By Peg Sisul
For the Independent
In a few weeks, a Rogue Valley team of young engineers will head to north to compete in a statewide tournament. The Beaver Bots 4-H FIRST Lego League team has advanced to the Championship Tournament to be held Jan. 14 and 15 in Hillsboro. Beaver Bots will compete on Jan. 15. One team will win the top prize each day, sharing the co-championship title. Those two teams will go to the World Festival in April. The Qualifying Tournament was held Dec. 10 in Medford at Kids Unlimited, where 16 teams from all over the southern half of the state gathered to test their skills in Lego robotics.
Beaver Bot team members Gordon Dauterman, Zach Gorman, Hayden Neyt, Jon Sisul, and Joel Townsend are making final adjustments to their robots under the watchful eye of their mentor, Peg Sisul, in preparation for the championships. Hayden, Joel and Zach attend Little Butte Elementary and are in the 5th grade. Jon attends Eagle Point Middle School and is in the 8th grade. Gordon is a 6th grader from Medford.
The Beaver Bots are part of the FIRST Lego League (FLL), an international program for nine- to fourteen-year-old children. FLL seeks to get children excited about science and technology and to teach them how to work collaboratively on a team. The teams work under the supervision of adult mentors to design, build, and program Lego Mindstorms robots to solve problems that are presented in a theme that is designed and presented by FLL. Every year, FLL announces a theme, outlines a set of challenges, and provides the FLL teams with a mat (the surface on which the robots work) and the Lego structures that provide the environment in which the team works to meet the challenges.
Thanks to generous sponsorship by Intel and Google, FLL teams have been competing in Oregon for the last 10 years. The first year saw only 60 teams, primarily from the Portland area. This year, 428 teams from all over Oregon participated in Qualifying Tournaments..
This was the first year that a Qualifying Tournament was held in Medford, and teams came here from as far north as Roseburg to compete. Jamie Kaufman, Program Director at Kids Unlimited, was instrumental in hosting the tournament. She organized groups of volunteers to help set up and run the tournament, and she gave FLL full use of the entire Kids Unlimited campus for the day. In addition, Cathy Swider, Project Administrator for ORTOP (Oregon Tournament Outreach Program) came down from Portland to help with Medford’s first year hosting a tournament, as did head ORTOP referee Tara Biggs. The other teams from this tournament to advance to the Championships are: Circuit Chefs from South Middle School in Grants Pass, Flamin’ Gears 4-H Club from Grants Pass, and the Kode Krackers 4-H Club from Roseburg.
This year’s FLL theme was Food Factor. It presented a variety of challenges involving food safety and foodborne illness. The Beaver Bots researched many ways that food can become contaminated, poring over magazine articles, contacting scientists in various fields, and even touring Eagle Point’s own Butcher Shop to learn how they avoid different sources of contamination. The Beaver Bots came up with the innovative solution of creating a laser box that scans for germs and then zaps them with a laser that kills germs but does not harm human cells.
At Kids Unlimited, the Beaver Bots and other teams participated in a full day of activities. Each team had three tries to get their robots to complete all the challenges in 2 ½ minutes. They also presented their project to a team of judges at the Qualifying Tournament by performing a creative skit that they wrote collaboratively and then answering questions from the judges. In addition to being judged on their programming and design skills and the quality of their presentation, they were also judged on what is perhaps the most important of FLL’s values: teamwork and gracious professionalism. As defined by FIRST, “Gracious Professionalism™ is a way of doing things that encourages high-quality work, emphasizes the value of others, and respects individuals and the community.”
FIRST was created in 1989 by Dean Kamen, an accomplished inventor, to inspire an appreciation of science and technology in youth. With support from three out of every five Fortune 500 companies and more than $12 million in college scholarships, the organization hosts competitions for various age groups.
To learn more about FIRST, go to www.usfirst.org. To learn more about the “Food Factor™” Challenge, go to www.FIRSTLEGOLeague.org.