Elementary students build skills at competition

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Teams of elementary school students built robots, and self-confidence, for the Sarnia Regional FIRST LEGO League Robotics Tournament Saturday at Rosedale Public School.


This year’s tournament, the ninth held in Sarnia, attracted 11 teams of students who prepared by designing and programing robots made from LEGO kits, and then put them through tabletop challenges Saturday.


Along with learning and exercising technical abilities, the students get the opportunity to built teamwork, research, and presentation skills, said tournament director Jeff Laucke.


“Public speaking is huge for these kids,” said the Grade 7 and 8 teacher at Rosedale.


“It really brings a lot of kids out of their shell.”


Laucke said many of the teenage volunteers at Saturday’s tournament were former competitors, including a senior high school student who was the day’s master of ceremonies.


“In Grade 8 she said about six words the entire year, and now she’s on a mic in front of 200 people, leading an entire tournament,” he said.


Each team at Saturday’s event had between four and 10 members, accompanied by two coaches.


Along with building and programming their robot, they prepared a project on the theme of education to present to judges.


“And, then they also have what’s called a ‘core values challenge,’ where they have to show teamwork and sportsmanship,” Laucke said.


The teams don’t know what that challenge will be until the day of the tournament, he said.


“One of the core values is ‘what we learn is more important than what we win,'” Laucke said.


“It’s not about the trophies at the end, it’s about the process.”


But, there were awards, including one for the day’s champion team, plus prizes for robot design and performance, as well as others.


Laucke said being part of the league allows kids to gain skills they will use all through life.


“The robot is all problem-solving, and their problem-solving skills end up phenomenally advanced.”


He added, “It’s the hardest fun, ever.”


The teams in Sarnia were competing for the right to go to the Ontario West Championship set for Waterloo in February.


From there, they can move on to an international event being held in St. Louis in April.


This year’s Sarnia tournament teams included Rosedale, Holy Rosary, Langtree Robotics, Bluewater Robotics, Our Lady of Fatima School School in Chatham, Hanna Memorial, St. Joseph’s, Hillcrest, King George VI, as well as a community teams from Petrolia and one that travelled to Sarnia from Etobicoke.


“We’re helping them out because they couldn’t compete last week,” Laucke said.


As the Sarnia tournament approaches its 10th year, Laucke said he’s hoping to see the local program grow.


“Every school should have one of these,” he said.


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