Waccamaw Intermediate School’s robotics team placed second at a First Lego League qualifying event on Friday and will compete for a state title next month.
“We’re just amazed,” said Kathy Hirsch, a teacher at the school and one of the team’s coaches. “We’re totally tickled to death.”
“They’ve worked very hard and put a lot of time in and you can see their efforts,” said Dr. Tim Carnahan, the school’s principal. “They had no clue that they could be competitive the first year.”
Waccamaw Intermediate became the first Georgetown County public school to start a First Lego robotics program in August. The Mitney Project, an afterschool program in Georgetown, was also supposed to compete but withdrew because of an illness.
The First Lego League is a worldwide robotics program for kids ages 9-16. Its goal is to get kids excited about science and technology. First is an acronym for “For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology.”
Its core values include: teamwork, learning together, friendly competition, sharing experiences and fun.
“It’s learning. They’re excited about learning,” Carnahan said. “They have a passion to learn new things. That’s what its about, that’s what we’re supposed to do.”
There are 308 First Lego league teams in South Carolina, according to Mary Graves, who coordinates the league. Qualifying events are held across the state and 80 teams are picked to compete in the state championship on Feb. 23.
The First Lego League is not just about whose robot performs the best. There are three other areas kids are judged on: project competition; teamwork and core values; and robot design. All four areas are weighted equally in the final results.
In project competition, kids met privately with judges to discuss a project they conceived based on the theme for this year’s competition, which was “Senior Solutions.”
In teamwork and core values, each team used a Jenga set to build the tallest staircase they could. Kids had one minute to strategize and then two minutes to work together on the staircase without speaking.
In robot design, kids discussed their robot’s engineering with judges, including why they designed it the way they did and why they used the parts they did.
Those three areas of competition were done behind closed doors at Friday’s qualifying event. The most visible part of the competition was robot performance. Two kids from each team took turns putting their robots through a series of “missions” designed around everyday things seniors encounter. Each team had two-and-a-half minutes and was judged on how well the robot performed in three rounds.
Waccamaw Intermediate’s team, the WIS Mega Minibots, struggled in round one, Carnahan said. The Bay Bots team, from Ocean Bay Elementary School in Myrtle Beach, noticed a problem with Mega Minibots’ robot and the two teams worked together to solve the problem before round two.
The Bay Bots won the robot performance with a score of 340, and the Mega Minibots finished second with 260. The teams also finished first and second overall.
Graves said the robot performance scores at Friday’s event were above the state average.
Also getting a spot in the state competition was the Genius Gemstones, a team of Girl Scouts from Troop 150 in Garden City, which was one of the few all-girls teams at Friday’s competition.
The team, which formed in October, won the robot design competition.
Twenty-three teams competed in Friday’s event at Coastal Carolina University, including seven from Cario Middle School in Mount Pleasant and two from St. Michael Catholic School in Garden City. The top six teams received golden tickets to take to the state competition.
It was the first time CCU hosted a qualifying event.
“This is a great opportunity for us to connect with the community, put the name of Coastal Carolina University in the ears of these kids and be an influence to keep them in science and education,” said Louis Rubbo, an assistant professor of physics at the school.
Rubbo volunteered to manage the event.
“I had a lot of fun doing this,” Rubbo said. “I love teaching, so seeing these kids coming through here and being inspired by the science, the technology, engineering and mathematics is wonderful.”
Georgetown County is hoping to expand the robotics program to more schools in the future.
“Any STEM [science, technology, engineering, mathematics] activity that promotes math for both females and males and helps us to get our kids engaged is something we’re looking for,” said Patti Hammel, the School District’s executive director for Student Performance and Federal Programs.
Hammel and Carnahan accompanied the Waccamaw Intermediate team to Friday’s event and were shocked and thrilled with the results.
“These children have done an absolutely fantastic job, because it’s an absolute first for us, and they’ve only had a very short time with it, and they’re doing really well,” Hamell said.
By Chris Sokoloski
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