Glenwood Springs Elementary Lego team set for state competition
Legos are a whole lot more these days than fun building blocks to occupy a kid’s time. Just ask Glenwood Springs Elementary School fourth-grader Benjamin Swanson.
“It is fun, but it’s also very challenging,” Swanson said as he worked to perfect a computer programmed Lego robot to perform a specific task. “You have to be strategic in how you build it and get the program right.”
Friend and GSES Los Robos Lobos Lego teammate Ezra Goscha agreed.
“Like Benny said, it is really fun, and it’s fairly easy compared to other programs I’ve done,” Goscha said. “The main thing we’re learning is that even if you make one slight mistake it could mess the whole thing up.”
Los Robos Lobos was one of three Glenwood Springs teams to compete at the First Lego League Mountain Division robotics competition in Aspen in early November. The fourth-grade team was the youngest team at the meet and became one of the top six scoring teams to claim a spot at the Dec. 17 state meet in Denver.
First Lego League is a competitive program for fourth- through eighth-graders.
“It introduces a real-world challenge which requires teams to research, problem solve and present on a topic,” explained Los Robos coach Anne Swanson, Benny’s mom, who is a math teacher at Glenwood Springs High School.
Glenwood also fielded a fifth-grade team and a team from Glenwood Springs Middle School.
Barb Brown started the GSES program two years ago, and for the first two years it involved only fifth-graders.
“We added the fourth-grade team to try to start the kids a little sooner and weren’t really thinking they would be one of the top teams,” Swanson said. “These guys did great.”
A total of 16 students are part of the GSES teams, including 10 on the fourth-grade team. Nine of them will be going to state, Swanson said.
The teams use a computer program call Mindstorm to program the robots they build using Lego blocks and a special motor. The programs come with predefined tasks that are timed and judged in a head-to-head competition with other teams.
Teams also compete in a problem-solving session in which they are judged on their ability to demonstrate First Lego League’s core values, Swanson said.
“The real mission is to get kids excited about math and science at younger levels,” she said. “The kids also have to speak about their project and think on their feet in front of adult judges, which I think is the most important part of the competition.”
Judging also weighs robot design, teamwork, collaboration and sportsmanship.
This year’s theme is called Animal Allies, where students program their robots to perform different missions that show how animals and humans can help each other.
For instance, the Los Robos team worked to design a better harness for service dogs to give warning to their owners when danger is present.
The team also researched a real-life issue involving the likely eventual migration of wolves into Colorado after their reintroduction to the Yellowstone region several years ago, thus the “Lobos” part of the team name. Students had to identify some of the problems associated with that, primarily conflicts with livestock, and come up with solutions.
Team member Giovanni Vasquez is helping to design a deterrent to drive wolves away from sheep herds and allows ranchers to warn each other when wolves are about.
“So, there’s a motion sensor that goes off when there’s a wolf and then it blows a high-pitched dog whistle to drive them away,” Vasquez explained. “We were also thinking of a way to tranquilize a wolf and put a tracking thing on it that you can plug into a computer to show where the wolf is going.”
Jessenia Recio and Jack Berkheimer said they are learning a lot from the project.
“I like doing this together as a team, instead of working independently,” Recio said. “It teaches us about compassion, teamwork and determination.
Berkheimer is putting together a computer slide show to document the students’ work.
“I just like learning new things, and I feel like we could help wolves and help farmers so they can keep their livestock safe,” he said.
Over at the mission board, Jacob Roggie is working to perfect the robot to perform the five missions the team has laid out.
“Some parts are challenging and some parts are easy, and sometimes it doesn’t do what you want it to do,” Roggie said.
Steve Byers, who works as an engineer in Glenwood Springs, volunteers to co-coach the program with Swanson.
The extracurricular student program does come with a cost, so Swanson was able to line up a $500 sponsorship from SGM Inc. engineering and the Bank of Colorado to buy the Lego kits and robot table, and for the kids to travel to the state competition.
“This is something GSES can’t really afford on its own, so we’re really thankful to these local businesses that donated money to cover our costs,” Swanson said.