Sunday, December 14, 2003

Robots energize science students



By Liz Oakes
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[IMAGE] Will Herrmann, 14, looks over a robot at the First Lego League's robotics tournament Saturday.
(Ernest Coleman photo)
Six pairs of young eyes focused excitedly on Gina Dobell, 12, at the corner of the Lego competition table as the buzzer sounded.

Members of Team Eggo My Lego cheered as their kid-designed robot, Shelby, scooped up all three "ice rings" and returned to home base, where Gina quickly pulled one Lego appendage off the robot and added another for the next task in "Mission: Mars."

The team had just 2 1/2 minutes to put Shelby through its paces in First Lego League's regional robotics tournament Saturday at Scarlet Oaks Career Development campus.

When the time was up, Eggo My Lego's team members crowded into the hallway as coach Jeff Schmidt of West Harrison, Ind., gave them their score: 206, the best they'd done all day.

"You guys rock!" Schmidt told the group. "No, you boulder!"

The team of nine 11- to 13-year-olds from the northwest side of Greater Cincinnati - all but one of them home-schooled - agreed.

Until the competition this year, "I had never considered the possibility of becoming an engineer before, and now it sounds kind of interesting," said Lauren Schmidt, 13, an eighth-grader on the team.

That's exactly what Linda Neenan hoped to hear. She is president and founder of Cincinnati-based Interactive Science Space & Aeronautics Center for Education, which sponsored the regional tournament.

"As a former math teacher, it's always bothered me that our kids across the country aren't as competitive with kids across the world" in science and technology, Neenan said.

One of the goals of the competition, in its second year locally, is to encourage students to pursue careers in science.

This year's tournament drew 34 teams from across Greater Cincinnati. Four to 10 students made up each team. The students came from 19 schools and one home-school cooperative.

Teams spend as much as $500 on registration, a robotics kit, and competition mat and tabletop, Neenan said. Most, though, find grants or sponsors to help cover the cost.

There are four components to the contest: the robot's performance, a research project, technical presentation and teamwork.

The winners of the regional competition go on to the state contest Jan. 16-17 at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton. The top teams then compete at the international tournament in Atlanta this April.

The overall winner Saturday was Team Martian Adena Robotic Students of Adena Elementary in West Chester Township, one of the top 12 teams that will go on to the state contest.

Eggo my Lego ended up winning the innovative design award.

E-mail loakes@enquirer.com




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