Tri-Cities Voice Newspaper - What's Happening - Fremont, Union City, Newark California

December 7, 2004 > Local Kids Ready for Robot Games

Local Kids Ready for Robot Games

by Ceri Hitchcock-Hodgson

Stepping inside of the Chadbourne Elementary cafeteria one can feel the excitement of the Chadbourne Robotics Club as they prepare for their big day. In eight days the fourth, fifth and sixth graders will meet in the Mission San Jose High School Gymnasium where they will compete against other students from elementary school on up in the FIRST LEGO League's Limits Challenge.

Over 200 kids, representing 32 teams from Fremont and the surrounding area will put their robots to the test, scoring points by performing nine tasks including climbing a set of robot-sized stairs, opening and latching a miniature gate and pushing tiny chairs underneath a dinner table. If the robots fail to fully complete the task (leaving behind a fallen chair or missing a mark) partial points are earned. The colorful plastic robots, crafted out of LEGOs, mirror the planning and effort put in to each one by the children. Amazingly, the kids program the robots by connecting them to their computers and "telling" the hi-tech toys how to maneuver.

During November and December, six regional qualifying tournaments will have taken place, with students age 9 to 14 hoping to make it to the next level. Each team is competing for first place and the chance to participate in the Northern California FIRST LEGO League State Championship tournament January 8th at San Jose City College. The ultimate goal of the event, however, is to encourage young people to work in teams and, through hands on experience, learn how science and technology can help those with varying levels of physical abilities in their everyday lives.

The second half of the competition entails a research project asking them to identify and address the challenges that disabled individuals face in everyday life. To prepare them for the task, the kids were asked to read the short story "Late for Lunch!" by James Patrick Kelly, about a young girl and her understanding of the differences of others. To better the obstacles faced by those with varying degrees of physical ability, the kids explored the school in a wheelchair, taking note of areas not easily accessible.

One Chadbourne fifth grader, Zackary Shaffer, explained why he chose to build an automatic door out of LEGOs; "When we went around the school in a wheelchair, we thought it would be easier if the library had a sliding door."

The FIRST LEGO League is an international program for children (ages 9 -14, 9 -16 in Europe) created in a partnership between FIRST and the LEGO Company. FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) was born over a decade ago to produce innovative programs that build self-confidence, knowledge and life skills while motivating young people to pursue opportunities in science, technology and engineering.

Each September, FLL announces the annual Challenge, which engages the teams in hands-on robotics design and authentic scientific research. After 8 intense weeks, the FLL season culminates at high-energy, sports-like tournaments. In 2003 over 43,000 children from 14 countries participated in the FLL program. The students are divided in to teams of no more than ten kids each. Some of the Fremont teams (Chadbourne, Hopkins Jr. High School and Mission San Jose High School) participating this year have unique monikers like the Six Senses, KAVE-MEN and Sky is the Limit. Each team has had the past eight weeks to combine their robotic know-how with teamwork to create

About three years ago, Mark Edelman and his wife, Jill Wilker, decided they wanted to volunteer at their children's schools with lasting results. Wanting to do more than the basic, Edelman and Wilker, both engineers, decided to start the Chadbourne Robotic Club. At the time their son, now a student at Mission San Jose, attended Chadbourne with their daughter, who still attends the school.

"This has an immediate impact," said Edelman about the decision to start the club. "There is no fixed solution, they have to work through the problem. Then they get it and you see the light bulb go off."

One of Wilker's main reasons for starting the club was to interest young girls in aspects of engineering through robotics. In the beginning stages of the club, nearly 100 kids turned out to be a part of the fun with about 30 percent girls. Today, the club, now a designated non-profit, has limited its enrolment to 60 children, nearly half of them female.

The Chadbourne Elementary & Hopkins Jr. High Robotic Clubs recently received a grant from the Global Institute for Technology and Engineering. The grant aids in the clubs' outreach program that encourages students throughout the area to become involved in technology and engineering.

You can catch the fun and innovation of the student's hard work on December 11 when the robot buffs converge on Mission San Jose High School Main Gym for the annual FIRST LEGO League No Limits Challenge. The school is located at 41717 Palm Ave. in Fremont. The tournament begins at 9 a.m. and ends with the awards ceremony at 4:30 p.m. For more information about this exciting event contact Jill Wilker at (510) 656-8664 or by email at jwilker@playingealearning .org..

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