Elementary schools practice imaginative thinking and teamwork with robotics

By NewsLine Staff

Mandarin Oaks Elementary and Loretto Elementary School are embracing a fun way for students to practice their science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) skills — with FIRST Lego League, a program that combines these skills with the popular Lego brick.

The FIRST Lego League requires teams to research a real-world problem and to develop a solution. This year’s theme is Trash Trek. Teams also must design, build and program a robot using Lego Mindstorms® technology, then compete on a table-top playing field.

Mandarin Oaks has a new robotics program led by fifth grade teacher Heather Sevier, who was inspired to apply for grants to start the program after seeing the success at other schools. Mandarin Oaks was one of a handful of elementary schools that received a grant provided by the after school STEM clubs sponsored by Gary Chartrand, the chair of the State Board of Education.

Since September, Mandarin Oaks students have been meeting every Monday to build and code their robot to complete various tasks. Not only are the 10 students working on this challenge in the class, but they also presented a proposal to the school.

Their hard work paid off on Jan. 9, when they went to St. Mark’s Episcopal Day School for a robotics competition. Students had five minutes to make their presentation on the trash problem, participate in a robot challenge and take part  in a team building challenge.

“It is an incredible opportunity to bring together STEM and our students. It’s definitely getting them ready for future careers and it’s teaching them core values of generous professionalism and teamwork,” said Sevier.

Loretto Elementary is home to an established team that won the Champion Award last year at the regional competition. This year, the Loretto Wisdom Warriors robotics team consists of eight fourth- and fifth-grade students, including one veteran and seven rookie members. Gina Riley and Sarah Clifton serve as coaches.

For the Trash Trek challenge, The Wisdom Warriors developed a lunch tray called the Paper Matray that they think could change the environment. They won the Champion Award at a recent competition held at Susie E. Tolbert Elementary and subsequently went on to compete against other FIRST Lego League teams in the region at the Northeast Florida FLL Championship Tournament on Jan. 16, 2016 at the University of North Florida.

Photo courtesy Heather Sevier
Mandarin Oaks student works on the team’s Lego robot.