Robot team brings home top honors

ENCINITAS — Members of Olivenhain Pioneer Elementary School’s First Lego League Team took home two prestigious awards in December.
The team won the Champion’s Award in the local competition sponsored by San Dieguito Academy’s Robotics Team on Dec. 11. The top honor encompassed performance on project presentation, robot technical design and programming, teamwork and robot performance.
The robot, known as “Little Johnny,” actually achieved the highest overall score in the competition.
The eight-student team also competed against other teams of 9-to-14-year-olds from throughout Southern California in the 2010 First Lego League Cup at Legoland. The team’s robot scored enough points to earn a rank of eight out of 60 teams in the high-energy competition on Dec. 5.
The league is designed to teach children how to apply creative thinking and robotics to real-life situations. It is a partnership between the LEGO Company and For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology, or FIRST, a nonprofit organization founded by world-renowned inventor Dean Kamen to inspire young people’s interest and participation in science and technology.
The competition focus is on different areas of science, medicine and technology each year. This year’s theme, Body Forward, had participants exploring the world of Biomedical Engineering to discover innovative ways to repair injuries, overcome illnesses and disabilities, and build healthier, stronger bodies.
Coaches Fran Goldstein and Kay Anderson and programming mentor John Gaby led the team of fifth- and sixth-graders for the second year. “We were determined to get to Legoland this year and we did,” Goldstein said. “The kids had a great time.”
Olivenhain Pioneer is one of nine elementary schools in the Encinitas Union School District and serves approximately 700 kindergarten through sixth-grade students.
The team had to identify and research a medical problem, create a solution and develop a presentation. In addition, the students built a Lego robot and programmed it using Lego Mindstorms technology to perform a series of tasks on a preset field that depicts various medical problems.
Jake Goldstein, 11, said one of his teammates has a sister with diabetes. “He cares a lot about his sister so he wanted to find a way to help her without her having to prick herself five to six times a day to measure her glucose,” he said.
As a result, the team came up with a “mellometer” which works like a breathalyzer and is a painless way to measure blood glucose levels in diabetics. “This is the first machine that would test glucose using the principal of naturally occurring blood sugar tested in the breath,” Jake said.
“They did all of the research themselves,” Goldstein said. The team practiced several times a week. “This year we really worked a lot more,” Jake said. “Now we have more experience.”
The experience is more than using critical thinking skills. “You learn a lot about the subject, about how robots work,” Jake said. “You get to learn how to program and a lot of stuff you probably never would have learned how to do.”
They are also judged on teamwork skills. “It was pretty awesome to see some of the remarks the judges gave the team,” Goldstein said of the high marks the team received in teamwork and respect.
Carlsbad-based ViaSat gave a generous donation to help fund the team’s efforts according to Goldstein. “This is all parent-driven so we really appreciate the support,” she said.

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