WEBSTER –Two rookie robotics teams from St. Joseph School have been playing robot games all school year and in the process have come up with solutions to paper and food waste at the school.
On Saturday, Dec. 19, a FIRST LEGO League (FLL) robotics team called the Brickonators attended the Massachusetts Championship Tournament at Worcester Poly-technic Institute and brought home a 2nd place in the Presentation Award category.
The Presentation Award recognizes a team that effectively communicates the problem they’ve identified and their proposed solution to both the judges and other potential supporters.
The problem that the Brickonators researched was food waste at Saint Joseph School.
A younger team, the Wafflerz, worked on a project that focused on paper waste and their suggestions are being implemented at Saint Joseph School.
Here is how the year unfolded for the new robotics teams.
The robotics tournament, also called RoboNautica, is sponsored by WPI and Raytheon and features the top performing teams from qualifying tournaments held throughout the state.
FLL is an international program for children ages 9 to 14, which introduces kids to the fun and excitement of science and technology.
The two rookie teams began preparing for competition in September. Coached by parents Beth Boudreau and Mike Mamro, as well as Gerry Wolfe, a mechanical engineer and mentor from Dow Chemical Co., the 15 students met several times each week to prepare for the different components of the competition.
Most of the team members were new to robotics, so they spent extra time learning how to program an autonomous robot – a LEGO MINDSTORMS EV3 – that would eventually be used to complete “missions” and score points on a thematic playing surface. This is called the Robot Games.
In addition, they had to complete a project in which they identified a problem associated with this year’s challenge theme, “Trash Trek,” conduct research, talk to experts, and propose and share innovative solutions. The teams also worked to create their own individual identities and held a bottle and can drive so they could purchase team shirts.
On Dec. 5 both teams participated in the Mindstorm Mayhem Qualifier Event at the Oak Middle School in Shrewsbury. During the Mindstorm Mayhem event, 48 teams competed for 16 awards, as well as for one of 13 “Golden Tickets” to the FLL MA State Championship at WPI.
In order to advance, teams had to score in the top 40 percent of all teams participating in the Robot Games and be judged on their projects, robot designs, and core values. The project judging included a five-minute presentation in which teams had to clearly, but creatively communicate their findings and answer questions pertaining to their topics.
They also had to participate in robot design judging. During this session, judges evaluated the mechanical design of their robots, their programming, and their strategy and innovation.
Finally, teams must adhere to the FLL core values throughout the event and season, and were judged on their level of inspiration, team work, and “gracious professionalism.” Core values are the cornerstone of the FLL program and include honoring the spirit of friendly competition, knowing that what they discover is more important than winning, working together to find solutions with only guidance from their coaches and mentors, and, of course having fun!
All three judging sessions were weighed equally.
The qualifier event was a full day of competition, but at the end of the day, the Brickonators finished in 11th place in the Robot Games and were awarded the Research Award for their project. The Research Award recognizes a team that utilizes diverse resources to formulate an in-depth and comprehensive understanding of the problem they have identified.
The Brickonators include 6th graders Seth Boudreau, Szymon Mamro, Benjamin Colebourn, and Jacob Boynton, and 7th graders Mackenzie Valliere, Christopher Mahlert and Jack Colebourn.
In addition, they were awarded a “Golden Ticket” to the state championship.
The Wafflerz had a very successful day, too. They advanced to the second round of the head-to-head robot competition, but were eliminated after a very close match. Their project focused on paper waste and their suggestions are being implemented at Saint Joseph School.
The Wafflerz include 4th graders Noalani Perez, Cheyanne Matthews, Dominic Pigeon, Jacob Sirard, and Adrian Sobczak, and fifth graders Olivia Montione, Nicholas Fennelly and Patrick Mahlert.
After several weeks of qualifying events the season culminates at high-energy, sports-like tournaments. The Massachusetts Tournament is known as RobotNautica.
This year in Massachusetts, 430 FLL teams started the season, but only 86 advanced to the State Championship.
At the state championship, the Brickonators were awarded 2nd place in the Presentation Award category. The Presentation Award recognizes a team that effectively communicates the problem they’ve identified and their proposed solution to both the judges and other potential supporters.
The problem that the Brickonators researched was food waste at Saint Joseph School. They began by quantifying their problem. Over a two-week period, the team measured the amount of food that was discarded during lunches. They discovered that an average of 19 pounds of food was discarded each day, which equals more than 3,100 pounds of food each year. During their research, they also learned that a major source of methane emissions from landfills is from food waste. Methane is greenhouse gas that is more potent than carbon dioxide.
Therefore, to reduce the methane emissions produced by Saint Joseph School, they surveyed their fellow students to determine which meals were more likely to be eaten, as well as which were more likely to be discarded. They also studied that effect of holding recess prior lunch. In addition, they evaluated composting methods as well as anaerobic digestion, and designed a food sorting station for their cafeteria.
Finally, they began working with the local food pantry to donate uneaten non-perishable foods, as well as donating uneaten meat scraps to a local pig farmer. Throughout their research they met with experts that included Pratt Trucking, E.L. Harvey and Sons Waste Management, Kenneth Pezzetti, superintendent of the Webster Highway Department, Kevin Lightbown, veterinarian, and Randy Jordan from Jordan Dairy Farm.
The Brickonators’ project presentation featured a skit honoring one of their favorite nuns, Sister Mary Valenta Akalski, Oscar the Grouch, and a unique song that they wrote called “We Won’t Waste Food,” sung to the melody of ”We Will Rock You.” During the award ceremony, the Brickonators were recognized for their creativity, as well as their research and recommendations.
The Brickonators was the only team, either public or private from Southern Worcester County.
The robotics program at Saint Joseph School will continue this spring. Current members, as well as other interested students, will meet weekly to sharpen their robot design and programming skills.