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Kodiak Robotics team wins regional tournament

December12, 2016
Kodiak Robotics team wins regional tournament
By Noelle H. Lowery

Earlier this month, two Kodiak Island Borough School District robotics teams — the AKTEACH RoboBears and the North Star Navigators — participated in the 2016-2017 FIRST LEGO League (FLL) Robotics Virtual Regional Qualifier. Securing the Judges’ Award for Outstanding Performance, the AKTEACH RoboBears will advance to the FLL Championship at South High School in Anchorage on Jan. 14, 2017.

In all, 14 teams from around the state of Alaska competed in the Virtual Regional Qualifier, which was hosted by GCI and sponsored by AKTEACH DTi. KIBSD’s robotics program is spearheaded by AKTeach Statewide Virtual Content and STEM Program Coordinator Teresa Hedges, and the district’s two FLL teams are coached by parent volunteers: Mike Munson and Jeremy Stewart for the AKTEACH RoboBears and Crystal Burnside and Cody Campbell for the North Star Navigators.

These tournaments are sponsored by FIRST — For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology — a Manchester, NH-based 501(c)(3) not-for-profit public charity founded in 1989 to inspire young people's interest and participation in science and technology. Beyond robots, FIRST is based in design-accessible, innovative programs that motivate young people to pursue education and career opportunities in science, technology, engineering and math, while building self-confidence, knowledge and life skills.
With guidance from their adult coaches, FLL teams of up to 10 members in grades 4-8 apply science, engineering and math concepts, plus a big dose of imagination, in a three-fold competition. First, the teams develop solutions to a real-world challenge and create a formal presentation of these ideas, and second, they design, build and program LEGO MINDSTORMS-based robots to perform autonomous “missions” on a table-top playing field.

The third component focuses on solving these problems using the challenge’s core values:
  • We are a team.
  • We do the work to find solutions with guidance from our coaches and mentors.
  • We know our coaches and mentors don't have all the answers; we learn together.
  • We honor the spirit of friendly competition.
  • What we discover is more important than what we win.
  • We share our experiences with others.
  • We display gracious professionalism® and coopertition in everything we do.
  • We have FUN!
The theme for the 2016-2017 challenge is “Animal Allies,” and it explores how humans and animals can work together and help each other in everyday life. The project and presentation portion of the competition asks teams to pick a situation when people and animals interact, identify a specific problem to solve from that interaction and devise a solution to the problem that improves on something that already exists, uses something that exists in a new way or creates a totally new solution. Finally, the teams create presentations to share these ideas, employing posters, slideshows, models, multimedia clips, props, costumes or anything else that help convey the message.

The robot portion of the challenge incorporates a number of “missions” for teams and their robots to attempt. Staying with the “Animal Allies” theme, some of these missions included putting a shark figurine in a small tank and transporting it across the playing field, placing pieces of food on a specific target, moving a human and an animal into correct training and research zones and moving items from one area of the table-top playing field to another.

For the recent virtual regional challenge, teams gathered online and were judged and refereed by officials in Anchorage and Juneau. Kodiak’s teams met at North Star Elementary to be part of the competition, and both teams made an impressive showing in all three areas that were judged.

According to Hedges, the importance of these types of competitions to a student’s educational experience is undeniable. In addition to developing critical thinking, team-building and presentation skills through these challenges, students are learning to collaborate with one another on projects and to work with their hands — two skill sets that everyone must master in the current technology age.
“Collaboration is huge in all curriculums today,” explains Hedges. “Students have to be able to collaborate to be successful.” She also touts research that demonstrates a direct connection between students working with their hands as kids and their ability to problem solve as adults:
With more than 255,000 students participating on 32,000 teams from 88 different countries, programs like FLL are reinforcing these academic philosophies everyday.