Teams compete in Lego league

Dec. 18, 2013

Oak Creek — Middle-schoolers learned about robotics, tornadoes and teamwork at the state FIRST Lego League state competition.

Three of six teams, comprising students from Oak Creek West Middle School, made it to the competition held in Appleton on Dec. 8, and two brought home second-place trophies — one for mechanical design and one for gracious professionalism. What they learned along the road to state, according to their coaches, is what really matters.

The state competition pits more than 60 teams from around Wisconsin against each other in a threefold match. They're judged on their group's core values, a public service project designed by students and their robotic designs.

Multiple tasks at hand

Core values are measured by how well members of the team support each other and how well the group functions. Eighth-grade student Collin Ostrowski said his team, on the way to a second-place win in gracious professionalism, behaved in a way that would make their grandmothers proud.

Sue Wanninger, a team coach, said the judges appreciated how friendly and open the team was with its competitors.

The public service project is themed differently each year, and this year's theme was "nature's fury." Competitors had to come up with a weather-related project. Both award-winning Oak Creek teams' projects revolved around tornadoes.

The team Collin was on, called Quantum Robotics, worked to create a Red Cross club for Oak Creek West Middle School. They're still waiting for approvals from the American Red Cross and the school. The other award-winning team, T.A.R.D.I.S., shot and directed an emergency plan for tornadoes.

After the project and core values are judged, each group pits their robot against the elements. The robots, each made of Legos and only a few inches long, must navigate a series of courses designed to mimic natural disaster scenes. From traversing fallen logs over rivers to moving supplies over a devastated simulated landscape, the robots have to make it on their own.

They are not directly controlled, but must be programmed. Some use color sensors, others have the course mapped for them.

"I had no clue how to program the robots," teacher and Lego League coach Karisa Mantey said. She added the students showed her the programming ropes.

Reflections on the season

This is the fourth year Oak Creek teams have competed in FIRST Lego League, and it's Mantey's first year as a coach. She said that managing the teams has been chaotic, work-filled and rewarding. She added that she's looking forward to coaching next year's competition.

The students started weekly practice in mid-September, putting hours each week into preparing their projects and programming their robots. Mantey estimated the groups have put in more than 40 hours in practice before the competition.

To both Collin and Cole Kreiderman, the work and the competition haven't been work at all. Cole said he loved seeing the robots other Oak Creek groups designed and that, while there were six total groups, they all felt like one big group, helping each other out. Collin echoed his sentiments and added that the competition made him feel like an inventor.

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