St. Francis robotics students show sportsmanship

Robotics team earns top award at provincial competition

Melissa Jenkins melissa.jenkins@tc.tc
Published on December 30, 2014
The St. Francis Robo Dogs team is made up of nine students from grades 6 to 8 and two staff sponsors. Members are, from left, Norm Littlejohn, Mitchell Peach, Kyla Mercer, Madison Squires, Abigail Squires, Kiera Legge, Hope Finlayson, Katie Shute, Emma Mercer, Emily Galway and Randy Dobbin.
Photo by Melissa Jenkins/The Compass

Leading off with a cheer that could be heard the whole way down the upstairs corridor of St. Francis, the Robo Dogs led a demonstration of the team's award-winning robot on Tuesday, Dec. 16.

"Our robot is better than your mom's homemade bread," the enthusiastic team belted out, with a giggle.

The group of nine students - eight girls and one boy representing grades 6 through 8 - returned from a provincial Skills Canada competition a week prior, taking home the top prize for Lego Robotics.

By claiming gold in the F.I.R.S.T Lego League Competition, St. Francis earned the right to compete at the 2015 F.I.R.S.T World Festival in St. Louis, Missouri.

If the group decides to go, it will cost in the vicinity of $20,000 for students and staff sponsors to attend. A decision will be made in the new year.

Since 2002, the school has attended competitions provincially and in the United States involving some 20,000 other kids.

Technology teacher Norm Littlejohn and custodian Randy Dobbin have been mentors for the robotics team for years.

Every year, the team is enthusiastic. But this year, Littlejohn explained, the team was a crowd favourite at the competition because of their sportsmanship and interaction. They even kept the crowd energetic by cheering on other teams, and dancing around the venue. It was so entertaining, some people lost track of time.

"One of the moms asked what time they were competing so she could run to the mall. She never made it there," Littlejohn laughed.

The team was the only one to bring along a poster board with their names, photos and short descriptions about themselves on it. They also brought the school flag.

Informative bunch

This year, the team took part in four separate parts of competition. One of its more unique efforts left many intrigued - the interactive classroom.

Although schools are now equipped with interactive whiteboards and some have tablets, the team brainstormed to think of ways to get students more interested in classroom learning.

"The interactive classroom would be a better way for students to learn," said Hope Finlayson. "There would be (interactive whiteboards) on all the walls and the ceiling. It would really bring you into the environment you're learning about."

Keira Legge, the youngest member of the team, explained how beneficial it would be to have a science class inside the interactive classroom. She said active touch options on the walls and being surrounded by the items in 3D would enhance the learning experience.

Team member Madison Squires suggests such a classroom would cost approximately $148,000. Each wall would need eight boards, and computer programs would also need to be created.

The team received second-place honours for its interactive classroom presentation.

Another part of the competition was the robotics portion, where a computer programmed Lego robot named Gadget maneuvered through an obstacle course and handled different tasks along the way, like throwing a ball and picking up a ring.

Mitchell Peach and Kyla Mercer gave the demonstration, explaining what the robot did throughout.

The group took first overall in the robotics portion, which led to their top-place finish in the overall competition.

Different interests and personalities

Most of the group loved to talk, but more noticeably, each understood everything in their project, from how to program the robot to the details of the interactive classroom.

The team members appear to be invested in the project and seemingly thrive off their success.

Hope and Kiera were very animated and energetic. Kyla was more reserved.

Emily Galway was knowledgeable, while Madison spoke very passionately.

Katie Shute did great handling the interactive classroom demonstration and Abigail Chafe was quiet, but informed.

Emma Mercer was very friendly and Mitchell was comfortable as he explained the technical parts of the demonstration.

Gathered around at the end, each student was asked what he or she wanted to be when they grew up.

Answers varied from a doggy daycare owner to to engineer. Mitchell admitted he'd like to be Batman - Bruce Wayne had some awesome gadgets. The interests were as different as their personalities.

But these differences allowed for creativity to flourish, and they were able to create a robot, put together a marketing strategy for an interactive classroom and make friends along the way.

Melissa.jenkins@tc.tc