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Heritage claims kudos at FIRST LEGO League Challenge

MADISON – A prime example of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics or STEM applications, LEGO Robotics is popular at Heritage Elementary School. Students showed their dedication to the discipline at the FIRST LEGO League Challenge.

The Activators and Shifting Gears teams from Heritage delivered an impressive showing at the state competition. The challenge emphasizes friendly competition as teams research, problem solve, code and apply engineering. Students build and program a LEGO robot that navigates a robot game’s missions.

Teams also participate in a research project to identify and solve a relevant real-world problem. This year’s contest was in virtual format. The challenge attracted 22 teams with approximately 220 students.

“This year’s challenge was titled, ‘The Replay Challenge,” coach Rachel Gibbs said. “In both the innovation project and robot game, students motivated their community to get out and get active. Teams presented their project and robot, as well as a judging conversation in a 30-minute Google Meet session.”

Rachel Gibbs, who is gifted specialist at Heritage, coaches the Activators. Third-grade teacher Ariel Grimmett mentors the Shifting Gears team.

Judges are professionals in the community who have experience with robotic projects, design and programming.

The Activators Team, all fifth-graders, includes Harshtha Chander, Carson Forsyth, Laya Gowder, Grant Jauken, Zachary Johnson, Emily Lynn, Ishita Rajput and Eleri Sanders.

In the Shifting Gears Team, fourth-grade members are Anshita Agarwal, Sheldon Erickson, Prachi Khadka, Kaitlyn Nelson, Diego Santos and Colin Stonecypher, along with fifth-graders Evelyn Davis, Declan Giles and Elizabeth Peterson.

“Our Activators Team took home the Robot Performance Award, coming in first place and earning the most points in the robot run portion. The Activators also won the Robot Design Award,” Gibbs said.

“For robot performance, the winning team’s robot earns the most points by completing missions successfully on the robot table through strategy and programming,” Gibbs said. “The Robot Design Award (goes) to the team who (had) the most effective and innovative strategy, along with robot design and coding. They exemplify teamwork by including everyone as an important part of the process.”

By joining FIRST LEGO League, students receive multiple benefits at both local and state levels. “Students (can) practice important executive skills that will be very useful later in life, such as researching, goal setting, planning and evaluating results,” Gibbs said. “I believe the program’s most valuable aspect is the opportunity for students to build teamwork skills, such as trust, communication and collaboration.”

For a teacher, the LEGO activity is rewarding “to watch students grow and build relationships with one another and work as a unified group to solve a real-world problem,” Gibbs said. Her team members most enjoy the chance to meet and learn with their friends every week. They feel a sense of family.

“Our parent coaches also play a huge role in our LEGO Robotics journey each year. We wouldn’t succeed at the level we have historically without their support,” Gibbs said. The Activators’ parent coaches are Matt Johnson, Matthew Lynn, Sherri Lynn and Yvonne Sanders. The Shifting Gears’ mentors are Pedro Capo-Lugo, Rich Erickson and Heidi Peterson.

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