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Legos Inspire Problem Solving and Team Work

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March 30, 2011 by wcobserver

By Susan McCarthy

WEST FORK- Alzheimer’s disease, robots, Legos and middle school students may not all sound like they should be in the same sentence, but West Fork’s First Lego League isn’t like most after school clubs either.
On a table in Doug Hartman’s eighth grade classroom, about a dozen students are gathered after school.   Some are at computers.  Others are gathered around “the playing field”, a ping-pong sized table where robots are being tested as they perform various tasks.  Hartman and fifth grade math teacher Melissa Crowson are the club’s sponsors.
Hartman says participating schools all work within a given theme each year and this year’s theme is “Body Forward.”  He says the students decided to focus their project on Alzheimer’s disease.  First Lego League members meet after school each week to research the disease and are developing a brochure and a skit that would normally be presented to judges, although the students didn’t participate in the competition this year.  Hartman says the project helps teach problem solving and team building skills.
Students must also create a Robot Challenge and that’s where the Legos come in.
“They have complete freedom to design the robots.  They have to program it themselves…it’s not remote controlled,” said Hartman.
At the “playing field”, a robot is placed at “base”, a small square in a corner.  On cue, the robot zooms forward to a surgical needle made of Legos and trips the needle, sending it down a ramp before heading back to base.
“The technology involved in this is, it is very challenging,” said Hartman.
“It’s pretty simple.  It looks complicated at first, but it’s pretty easy once you get the hang of it,” said sixth grader Michael Qualls who obviously isn’t intimidated by programming a robot.
In all, the robot will have to complete 11 challenges or tasks that have to do with the human body ranging from more simple tasks like placing a cast over a broken bone to having nerve endings in a Lego brain send a message to perform a specific task.
While the robots are the most visible part of the First Lego League’s work, there is a lot of other work behind the scenes.  Some of the kids are sporting “Techno Tiger” tee shirts which features a collaborative design that all of the club members helped create.
Sixth grader Andrea Womack is busy developing a skit.  She said she spent a lot of time earlier in the year researching Alzheimer’s disease.
“We learned a lot about Alzheimer’s.  It’s incurable, but there are some medicines that will slow it down,” she said.
Womack said her skit will help explain what the disease is and its tell tale signs.
Melissa Crowson said the students also contacted medical professionals including University of Arkansas Medical Sciences in Little Rock to ask questions to better help them understand their research.
“I’m really impressed by it.  They’ve learned to work as a team, they’re learning research skills to give them a desire to make an impact someday,” said mom Michelle Qualls.
Hartman said that this year has been a building year; the school has been without a First Lego League for a year or two.  He said he and Crowson hope to participate in this year’s competition which is held in Mountain Home in December.  He said they took a number of students this year even though they didn’t compete.
“You have two and a half minutes to do all these objectives and it’s really exciting,” said Quall who looks forward to competing.

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