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December 06. 2012 11:19AM

Creative thinkers - Kids use Legos to solve challenges of the elderly


Team 7248’s mentor Sean McGuire (the rooster in a red cape) joined the conga line while waiting for competition results. Teams from Pembroke and Auburn made it to the final rounds of the FIRST Lego League tournament on Saturday, Dec. 2, at Central High School in Manchester. (Ruth Mariano Photo)


The Auburn Advengers’ team includes members Sam Rooney, Travis Murray, Nick Plaza, Zach Plaza, Isaac Nicholson, Tuckerman Wozniak, Garrett Sullivan, Alec Gende, Conrad Gende and Jake Olsen, with mentors Dillan Murray and Sean McGuire and coaches Maria Rooney and Eric Murray. (Ruth Mariano Photo)

Asking children to solve issues faced by the elderly might seem like a slightly crazy idea, but students at the FIRST Lego League games showed just how creative their solutions could be.
The 2012 FIRST Lego League Championship Tournament took place at Central High School on Saturday, Dec.1, and the participants had the challenge of solving problems faced by the elderly as their big test.

Two teams from Pembroke and one from Auburn made it into the finals with innovative ideas, great teamwork, and a lot of hard work – and fun. One of Pembroke’s teams, the Cookie Monsters, won the Team Spirit Award.

With “fun” being a critical component of all FIRST events, this year’s championship tournament was no exception. Hundreds of teammates and thousands of spectators danced to “YMCA,” “We are the Champions,” “History of Rock and Roll,” Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” and Psy’s “Gangnam Style.” Volunteers and referees in festive hats danced alongside robots and Auburn Advengers’ own colorful rooster, Sean McGuire, while others formed a conga line long enough to fully encircle the gymnasium.

But it was not all fun and games. The daunting challenges the teams faced were threefold:
1. To prepare a project, with the input of a senior partner, to identify a problem faced by senior citizens and to create an innovative solution to the problem;

2. To learn about and adhere to the core values of the FIRST and Lego groups; and,

3. The item that most people associate with FIRST – the robot challenge. For this age group, the robots are relatively small and made of Legos with various sensors and gears.

Their challenge this year was to create a robot that could navigate a specifically laid out table with tasks to pick up “medicine for grandma,” retrieve her “service dog, Sparky,” deliver her Lego-quilt, bring her flowers, turn off her stove, and other very specific tasks that were scored according to their level of difficulty.

Pembroke’s Cookie Monsters

The Cookie Monsters of Pembroke had eight students participating at this competition, with one out sick. This team particularly shined in the core values evaluation session with the judges, where they were given a challenge to make a mission model – something they can relate to. In three minutes, the team had to pull together, strategize and build a Lego model.

In their huddle, snippets of conversation could be heard: “Come on! Let’s talk as a team! Yes, yes, yes, yes! We need that, too! I’ll build a grabber – see how it’ll just go in and grab the medicine? That works perfectly! Oh, it’s awesome!”

After three minutes, they then had one minute to explain the model to the judges.

After the performance with the mission model, the judges asked questions about the team’s design concepts coming into the competition. They explained how they had researched two ideas, one being an all-terrain wheelchair that could go up stairs, while the other was an auto-defibrillating vest that could be worn by someone with known cardiac issues.

One girl explained that her father has an internal defibrillator that requires surgical intervention to replace batteries or if the unit needs repair. The team determined that a vest could be custom made so the electronics placement is perfect for each patient’s unique physical characteristics and shape.

When discussing teamwork with the judges, they were asked, “What do you do when your group doesn’t agree?”

The answer was simple: “We work around it,” said the one of students.

They may also walk away for a moment – let someone just leave the room to think, or they’ll vote.

When asked how they get along with others, especially in a competitive environment like the FIRST Lego competitions, they simply said, “We hand out cookies and do our Cookie Monster cheer!”

The judges rewarded the Cookie Monsters with the Team Spirit Award.

Pembroke’s Chaotic Robotics

Pembroke had another team at the competition, the “Chaotic Robotics,” with eight members ages 8 to 12. These students, who all live in the same neighborhood, said one teammate, enjoy participating in FIRST robotics.

Some of the members started back in Junior FIRST Lego League, while it’s the second year of participation for most of the team members. With three sets of siblings, this group has become particularly cohesive, with an inspirational eagerness.

Their robot, Axle, had a design of different attachments for certain missions.
“We focused on missions close to base to save travel time,” they said.

Their teamwork with eight people was a particular challenge for them as everyone had a different way of thinking, solving problems, and talking to each other. They learned how to be good leaders, and how to be good followers.

Their project, “Climbing Gears,” was designed with pneumatic power to help seniors who have trouble carrying things up and down the stairs, particularly for seniors who may have vision problems.

Auburn’s Advengers

Team 7248, the “Auburn Advengers,” (a combination of “Avengers” super heroes and “adventure”) were competing with 10 children from 9 to 14 years old. Although this is Auburn’s fifth year participating in the FIRST Lego League competitions, this is the Advengers’ first year.

This team was the inspiration of 9-year-old Sam Rooney, who last year had asked for only one thing for Christmas: To participate in a LEGO robotics team. To make this wish come true, his parents got together with some others they knew and formed this team.

FIRST’s core values presented a particular challenge to this team when they had begun with two separate robot designs, but had to use the theories behind “gracious professionalism” to determine which design to choose.

“It meant not getting upset when having to let go of your own idea,” they said. They noted on their team information sheet that, “Being part of a team became more important than thinking about our own self.”

By analyzing how twisting and turning motions are difficult for so many seniors, they came up with the concept of working with local merchants to provide “drive-through parking spaces.” They interviewed seniors, first responders, store owners, an occupational therapist, and others to research how this simple solution could save many lives and prevent accidents.

“Over 300,000 seniors were involved in parking lot accidents last year,” they found in their research, and “backing out of a parking space was the main reason.”

In interviewing seniors about their drive-through solution, they said “100 percent of them” preferred pulling through than having to back out. The team then “filmed our solution in an actual parking lot” and shared it with two local merchants who were receptive to the concept.
Looking forward

With this year’s challenge done, the teams are now looking forward to next year when they tackle the challenge, “Nature’s Fury.” Going into the competition, organizers will have high expectations.
“What kids have going for them is no experience going in the wrong direction,” said U.S. FIRST Regional Director Steve Cremer. “Kids have no old solutions,” only new, fresh ideas. “It’s the insane ideas that are great solutions!” he said.


Pembroke’s Chaotic Robotics team participated in the FIRST Lego League games Dec. 2, which is a robotic competition for those in elementary school. Standing, from left, are Jill Smart, Sadie Fox, George Griffin, Nathan Cormier, Tyler Cormier, Louann Cormier and Abby Smart. In the front are Tyler Smart, Jarrett Griffin and Hannah Serafin, with Axel, their robot. (Ruth Mariano Photo)


The Cookie Monsters team of Pembroke presents its project in the Core Values Judging room. Pictured here are Marcus Simoes, Faith Lopes, Olivia Lamper, Jake Sabolevski, Samantha Eastman, Oscar Miller (seated), Charlie Miller, Mikel Timm and Gabrielle Bannister. They won the FIRST Lego League Team Spirit award at the Dec. 2 games. (Ruth Mariano Photo)


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