Girard Lego Lizards score wins in FIRST Lego League competition


SMILES ALL AROUND: Members of the Lego Lizards of Girard Junior High School gather around the board on which “Lizzy,” the team’s robot travels. Students, from left, are Gabby Cloggins, Nick Sherock, Cameron Blenton, Jalene McClendon, Brian Spence and David Kuzman. They won the Quality Design Award in the FIRST Lego League regional competition in Canton. The trophy is at left.


A WINNER: Lizzy the robot, made of Legos and guided by a microcontroller, won the Quality Design Award for the Lego Lizards of Girard Junior High School during regional robotics competition in Canton. The small ball in the front of the robot enhances Lizzy’s maneuverability.

The robotics project also enhances students’ creative thinking and teamwork.


Vindicator Staff Writer

Talent and practical skills in graphic design, computer programming and other areas added up to three awards for the Lego Lizards of Girard Junior High School who competed in the FIRST Lego League regional competition.

The team of 10 seventh- and eighth-graders earned the Quality Design Award in the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) robotics competition Dec. 12 in Canton. The team also placed second in the robot round among 23 teams with a score of 280 points and fifth overall. The team learns Monday if it advances to state; as an alternate, the team will compete if a higher-

placing team can’t. Scores are based on project research, robot, teamwork and technical.

“When you get to the competition, you see how creative the kids are. All of the 23 robots were different,” said Jennifer Nicholas, seventh-grade science teacher and team coach. Each team uses the same kit to build a robot of Legos, including wheels.

The students have done more than win a trophy. They’ve developed creative thinking, problem-solving and teamwork. “Whatever talents the students have, we put them to use,” Nicholas said.

Nicholas said the Quality of Design Award is based not only on the robot design itself, but how well the students explain the idea, research and realization process to the judges.

Nicholas said the projects start in September when the themes are announced. “Smart Move” was the theme for 2009. Interested students attend two-hour, once-a-week after-school sessions to work on the project.

“It wouldn’t happen without parents’ support,” she said. As competition nears, the group meets more frequently.

Members of the Lego Lizards are Gabby Coggins, Jalene McClendon, Carissa Page and Dustin Thaling, all 13 years old and eighth-graders, and seventh-graders, Justin Asente, 12; Cameron Blenton, 13; David Kuzman, 12; Nick Sherock, 13; Brian Smith, 12; and Brian Spence, 12.

The NXT (microcontroller) holds the computer program, said Jalene. “We download the computer program for it,” she said. “Izzy” was the team’s first robot, which was working fine then just “froze.”

Lizzy, the second robot, did much better.

In competition, in what is termed “table rounds,” the robot must travel along a board. Each round is 21⁄2 minutes. The mission is the job that the robot can complete and points are awarded. There are points for knocking down certain objects and points for avoiding others. “We brainstorm ideas at first,” Nicholas said.

The “Smart Moves” theme motivated the team to select the construction site for the new high school as its community connection. The team visited the site, learning about bulldozers, dump trucks, cranes and construction. Nicholas said the students talked with Mike Coates, construction manager, about the building process and safety issues. Nick Sherock devised an idea for “outriggers,” like cleats that hold down a rough terrain crane. Tipping is sometimes an issue with big cranes. Students participated in a conference call with Scott Sanders, director of engineering at Manitowac Cranes, Shady Grove, Pa., a major manufacturer. Students received a letter from Sanders who noted he was “inspired by the school dedicated to providing students with tools and technology for future jobs.”

Nicholas said that is the crux of the robotics project — to enhance students’ interest in math, science, engineering and technology. And as for the students, they said:

Jalene: “I like to work with technology. It’s a great experience.” (Involved in computer programming and design).

Nick: “I have thought about a career in engineering. But I’m also interested in advertising.” (Designed graphics on the team shirts.)

Brian: “I want to be an engineer.” (Helped design the robot.)

Cameron: “I want to be a paleontologist but my plan B is an engineer.” (Participated in research and building robot.)

David: “I’d like to work at NASA.” (Helped in programming and design.)

To underwrite buying the robot kits and travel to competition, the team has fundraisers including candy and poinsettia sales. A Night at the Races is planned at 7 p.m. Feb. 6 at Girard American Legion Post.

At the Canton competition, teams from Reed Middle School in Hubbard and William S. Guy Middle School in Liberty participated. Girard’s high school robotics team won the Buckeye Regional contest in 2007 and were in the semifinals in 2009.

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