By Sarah Colson
Last Saturday, a group of 10 seventh and eighth graders from Boones Creek Middle School took what they’ve been learning in the classroom and put it to use in the Tri-Cities first ever LEGO League Qualifying tournament at ETSU’s Mini Dome. More than 200 students and 15 teams from around the area participated in the STEM-geared competition.
Since this year’s competition theme was “Trash Trek,” eighth grader Mya Moseley decided to lead her team in the research component of the competition by researching a common item that usually gets thrown away.
“My kids chose to research receipts,” eighth grade math teacher and LEGO League coach Kelly Aubrey said. “When you go to a restaurant and you swipe your debit card, think about it, how many receipts do they give you? How can we eliminate that?”
Moseley wants to study bees when she grows up, and said that this research component was challenging but what they learned was worth the challenge.
“We found that 640,000 tons of paper is made for receipts each year,” Moseley said, “and 9.6 million trees are cut down each year so people can get receipts.”
After some hard work and research, Aubrey’s team also discovered that not only is receipt paper non-recyclable due to the kind of material it’s made of, but that it’s also dangerous for humans.
“We found that there’s BPA in receipts and every time you touch a receipt it contaminates your blood,” Moseley said. “The BPA will be absorbed in your blood quickly. At these levels many diseases and disorders such as diabetes and obesity increase.”
The solution? According to the kids, the best way to handle it is by simply asking your server or cashier to not print your receipt. If you need your receipt, Aubrey’s team suggests that you have it emailed to you instead of printed out.
“We’re trying to eliminate some of that trash and pollution, just by asking,” Aubrey said.
Boones Creek’s team consisted of six boys, four girls and one special robot the kids named WALL-E. Aubrey said the most important characteristic the group worked on this semester wasn’t just coding or research, but was working as a team.
“The kids all had to write why they should be chosen to be in LEGO League,” she said. “We had to know who was going to be the best fit for that and who had the best personality for it because this is a team so we have to think with that team mentality and who all will work well together.”
Aubrey added that she has several natural-born leaders, like Moseley and eighth grader Abe Tyler who led the team in coding WALL-E, who have taken charge over both the robotics portion and the research portion of the competition. Equally important to her, however, are those who are willing to follow.
“The team dynamics are there because I have two natural-born leaders that really help our team out,” she said. “But in order for you to have a team, not every single person needs to be that leader. You need followers who are going to do what you ask of them and the rest of my team is very good about being a part of that and playing their role and knowing that their role is still just as important for our team.”
The competitors, who are all fourth through eighth graders, had to program their robots to complete pre-determined and timed tasks, with the goal to complete as many tasks as possible in two and a half minutes. The performance was then evaluated by a panel of experts who judged based on the robots’ design and function.
“It’s impressive that seventh and eighth grade kids are able to program this little robot,” Aubrey said.
After the competition, Aubrey said considering this was the team’s first year competing, “It went better than expected. There were some things we didn’t really know but our team took it, ran with it and did a really good job.”
The Boones Creek Bars placed fourth out of 15 overall for the robotics portion of the competition. The award Aubrey is most proud of, however, is the first place trophy they received for the Presentation of Core Values portion.
“We talked about the fact that our school is what’s called an EPIC (Encourage, Protect, Invest, Connect) school,” Aubrey said. “So our kids talked about each one of those four pieces and how that’s really a big part of our team dynamics. The judges said they could really tell that our team lived out that piece of our core values so that was good for the kids to hear.”
Aubrey said they named their robot after the movie WALL-E, which is about a little robot whose name is short for “Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth-class.” His job as the last robot left on Earth is to drive around to pick up all the trash left behind, one piece at a time. Since the theme for this year’s LEGO competition was “Trash Trek,” the students thought the name more than fitting.
“The kids thought of the movie WALL-E and how in the movie that robot’s main job is to clean up trash or make it into something different,” Aubrey said, “and that’s what ‘Trash Trek’ is really all about.”
This was Aubrey’s first year coaching the LEGO Robotics team, and the first team from Boones Creek Middle School that’s ever competed. In the past, schools in the area have had to travel to Knoxville to compete.
This year, the competition came to them largely thanks to a $1,500 grant the TVA awarded to six Washington County Schools this year to help them pay for the LEGO pieces, robotics parts and entry fees for the competition. Aubrey said she’s grateful to see STEM-related enthusiasm from her students and that it’s helping them make the connection between the classroom and the real world.
“Real life application is something that you’re not always able to give to students in the classroom every single day and also make it meaningful for them,” she said. “But now every student I have is in some way interested in some career in the math and sciences. Being a part of this is really helping them see that what they’re doing in school really does matter.”
Aubrey and her team found out how they placed overall after News & Neighbor goes to print. The top nine teams will go on to compete Feb. 13, 2016. To learn more visit firstlegoleague.org.