Local Middle School Robotics Team Finishes 3rd in World Championships

May 1, 2014

Heritage Christian Places 3rd at Robotics World Championship

Last week a middle school robotics team from Heritage Christian Schools in Brookfield proved that Wisconsin students can compete with the best math and science minds in the world by winning the 3rd Place Champion Award at the FIRST Lego League World Festival. This was the highest honor awarded to any Lego League team in the Western Hemisphere and the highest award given to a middle school team in the world. Governor Scott Walker has proclaimed tomorrow, April 29th, to be “Innovative Engineering and Limitless Design Day” throughout the State of Wisconsin in honor of the feat.

This past August, over 23,000 teams representing nearly a quarter millions students from 63 countries world-wide began creating small robots and doing scientific research for a unique after-school education program called FIRST Lego League (FLL). The FIRST foundation (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) sponsors student exploration into Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) by hosting robotics competitions in a sports-like atmosphere with the goal to promote more student awareness of the career possibilities in STEM fields.

Teams competed throughout the fall and winter in the FLL “Nature’s Fury” contest to earn one of 80 invitations to the FIRST World Festival, held last week at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis, MO. The Heritage team named “The Strategic Headquarters of Innovative Engineering and Limitless Design,” or S.H.I.E.L.D., earned an invitation in December by winning the Wisconsin State FLL Championship.

The competition was much more than just building robots as student were challenged to solve real world problems related to natural disasters. “Some adults think kids can’t make a difference in the world, but we think we can,” 7th grader Vivica Lewis told the international panel of judges last week in St. Louis as the team presented its research project to provide hurricane-proof school buildings for Haiti.

Throughout the winter, students worked with architectural firm Christopher Kidd and Associates to take their initial research concepts from idea to formal blueprints, building a scale model of their building design to present at the championship. “Our design helps with the significant education need in Haiti while also providing shelter from oncoming hurricanes, a safe place during earthquakes, and a source of clean drinking water” added 8th grade research leader Sam Gibbons.

“The science is just part of the fun,” says 8th grade robot design manager Timothy Keup. “We also design, build, and program a robot capable of scoring as many points as possible on a themed playing field in a timed match.” In this “Sport for the Mind” there are no remote controls involved. Using Lego Mindstorms robotics components, the students create autonomous robots that sense their way around the playing field automatically. “Our robot for the World Festival was full of innovative ideas,” said team member, Samuel Castro. “It could score almost every mission and even drove upside down during part of the match in order to be most efficient.”

According to 6th grader Chandra Chouhan, the team has also been holding robotics camps in the central city of Milwaukee this spring to bring more awareness of STEM careers to students who have not yet had the opportunity to see robotics or FLL in person. “The judges really encouraged us to continue with our plans to start and directly mentor new teams in the central city next year and we are very excited to do this because our camps went so well this past spring,” Chouhan added.

“We set a goal at the beginning of the season to create the world’s best universal robot software library for FLL,” indicated team Captain Daniel Anderson. “After the Wisconsin Championship we were pretty sure we had done it, but the results from the World Festival confirmed it. We want to give back and help others grow their skills all over the world.” S.H.I.E.L.D. is in the process of writing a 600 page step-by-step teaching tutorial book, available this fall, to help other teams learn their programming process and the techniques they used to form the software.

“Competing at the ‘Olympics of Robotics’ was a real honor,” indicated team member Jake Gibbons. “Many teams at the tournament are made up of High School students because the age rules are different internationally. Those international teams did some amazing work and it is a tremendous honor that our team of 6th-8th graders could compete with them and win a top award.” Over 10,000 students over 700 teams from around the world travelled to St. Louis for the FIRST Championships this past week. “We are honored to be one of a handful of teams to be declared Champion,” said team member Cassie Bittner.

In existence since 1989, FIRST now encompasses 4 major STEM programs that span the entire K-12 range. S.H.I.E.L.D. is one of 8 FIRST teams in the rapidly growing Patriot Robotics after-school program at Heritage Christian School in Brookfield, including Junior FLL for grades K-3, FLL for grades 4-9 and FIRST Tech Challenge for High School. More information about FIRST and FIRST Lego League can be found at www.usfirst.org and www.firstlegoleague.org. More information about the Patriot Robotics program at Heritage Christian School can be found at www.patriotrobotics.org. More about Heritage Christian School is available at www.HeritageChristianSchools.org.
More information about last week’s FIRST Championship can be found here: http://www.usfirst.org/aboutus/12000-students-bring-their-custom-built-robots-and-team-spirit-to-the-ultimate-sport-for-the-mind-showdown-at-2014-first-championship.

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If you would like more information about this topic, or to schedule an interview, live demonstration or on-air appearance, please call Mark Keup at 414-581-8690 or e-mail Mark at mark.keup@cognex.com

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