BONNERS FERRY — Robotics as a learning tool for students has proven to be highly successful.
The ability to create something, program it to perform a function, and work together as team, makes robotics stand out as a learning module. Not many other learning projects combine creativity with engineering, something that sets students apart in a quickly advancing technological world. Robotics not only teaches multiple skills and lessons, it does so in a fun and exciting environment.
A new robotics team has emerged in Boundary County — Beta WeDo2. The FIRST LEGO League (FLL) Jr. Team is the inaugural elementary team in the Boundary County school district, and the brainchild of coach Julie Holly at Valley View Elementary School. After three years of hard work, the team was launched in the fall of 2018.
The First Lego League Junior team consists of six second and third grade students and the First Lego League team is a group of nine fourth and fifth grade students, six members and three alternates.
The chosen name showcases the progression the students can make as they rise through the grades.
“We wanted the elementary, middle and high school teams to flow into each other,” explained Holly. “The high school team is Alpha+, the middle school team is Omega … it seems Boundary County speaks Greek.”
They chose Beta in hopes that the students will understand the larger scope of the team.
“Sure, we’re an elementary team, but these kids can grow through all the teams,” said Holly.
Homeschooling originally introduced Holly to lego robotics and mindstorm, and when their family moved to Bonners Ferry and she began teaching in the classroom again, she envisioned incorporating Lego robotics in some form as a tool to reach and engage more learners.
Realizing that she could not adequately coach a junior team and first team, Holly asked Drea Leach, a fourth grade teacher at Valley View, to link arms.
“She happily joined forces and asked Connie Perez to be the co-mentor for their team,” said Holly.
Holly feels that FLL provides lifelong learning and skills that can be applied to careers immediately, and investing in these skills for the youth opens opportunities for years to come.
“I’ve learned there are many ways to engage learners and reach students who would otherwise slip between the cracks,” said Holly. “Robotics is interesting, exciting, rewarding, and a fantastic way to practically apply academic skills. I love that students who might struggle with academics thrive in the robotics world. Everyone needs a ‘place’, and for many students who might not feel their place is athletics of academics, this is their space to thrive.”
Holly explained that children today are exposed to more technology and are also capable and curious. FLL can launch that curiosity into issues that are deeper than technology.
“Students on our junior team learn the design engineering process, strategies to assess a project, problem solving, collaboration and communication skills,” said Holly.
This mission for the team this year was Mission Moon.
“One of the loved missions was problem solving and designing a device that would be able to transport supplies from a rocket or shuttle to a space station with strict perimeters,” said Holly.
The students work through the process as a team. Together they practiced listening to teammates ideas and suggestions. While building students switch positions from “finder” to “builder” to “checker” and “navigator”.
“A team cannot win solely by programing and building; they must play to their strengths,” explained Holly.
Recently, the junior teams submitted their team into a lottery, and FLL chose 30 teams from around the world to attend and “show” their work, and also share their learning at the World Championship and Show in Houston, Texas.
“This trip provides significant exposure to sharing ideas, learning from others, witnessing the progression between the leagues and the caliber of creativity, ingenuity, determination and collaboration that successful teams have,” Holly said. “The opportunity for outside-the-box-learning is unparalleled.”
For team member, this trip would mean a lot of things to them. For Grady Atkins, the trip would give him the opportunity to make more friends with the same interest of building robotics. For Journey Erickson it would mean that she could learn more about Lego robotics and how the other teams build their things. Sophia Jackson “would like to see what other robotics teams have” and Julie Erickson wants to go “because I want to see what the other teams do and what they built.” Rylan Leach would like to go so that he can show their project to other groups, as well as learning from others. Leach would also like to take a tour of NASA and learn more about STEM.
“This is a huge opportunity for these kids from a small town,” said Cheryl Jackson, mother of one of the team members. “These kids have worked so hard and would love the chance to represent, but because they are new they lack funding. They are asking for any help they can get to make a small town big dreams come true.”
Airfare, food, and lodging is $1,750 for each participant, with the total goal being $21,000. Anything beyond that goal will provide continued support to the team
“Because this team is made of young kids and traveling across states our goal is to raise enough funds for a teammate and parent/guardian to attend,” said Holly. “Parents are willing to take time off at a loss to get their kids there, but it’s a double-whammy to take time off at a loss and come up with the funds.”
With airfares rises daily, their goal is to raise our funds by March 16. The team will be selling Little Caesar’s Pizzas as well as raffle tickets. Additionally, they will host a morning and afternoon robotics workshop for elementary students on March 15. Attendees can choose between a morning or afternoon session. The two hour workshops will be limited to 25 students and will cost $10.
Holly explained that every parent is part of this process. They have met, brainstormed, and put two families as organizers of each project.
“Parents are deeply invested in time and energy in coaching their kids and ensuring every opportunity to raise the funds,” said Holly.
Holly fully believes in the project, teams, and in the life lessons that are provided.
“The lightbulbs, curiosity, practical problem solving and fun FLL ignites melts my heart,” said Holly. “The core values will impact their lives forever in powerful ways. The ability to respectfully listen and solve problems, to form a strategy, create and carry out a plan are lifelong skills that will open future doors for kids.”
Holly feels that raising kids with these strength will create a stronger community and world.
“The heart behind this is to find each teammates strengths and develop those strengths,” explained Holly. “There is far more to robotics than building with little shiny plastic pieces and programing. This team is enthusiastic and fantastic at working together in the variety of positions while building.”
The team has put up a GoFundMe page fundraiser. People or businesses interested in helping the fledgling team fly to Texas can donate here https://bit.ly/2BhP6zd or by sending a check payable to Valley View Elementary School, memo BetaWeDo2.