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Halethorpe Elementary students use Legos to provide solutions for seniors

The LEGO GroupFitnessUniversity of Maryland Baltimore County

While depression is not often associated with young children, it was the primary focus for a group of students at Halethorpe Elementary recently.

The students, members of the school's Lego Robotics Team, focused on how to help seniors cope with depression as part of the annual First Lego League challenge.

Their efforts earned them a sixth-place finish in the Robot Game category during the First Lego League Qualifier Jan. 5 in Laurel.

Ann Spence, professor of the practice with mechanical engineering at University of Maryland, Baltimore County, said that First Lego League is an opportunity for children ages 9 to 16 to solve real world problems.

"The whole idea of First Lego League ... it's a robotics competition, but it's more than that," Spence said.

Spence said that the competition not only challenges students mentally, but also allows them to develop valuable life skills, like teamwork and cooperation, for later in life.

"They're all learning all of these kind of 21st century skills that we want our students to have before they go into the work force," Spence said.

Students present their findings in three categories, according to the website.

The Project is a skit and presentation that shows the students' research and findings.

The Robot Game involves programming a Lego robot to perform pre-assigned tasks.

In Core Values, students are asked to discuss their application of the year's assigned values.

This year's theme was "Senior Solutions" and dealt with the issues that those aged 60 years and older face on a daily basis.

For the project and presentation areas of the competition, the Halethorpe team developed a game show that would help motivate seniors to improve their mental and emotional stability.

Natalie Miller, a coach for the Halethorpe team, said seniors who would take part could look at it as a low-impact form of exercise.

"It's nothing physical we (seniors) have to do, but it's something that's strengthening us mentally and emotionally," Miller said.

Miller's fifth-grade son, Jonah, is a member of the team and also has a high-functioning form of autism. She said being on the team helped him learn about robotics, but gain self-confidence as well.

"This is also a very good way for children who are not very confident, who don't have a lot of self confidence or self respect, to build those things up," Miller said. "That's what it did for him as well."

Jonah has been on the team for two years and plans to stay involved even though he is graduating to middle school will not be able to participate anymore. However, he enjoyed the experience so much he plans on returning as a coach to assist with future teams.

"It was good and I had fun, and next year when I'm in middle ... I'm going to be an assistant coach," Jonah said.

Halethorpe principal Jill Carter, also stressed the important life skills the program teaches.

"They came a long way. The biggest thing the kids have to learn over the years that I've done this, is the whole idea of working together and collaborating," Carter said. "Those are just skills that you need."

The students will present their research and their robot at a school assembly in February.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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