Putting technology to the test

The director said the young teams were doing sophisticated work.
YOUNGSTOWN -- When it comes to building robots, Mahoning Valley middle-school pupils know their stuff.
On Tuesday morning, 12 teams of middle-school pupils from Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties teamed up in the Chestnut Room at Youngstown State University's Kilcawley Center in the sixth annual North East Ohio Robotics Competition.
Arlene Floyd, director of associate degree and tech prep programs at YSU, said the competition was open to pupils in grades five through eight and each team consisted of eight to 10 pupils.
Although each team did an exceptional job, this year's judges chose St. Charles School in Boardman as the overall winner. The second-place award went to Niles Middle School, and Boardman Center Middle School placed third.
She said each team was to design, build and program a robot using Lego Mindstorm technology, which is used in engineering colleges across the nation. Floyd said that the technology is powerful and that she hopes this will provide middle-school pupils with a venue to showcase their technology skills.
Robot's task
This year's theme was golf; the robots had to pick up a golf ball, travel on the designated path and drop the ball in the hole. She said this teaches pupils to work as a team to design and build a robot to perform specific tasks.
"Trust me, it's not easy," Floyd said. "We're talking about really sophisticated work here."
Most of the judges for the competition were retired employees from the General Motors fabricating plant. Ed Medved retired Jan. 1 but has been a judge for the past five years. He said the judging depends on the type of competition, and they break it down into categories.
During vehicle inspection, they look for structural integrity and design, and in the performance part of the competition, points are based on different factors, such as how far the robot made it on the path and how long it took it to travel that path. He said teamwork is the most important factor, and without it, teams will not succeed.
"The kids get very involved with this," Medved said. "They get very excited."
Boy, do they ever.
Taylor Marconi, 13, a seventh-grader at St. Charles, was hooting, hollering and hugging his teammates after completing the task in only 16 seconds. He said they found a design on the Internet and modified it to make their vehicle.
After putting a Lego version of Santa Claus in the driver's seat, he said he was confident they would win the competition.
"It's very exciting," Taylor said. "We had problems with our robot. ... I'm just really glad it worked for the competition."
While some teams were excited about winning, the young ladies from Athena School of Excellence for Girls in Youngstown were also concerned with having some fun. Eighth-grader Jessica Jeter, 13, said it's easier to learn when the class is fun, and this is her idea of a fun activity.
"We're taking it seriously, but we're having fun, too," Jessica said. "Having fun is important when you're trying to learn."

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