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Contact: Charlie Bier
Feb. 13, 2013
(337) 482-6477
Fun Program Teaches Kids About Engineering

Children are using Lego toy building blocks to learn about advanced concepts like engineering and address grown-up issues like aging as part of a fun program sponsored by the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.

Students age 9-12 who competed on a boy’s and a girl’s youth robotics team recently wrapped First Lego League competition.

The youth robotics teams, sponsored by the University’s College of Education and College of Engineering, are composed of students who either attend area schools or are home-schooled. The students trained at the College of Education’s Center for Innovative Learning and Assessment Technologies.

Both teams advanced to the First Lego League Louisiana Championship in New Orleans after placing first in qualifier tournaments in Lake Charles.

Team FriendBot, girls age 9-10, ranked fourth in the Robot Performance portion of the state competition. Team participants include Angella Albert, Lillian Dejean, Michelle Jia, Maggie Lai, Amanda MacFadyen and Natalie Piccione.

Team Phoenix, boys age 9-12, placed first in Robot Programming and also ranked fourth in Robot Performance. Team participants include Dominic Marcantel, Joseph Marcantel, Francisco Pagan, Grant Thomas, Aaron Williams and Caleb Williams.

As part of First Lego League, individual teams design, build and program robots from Lego toy pieces that are showcased in tournaments organized around the world. Participants also deliver a research project based on a pre-determined scientific theme.

The teams, which can have two to 10 members and an adult mentor, adhere to a uniform set of rules and practices.

The robots are built around a standardized motor, but the designs are up to the creativity of the teams.

More than flash, though, makes these robots hum. Students must program the robot for optimum performance on a regulation-specific field referred to as a mat, which is roughly the size of a small pool table.

The robot has to perform tasks like picking up small objects as part of a competitive scoring event. The course must be navigated in an allotted time of 2 ½ minutes.
“There’s strategy involved with them deciding which of up to 14 missions they want to do,” said Dr. Douglas Williams, a UL Lafayette professor of education and CILAT director who led Team Phoenix.

The missions are modeled around a theme based on a scientific topic, which Lego introduces yearly.

This year’s “Senior Solutions” theme challenged students to navigate a course of mock tasks modeled on helping senior citizens.

“The robot goes out and gets the correct medicine for the senior, for example,” Williams said.

There’s also the research project, which Dr. Yaxin Ma, the associate professor of education who sponsored Team FriendBot, said results in teamwork and awareness of topical issues.

In the case of Team FriendBot, the research project also resulted in a prototype for a specially designed walking cane. The cane, crafted from a stick of bamboo, was equipped with Lego pieces that served as “warning sensors” ­ for detecting objects in the dark.

“The great thing about this project is it’s long-term,” Ma said. “The students spend September through December going deep into programming, engineering and research. That extended time delving deep into a project, going to qualifiers and getting feedback, helps them gain so much confidence in themselves.”




Document last revised Wednesday, February 13, 2013 2:40 PM

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