By Kristy Zurbrick, Madison Editor
A rookie robotics team out of Madison-Plains Intermediate School is making its mark in the competitive world of LEGO League.
LEGO League is part of FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), a national, public charity that provides mentor-based programs designed to inspire young people to become science and technology engineers.
In LEGO League, students tackle real-world engineering challenges by building LEGO-based robots to complete tasks on a thematic playing field. They then compete against other teams, earning points for knowledge gained, teamwork, sportsmanship and tasks their robot accomplishes.
In their first contest, a 24-team regional competition held Dec. 7, the Madison-Plains team turned in a top-six finish and qualified for the Ohio Youth Robotics district tournament to be held Jan. 11-12 at Wayne High School in Huber Heights.
The team, Eagle Robotics, is made up of 12 fourth- through sixth-graders. Based on this year’s competition theme, “Nature’s Fury,” the group built and programmed a miniature forklift to assist in the aftermath of a hypothetical flood. Their forklift moves around a flat styrofoam table about three feet wide by five feet long and outfitted to look like a city. It rescues pets and people, lifts and moves debris, and triggers a helicopter to take off (down a wire), among other tasks.
Chris Rhoads, Madison-Plains’ technology teacher for kindergarten through sixth grade, serves as the team’s coach. He had the following to say about the group’s beginnings and its first-year success:
How were students chosen to be on the team?
“Students had to submit an application with an essay. Our building principal, Lori Carnivale, and I chose the team members. It was open to all students in fourth through sixth grade.
“Because we got a grant from Ohio State University’s Women In Engineering, half or more of our team members must be girls.”
Does Lego League provide manuals for building and programming your robot?
“FIRST provides some overview videos and how-tos on programming and building the robots, but they leave a lot of the design process and programming up to the kids doing the actual work.”
What has it been like coaching the students and watching them become a team?
“It has been an absolute blast. There has been the tensions associated with a bunch of strong and independent individuals coming together but, after a week or so, we all learned to live with each other and see the strengths that everyone brings to the table. I could not have asked for a better group of kids to bring this program to life at Madison-Plains.”
Were you surprised that your rookie team advanced its first year out?
“I was extremely surprised… I figured we would go out, have fun, and bring back quite a bit of valuable information that would help us go further next year. The fact that we made it to the next level is a testament to all of the hard work that my kids put into this. They amazed everyone with their performance, including me.”
(Also at the regional contest, Madison-Plains won a trophy for exhibiting gracious professionalism—teamwork and cooperation—during a random challenge. “That meant more to me than moving on,” Rhoads said.)
What are you doing to improve your performance for the district competition?
“Practice, practice, and more practice. We have been meeting three times a week since the last tournament and will be meeting every day when we get back from winter break…
“Even though our presentations are done for the most part, the students are still researching and adding more facts. We have the scores, rubrics and feedback from the last competition and are using those to improve and polish our presentations, as well.”
Is the district competition open to spectators?
“The Jan. 11 judging takes place behind closed doors. The Jan. 12 robot competition is open to the public. Teams go head-to-head; whoever gets the most points (in two-and-a-half minutes) moves on. It’s really kind of cool to watch.
“The regional competition was the same day as the Ohio State vs. Michigan (football) game. I came back more pumped after watching kids play with LEGOs.”
Is there another level beyond district? If so, what do you have to do to get there?
“After the district level, there is the state level where the best teams from each Ohio region will compete. In order to get there, we have to perfect the presentations we gave at the regional level and place within the top 25 percent at the district.”
What are your future plans for the Eagle Robotics team at Madison-Plains?
“I plan on keeping the team going as long as the district will allow me to do so. My team will remain fourth through sixth grade, but I have been talking to my administrator and the administrator in the junior high about bringing a seventh and eighth grade team to the district, as well.
Who are this year’s team sponsors, and how have they supported you?
“OSU’s Women In Engineering (WIE) and OSU’s Office of Outreach and Engagement provided the funding for the Lego kit, playing field, and contest fees. They have also been an extremely valuable mentor resource for the team, helping guide us to success in our first year competing.”
Rhoads also thanked the school district and the Phillips family for their support. Kyle Phillips, a Madison-Plains graduate and student in OSU’s WIE program, introduced Madison-Plains to LEGO League. Her brother, Owen, is a member of the team. The Phillips family helped to build the team’s permanent practice table and portable competition table. They also donated the team’s t-shirts.
For more information about attending the Jan. 12 Ohio Youth Robotics district competition in Huber Heights, contact Chris Rhoads at Madison-Plains Intermediate School, (740) 490-0610, after Jan. 5.
Katie LeGault – fourth grade
Sam Rhoads – fourth grade
Andrew Geyer – fourth grade
Pegasio Xenikis – fourth grade
Jerry Slagle – alternate – fifth grade
Rachel Weis – fifth grade
Sara Sampson – fifth grade
Becky Grigsby – fifth grade
Owen Phillips – sixth grade
Carly Massie – sixth grade
Gavin Jones – alternate – sixth grade
Joey Grigsby – sixth grade
Coach – Chris Rhoads
Mentor – Shawna Fletcher
“The fire of your heart is all that matters, win or lose.”
“Be calm, stay cool and be awesome.”