The mission: identify an area where food spoilage or contamination could potentially occur and develop an innovative solution to the problem. Design and program a robot to safely convey foods from their point of origin to their point of consumption. Make sure to complete all tasks with an attitude of friendliness, mutual respect, and cooperation ("core values").
This three-pronged assignment may sound daunting even to adults, but it is actually directed toward students ages 9-14 as part of the First Lego League challenge. Up to 10 students may compete on a team and this year, Mt. View Middle School sent two teams to the Jan. 21 qualifying match at Aberdeen Proving Ground.
Project Manager Rohil Raina directed the Falcons team, which included Quinn Crawford, Logan Fingerhuth, Daniel Lieberman, Evin Moody, Joel Landsman, Benjamin Lee, Spencer Leins, Matthew Leins and Tony Stout. Project Manager Will Barker led the Spartans team, which included Ayush Jain, Lucas Kaiser, Eric Kelly, Thomas Malloy, David Polefrone, John Rivers, Adam Sand and Thomas Wilson.
The journey began in September when FLL revealed the theme for this year's challenge – "Food Factor." Mt. View students began meeting once a week with their adult mentors — Gifted and Talented resource teacher Shelley Stout, who sponsors the after-school robotics club, technology and advanced inquiry teacher Keith Janelli, social studies and advanced inquiry teacher Brian Walsh and parent volunteers Amy Polfrone, Phil Polefrone and Lori Wilson. Although the adults provided guidance, the students completed their work independently.
Team members planned strategy together, but frequently met in small groups. Some students worked on the research project, while others created a project website and performed public relations activities. Still others designed and built a robot using Lego Mindstorms technology.
The students also listened to a lecture by Dr. Greg Carey, an immunologist from the University of Maryland School of Medicine, and they visited Wagon Wheel Ranch, in Mount Airy, to learn how the farmer keeps meat clean and healthy after slaughter. Their efforts culminated in two products for each team: a presentation about a food-safety issue, and a fully autonomous robot programmed to compete in the Food Factor robot game. (To learn more, go to http://firstlegoleague.org.)
Of course, when a school sends multiple teams to a competition, the possibility exists that one group of kids may advance while the other does not. Stout said that when she explained this possible scenario, one student asked, "Well, can the other team still go to cheer them on?" She was very proud of how supportive they were of each other.
Ultimately, the Spartans received the overall Champion's Award while the Falcons won the Mechanical Design Award for their robot, so both teams advanced to the FLL state championship, held Jan. 28 in Catonsville on the campus of theUniversity of Maryland, Baltimore County.
Naturally, the students were thrilled to move on to the state level, but the icing on the cake was that neither team walked away empty-handed from that competition, either. The Spartans and Falcons earned first and second place, respectively, for teamwork.
Success in the "core values" portion of the competition certainly speaks volumes about the professionalism of the Mt. View teams. Congratulations to all of the students, teachers, and parents who participated in this impressive learning experience.
Remember that Saturday, Feb. 11 marks the date for two local events. First, at 10 a.m., the Howard County Conservancy will host its free monthly Wonder Talk, "Squirmy Wormy Worms that Work: Kitchen Garbage to Top Soil." Master Gardener Barbara Schmeckpeper will talk about the miracles that worms work with their little bodies and offer a special hands-on exploration time for kids of all ages. Afterward, she will lead a workshop about how to create a worm bin for composting.
Those interested in staying for the workshop should email email@example.com for a list of materials. Call 410-465-8877 for more information or go to http://www.hcconservancy.org.
The next event on Feb. 11 is the Eco-Fest Carnival hosted jointly by Mt. View Middle School and Marriotts Ridge High School. This new, family friendly experience will take place at the high school from 1-4 p.m. and will feature green information, crafts, and games. Tickets cost 25 cents each at the door.
Registration for summer camps has begun. At the Howard County Conservancy, a different nature camp will take place every week from June 25 through Aug. 17. Days will run from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., with before- and after-care options available, and the cost is $250 per week (except for the shorter Fourth of July week, which will cost $200). Go to http://www.hcconservancy.org/summer-nature-camps.html for more details.
The Marriotts Ridge High School Boosters will also offer their traditional week-long sports and music camps this summer. The cost is $140 per week for those registered by May 15 or $155 after that date. Continue to check this column or http://www.mrhs-boosters.com/summercamps for updated information.