By Nathan Pfau, Army Flier Staff WriterMarch 9, 2017
FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- Although robotics can seem like fun and games to many people, the Fort Rucker Elementary School robotics team isn't playing around when it comes to their engineering feats.
The FRES Robo Panthers competed in the Alabama First Lego League State competition in Huntsville March 4 where they competed against 34 other robotics teams, and although they didn't take home gold, they were able to place second overall in the research category, as well as learn valuable lessons in teamwork, according to Brenda Forti, FRES gifted education teacher and robotics coach.
After qualifying in the First Lego League competition in Birmingham Jan. 28, the team earned the Core Values Award, which celebrates friendly competition and gracious professionalism, said Forti. The team then advanced to the state competition in Huntsville where it presented a research project on the honeybee, performed an original skit, tested their self-designed robot through a series of prescribed challenges and successfully completed a team-building challenge.
"This [competition] isn't just about programming and building," she said. "It has to do with researching and core values, which encompasses teamwork."
The robotics team consisted of nine fourth- and fifth-grade students: Sydney Lewis, fifth grader; Nahia Chaparro, fifth grader; Teairra Cheatham, fifth grader; Isaac Leon, fifth grader; Kara Druilhet, fifth grader; Harriet Chan, fifth grader; Landyn Marta, fourth grader; Jveon Taylor, fourth grader; and Nathaniel Kuhn, fourth grader.
Forti said it is her job, along with fellow robotics coach, Lisa Arthurs, to steer the children and teach them how to work well together. Students' teamwork tasks included researching together, working together to program their robots and coming up with plans to get their robots to complete the tasks that were provided.
For Druilhet, it was the teamwork that she felt she had the most to learn from.
"I think what we learned the most was teamwork, especially since we got the (Core Values Award), which is like the teamwork award," she said. "It really showed that we knew each other and how to work well together."
Although the team won what was essentially the teamwork award, Druilhet said it wasn't easy to learn to work as one -- there were so many ideas presented by each of the team members.
"Sometimes you want (express) an idea, but you never get the chance to say it," she said. "We figured out a way to master that, though."
Druilhet said a fellow team member, Leon, came up with the idea of an idea circle.
"It's when someone starts talking and they say their idea, then it goes on to the next person," she said. "If the person doesn't have an idea to share, they can simply pass and it goes down the line until every team member has a chance to share an idea. That way everybody's idea is shared."
It was that level of teamwork that earned the team the Core Values Award during the qualifier competition, but despite not having won the competitions, Chan said the most important part of the competition was that they had a good time.
"I think that having fun is more important than winning, because even though (we didn't win first place), we learned a lot about each other," she said.
Forti added that it was a lot about getting hands-on learning, and learning through trial and error, that had the biggest impact on the students.
"[These students] are not expert engineers and we are not expert engineers, so a lot of this was learning on the fly," she said. "At the beginning of the year, we go through a lot of information on how to program and what all the blocks do and things like that, but they really teach each other. They determine what they're going to do as far as their robot and design, and they figure out what they need to do."
That level of dedication is what allowed the children to accomplish what they did, and Forti said it also took dedication on the parts of the parents, as well.
"We had really supportive parents," she said. "Everyone had to take their own children up to Birmingham and Huntsville and stay overnight. There was a lot of dedication from them."