Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

November 18, 2012

Students find higher learning through Legos

Kokomo’s Roboraptors take first, advance to FIRST Lego League regionals in Fort Wayne

By Mike Fletcher
Tribune staff writer

— Legos are not just toys. The plastic building blocks also serve as building blocks for young minds.

Learning through Legos was showcased Saturday during the City of FIRST’s Lego League Tournament at Kokomo High School. The event was sponsored by TechnoKats FIRST Robotics Team 45.

FIRST, an acronym for Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology, helps students learn about technology and apply that knowledge in future endeavors.

Eleven teams of fourth-through-eighth graders, including two from Kokomo, built robots using Lego parts to solve a variety of challenges.

Fittingly, the tables used for the competition were labeled Haynes and Apperson, illustrating Kokomo’s automobile heritage. This is the second year Kokomo has hosted the event.

The goal of the FIRST Lego League, said Dana Davis, coordinator of the event, is getting students interested in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathemathics) education with a theme built around senior citizens.

“We want out kids to be innovative and solve problems,” said Davis, who also works with the TechnoKats.

“It really starts to get kids interested in technology at an early age.”

This year’s theme, Senior Solutions, was geared around teaching kids the importance of getting to know elderly people and issues surrounding senior citizens, said Stacey Hatfield, coach of the Digital Disciples, one of the two Kokomo teams.

“The core values of the Lego League is learn team work and professionalism in solving problems,” Hatfield said.

Prior to the competition, each team had to explain its problem-solving task and the core values behind it.

For example, one challenge was to build steps for seniors and another, make an easy opening pill bottle for seniors, Hatfield said.

In getting in touch with senior citizens, the Kokomo team held a fundraiser to feed the elderly through the Kokomo Urban Outreach.

“It gives the kids a chance to learn what’s going on in their community and in the real world,” Hatfield said.

Andrea Replogle, the coach of DC Bots from Muncie, was impressed with this year’s theme.

“I was thanking the coordinators for their choice,” she said. “It allows kids to connect with elderly people like their grandparents. They learn things seniors struggle with and things they enjoy.”

One of her team’s challenges was to build a ramp for elderly people, which students donated to her neighbor in Muncie.

“It was designed by the kids and it works,” she said.

“This is a way for them to interact and to connect the generations.”

At the end of the competition, Roboraptors, a Kokomo home-schooled team, finished first, with Mod Squad from Westfield taking second overall. Both teams will now advance to the FIRST Lego League Regionals in Fort Wayne in December.

The Digital Disciples of Kokomo took fifth place, but did win an award for best robot design.