and engineering to perform the various missions of the Robot Game.

In the Robot Game, the students build and program robots to perform simple tasks such as repairing a leg bone made out of LEGOs, seal a hole in a LEGO heart, install a pacemaker and dispense medicine.

The leader of the Hobart group is Keith Hall, the only adult in the Hobart project without a student family member involved. The Crown Point resident has been doing these projects for years and has had several teams compete in regional competition.

The Hobart Community Foundation stepped up and came through with a grant for the project. Computers were purchased, space was designated and, most importantly, parents came out in support.

The parents involved include Assistant Coach Lisa Hickman, Build Team Coach Joe Rodino and his assistant coach Andy Robinson, Research Mentors Nancy Moore and Jill Knight, Team Spirit Coordinator Karla Marcayda.

Presentation Team Mentors include Matt and LaRhonda Lenski, Tyra Serrano-Galarza, Renee Antczak, Greg and Diana Ernst, Scott LaMantia and Nancy Engel.

The parents step up by volunteering to guide computer research, help show the team how to make team costumes and posters, bring the snacks and drive the children to events and team meetings.

ìThe parents expect to participate if they want their children to participate,” Hickman said. ìItís a unique group of parents and Mr. Hall is just the best coach we could imagine.”

Hall said that the parents have been essential to the whole program, but everything ultimately gets handed over to the students. He said the students decided on ìExploding Pie” as their team name and also designed the team T-shirts.

At a recent Saturday session, the concept of a team cheer was suggested by the adults, and then the children came up with one that includes minimal choreography.

Hall jumped right in to help capture the correct style and demonstration of foot stomps and hand claps, then stepped back out to let the participants fine tune it.

The cheer will start and end every work session and will be used at the regional competition as well.

At competition, each completed mission will earn points. The robots are equipped with sensors and programmed using a computer to perform autonomously.

With the push of a control button, the robots can maneuver around the table.

ìThatís so cool,” said one student as he watched his robot drive across a table, hit the wall and automatically reverse its direction. ìLetís do it again!”

In the Project Phase, teams research a body part, function or system, then create a solution to protect, repair, heal or improve it and share their solutions with their global community.

The Hobart group has decided to design what would be micro-robots actually inserted into the human bloodstream to stifle and eradicate aneurysms.

The robots would be propelled by their own power sources, with fans. Some use suction cups to grip an aneurysm, while others can tie off and bypass an aneurysm.

It will all come together at the schoolís initial team competitions, Nov. 21, on the campus of Indiana University Northwest.

Some of the competing schools will be in their 12th season, but Exploding Pie is not dissuaded.

The teams are scored as they appear before three panels of judges where they will answer technical questions about their robot, give project presentations and demonstrate how well they worked together as a team and as gracious professionals.

ìThe goal was to take a team to the event and see how we do,” Hall said of his first-time team. ìThis is a daunting challenge, but it is also how legendary science starts. They are exceeding expectations.”

This yearís team is a mind sweep away from the time when another volunteer helped students design living spaces for a proposed colonization of the moon. Their hand-made moonscape with buildings and vehicles still occupies a prominent display spot in the new think tank. And, yes, NASA itself noticed the innovative ideas in the lunar Hoosier town.

Those original students attacked all the problems, from structures to food and water and disposing of waste.

The FIRST LEGO League competition started in 1998 and today has grown to more than 17,000 teams in 50 countries. For more information on the FIRST LEGO League, visit www.firstlegoleague.org.

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About Mike Siroky

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All opinions, conclusions or recommendations expressed in the above excellent column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Chronicle. Mike Siroky is a writer and editor. He is a native of Northwest Indiana. He has worked in media from coast to coast. To contact Mike, email mikel@the chronicleNWI.com

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