Snow won’t stop the robots

Nearly a half-foot of snow was dumped on Minot on Friday, but that won’t stop kids and their robots from competing in the 2022 Minot Regional Lego Robotics Tournament today at Minot State University.

Allison Auch, the executive director for Full STEAM Ahead, said MSU has done a good job of clearing away snow from the parking lots.

The competition, which is free and open to the public, will be held in the second-floor gymnasium in MSU’s Swain Hall today from 1 to 3 p.m.

Seth Finley, 13, one of the competitors, is a seventh-grader this year at Bishop Ryan Catholic School.

“I first experienced Lego Robotics in the Hostfest in the Schools program and really liked it,” Finley said in an email to The Minot Daily News this week. “So, I was excited to join my school’s Lego Robotics team when I was old enough (4th grade). Our Lego Lions team won the state competition that year, so we got to travel to Detroit, MI to compete at the international competition! It was amazing! This is my 4th year on a team. I love doing the programming the most, and want to learn coding too. I’m learning to work as part of a team, to work towards a goal, to compromise with my teammates. Because of what I’ve learned in Lego Robotics, I want to become a computer programmer.”

Finley explained that this year’s competition is called “Cargo Connect.” The objective is to create better ways to transport goods, he said. Each team built a robot with a “Spike Kit” that contains all of the parts needed to build the robot, such as the Legos, a “brain,” and wheels.

“We use a battery brick and a micro USB to charge the brain,” said Finley. “The brain runs the motors and the sensors. This year we’re using the Spike App to program the brain from a computer. We write programs to make the robot complete assigned tasks. There are at least 13 different tasks that we can try to complete. Some of the tasks are: 1) Bridge (we have to knock down both sides of the bridge to earn points) 2) Engine Flip (there’s a gray & blue lever that we need to flip) 3) Helicopter (there’s a lever on the bottom that we have to push forward to drop a crate onto the other team’s board.) Each task is assigned a certain number of points. The goal is to earn as many points as possible. We can also lose points by getting penalties. Examples of penalties are picking up your robot from outside of the home area, touching something that is outside the home area, & having too many team members at the board at one time. We also earn points from doing our presentations to the judges. We explain how we designed our robot and why, we’re judged on how well our team works together, and we also do a presentation on how we would solve the assigned problem (transporting goods). We should be exhibiting the core values at all times (discovery, inclusion, teamwork, impact, innovation, & fun).”

There are nine other kids on Finley’s team. Each team can have as many as 10 kids competing. Competitors are between the ages of 10 and 14. Auch said there will be 10 teams competing today from across the region. Past events have had as many as 22 robotics teams competing. She said coaches are teachers, parents, and community volunteers.

Dusty Lawson, who coaches his son Ethan and other kids, said it’s a great opportunity for kids to learn about not just robotics but also about teamwork. Participating in the activities through Full STEAM Ahead are free or have a minimal charge for the kids. Lawson said Auch has done a great job of finding sponsors and grant funding for the activities in science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics.

“Yes, the kids learn coding/programming/engineering,” said Auch in an email. “But one of the fun aspects of this completion that Lego really enforces is the core values. Teamwork, Gracious Professionalism and fun!! We are really working on exposing kids to challenges individually and as a team to help them learn how to fail. To know that they must keep trying. That things will not always work out the first time but they cannot give up, they need may need to adjust their angle or ask for help, but to just keep trying. I believe these kids do take more of an interest in computer science and robotics opportunities at the high school level. We have not been around long enough with full steam ahead robotics to see the impact at the collegiate level, but are excited to track that!”

Full STEAM Ahead was launched to run the LEGO robotics program teams in the community. Younger kids in the group called FLL Explore are coached by MSU education majors, said Auch. These teams don’t compete but learn the fundamental of robotics, coding, and teamwork.

FULL STEAM Ahead is also involved in other programming. Auch said she also coordinates theatre, coding camps, after school enrichment programs, persuasion/rhythm classes, chess camps, kickball, T-ball and other activities.

Winners at the robotics competition today will go on to compete at the North Dakota State Tournament at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks on Feb. 12.


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