Lake Orion Teams Take Honors in FIRST Competitions
The team approach fosters interest in science and technology.
Students from Blanche Sims Elementary School and Lake Orion High School have taken awards in recent competitions in a program known as FIRST and its spinoff, FIRST LEGO League.
FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) was founded in 1989 by American inventor Dean Kamen to get young people interested in technology and engineering through team robotic competitions. FIRST LEGO League is an alliance between LEGO and FIRST for younger kids, ages 9-14, with similar goals. Both programs use student teams and adult coaches.
The Mindstorm Maniacs, a FIRST LEGO League team from Blanche Sims, competed in their first competition last month and took home a first-place award for excellence in robot programming.
The competition, called Thunderquest, was held at Henry Ford II High School in Sterling Heights. The rookie Blanche Sims team placed 12th overall out of 39 teams.
“I’m really proud of these boys,” said their principal, Jennifer Goethals, who attended the competition. “They’ve had a great first year.” The team members are Noah Boice, Branden Lapanowski, Kevin and George VanPoelvoorde, Kadin Wolfe, Michael Byrnes, Cameron Patterson and Gabe Spencer.
The team, consisting of eight boys in grades three through five, was formed in mid-September by parent coaches Jennifer and Jeff Byrnes. It’s part of the Lake Orion school district’s Project 21 initiative, which was designed to expand learning opportunities to meet the challenges of the 21st Century.
“Kids think that LEGO League is just about building with LEGO,” said Jennifer Byrnes. “In reality that is only a small portion of what LEGO League is about. FLL helps kids learn about science and robotics, and develop team-building and presentation skills.”
Each September, FLL rolls out a two-part challenge, the project and the robot game. This year’s teams had to come up with a solution that would improve the lives of senior citizens. The team interviewed Kathy Henschel, the 84-year old great-grandmother of one of the team members. Then the boys created the Automated Senior Helper, a product designed to help seniors remember tasks such as taking medicine and going to appointments.
The LOHS team
LOHS Team 302, in an alliance with Pontiac’s Team 51, won the Oakland County Competitive Robotics Association (OCCRA) County Championship at Holly November 17. They beat an alliance from the Oakland Technical Center Northeast, Brother Rice and Marian in the championship final.
The tournament randomly pairs robots from two different teams in an alliance against two robots from an opposing alliance. The game called for one side’s robots to try to place balls into different sized structures while the opposing robots tried to prevent them. Teams were given the game rules at the start of the school year and used them to build their robots.