-By Bob Kane
You may think robots are hi-tech devices used on battlefields, spaceships and rescue operations. But if you ask members of the “Bulldog Botz,” the robotics team at Bethany Community School, they will tell you about the robots they work with that are made out of something much more low-tech: Legos.
“The students love working with robots – designing, building and programming them. The kids do the same work as adults building robots. The only thing different are the materials they use which are Lego bricks,” says Larry Buono, one of the coaches of the Bulldog Botz.
Buono, along with coaches Bob Kane, John Migliaro and Jack Nork, have been working since January with 12 fifth and sixth graders, along with three BCS graduates who have returned to serve as mentors, to prepare the team for this year’s First Lego League competition. Over 1400 elementary and middle school students from around the state compete in the First Lego League, a division of US FIRST – a group founded in 1989 by inventor Dean Kamen to motivate young people to pursue education and career opportunities in science, technology, engineering and math.
This past Saturday December 3, the Bulldog Botz went to Berlin to compete in the Ragged Mountain First Lego League qualifying tournament and made their hard work pay off. The team finished ninth out of 26 teams and won a “golden ticket” to compete at the First Lego League state championships at Central Connecticut State University this Sunday December 11. They were the only elementary school on Saturday to get a ticket to the state championships.
“The kids and coaches all worked really hard and the results speak for themselves” says Migliaro. “All of the coaches and parents are really proud of the kids and we’re looking forward to going to the state championships. Regardless of how we do there we consider this season to be a big success.”
The robotics program at BCS is only in its third year and to reach the state championships in such a short period of time is quite an achievement. The program’s inception was spearheaded by BCS parent Nork, who saw there was a hole in the school’s offerings for science and math students.
“Not every student wants to or is good at playing basketball, yet every school has a gym with basketball hoops. How do we develop those kids who have an interest in science and technology and can exercise that interest beyond the standard curriculum? The administration agreed and supported us in starting up this program.”
The children don’t just design, build and program robots for the competition. They also have to “practice gracious professionalism” by demonstrating teamwork skills and explaining their design choices to the judges. In addition they need to conduct research and create a presentation on the season’s subject: this year - food safety.
“We had a PhD from the Harvard School of Public Health come in and discuss the epidemiological process with the children. They also took a trip to the Texas Roadhouse restaurant in West Haven where they went behind the scenes to learn about safe food handling techniques first hand. The kids really enjoyed the research and created a skit on the idea of a ‘smart kitchen’ that insures you take the necessary steps to keep your food safe in your house” said Buono.
The kids had a very balanced performance in the qualifier receiving positive feedback from the judges and scoring well on the table with their robot. The all-around result earned them a spot in the state finals.
The finals are this Sunday December 11 starting at 9AM in Kaiser Hall on the CCSU campus. Admission is free and is open to the public.
“We’d love to see more people from Bethany come out and root for us on Sunday” said Nork. “The kids are really excited and would be happy for the support.
“We’re also looking for sponsors, new coaches, volunteers and anyone else who is willing to help out with the team” continued Nork. “Obviously as these children move on, new kids will want to be a part of the program and we can use all the help we can get to keep up the momentum we’ve built.”
Nork concludes, “The next time you see a child with a Lego robot, you might think he’s playing, but you may be looking at the rocket scientist of tomorrow.”
If you’d like more information about the Bulldog Botz or are interested in attending this weekend’s tournament, please see the resource links below.
Bulldog Botz Website
First Lego League Connecticut State Championships
Photo caption: Bulldog Botz team members with their “golden ticket” to the FLL state championships