120717 Education: Robotics teams devise solutions to water issues
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The Hydromen, one of three teams, test their robot.

Education: Robotics teams devise solutions to water issues

By Emily Topper
Coastal Observer

At Waccamaw Intermediate School, FIRST Lego League club members are learning that modern-day robotics is about much more than coding and programming.

“They’re taking on the role of the computer engineer or the robotics engineer,” Beth Goude, the teacher who oversees the club, said. “There’s so much back and forth, back and forth. They make one little change and they have to check the robot. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. They’re finding out that it’s trial and error, and that’s the way real robotics engineering is.”

Now with 21 members in the growing club, this is the first year that the school will be sending three teams to the league’s regional qualifier. At the most, Goude said, the school has only sent two teams in the past.

The regional qualifier will be held Saturday at Ten Oaks Middle School in Horry County. The top 30 percent of the 36 competing teams will move on to the state competition. On Tuesday, the three teams separated into different classrooms as they began a two-hour practice for the upcoming competition.

Last year, the school’s Robo Renegades advanced to the East

State Championship.

“It’s been a little crazy, it’s been busy,” Goude said. “But it’s been fun.”

The students’ EV3 Lego robots are programmed with Lego Mindstorms technology to complete small tasks as one of three major components of the competition. The prompt of this year’s competition is centered around the world’s water crisis. Students are given two and a half minutes for their robot to complete as many tasks as possible, earning more points as they complete skills that require a high level of technique. Team members must communicate with one another before taking on one of the competition’s tasks.

“We program our robots to do missions on a board,” Charlie Gates, a fifth-grader, said. “The more missions we do, the more points we get. The goal is to get as many points as you can.”

For some students, the programming is the easier part of the test.

“Once they have that initial programming training, they take off,” Becky Anderson, who oversees the club with Goude, said. The students are taught the programming basics through guest speakers early in the year. “They do it so fast. For a lot of them, they can put it together very quickly.”

The problem-solving extends into the teams’ group presentations. After researching the water crisis across the globe, students were tasked with explaining the problem and creating an invention that could help solve the problem moving forward.

“This year’s problem was to find a way to improve the way we find, use or transport water,” Goude said.

Student presentations ranged from newscasts about Flint, Mich., to parody songs about brushing teeth and turning off the tap. One team’s solution was a water filter for Flint’s lead pipes. Dubbed ‘The Flash Filter,’ the students marketed the product in their newscast as a filter that would reduce the number of contaminants found in the water for just $70. Gates played the part of a Flint resident in need of the new technology.

“The lead got into our water because the pipes are made of lead,” Gates said. “The lead pipes dissolve into our drinking water. Lead is toxic to humans. It targets vital organs and the nerve system. If this problem is not solved, we might lose the entire community to sickness because we do not have the money to relocate to another state.”

The students are also judged on core values, including how well they work together as a team. Students practiced their assigned competition roles this week, making sure each team member had their own moment to shine.

“I wanted to join the club because I knew it would help me with a lot of things, like public speaking and mathematical things,” Lincoln Buxton, a sixth-grader, said. “What I’ve learned from it is that everyone has to work as a team. If they don’t work as a team, it’s not going to work out.”

The East State Championship will be held in February at Waccamaw High School.

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