In late fall of 2015, six STARS students in grades 4 through 9 were registered as a team under the First Robotics LEGO League. The students were Eduardo, Steven, Jaylyn, Mason, Bryce and Edana. Interest had been generated by programming offered during summer camp from a team that had already been established--The Braille Boys and Annie Maxwell who was CVI’s former Stars Program Director and Braille Instructor. Their team gave a generous donation for our team to start up and they mentored our students through the whole process.
The First Robotics LEGO League aimed to do more than engage students in robotics, but the League also has core values students are challenged to uphold. Those values are:
The team started with a kit and a project (a set of missions) that they must build a robot to complete. Once the robot is built, the missions must be programmed. They spend weeks developing this and preparing for competition. The students must also prepare a skit for competition that demonstrates the Core Values while solving a problem within the theme of the project.
This year’s project involved trash and recycling management. Our team, self-named Asteroid Lights, prepared a skit with Q & A that showed off their invention of an accessible trash collecting system for use in arenas and large public areas. A blind or deaf person would receive a lanyard with a card or device that would vibrate and beep to alert the person that they are close to a trash bin. The bin itself would also flash and beep as a person got closer in order to help navigate them to the trash bin.
Asteroid Lights went to the regional competition at Meadowood High School in Norcross for FLL on Saturday, December 12th and placed 10th. This meant that they advanced to the super regional competition at Athens Academy—an accomplishment we’re told is hard to achieve in your first year of competition. At super regionals on Saturday, January 16th, Asteroid Lights placed 24th out of 28, which ended their competition advancement. Their mentor team, Braille Boys and Annie placed 14th, which gave them something else to be proud of.
The obvious question is “how were our students able to complete such visual tasks and compete with sighted teams?” Asteroid Lights met during STARS After School Enrichment every Tuesday and Thursday from October to January to work on this project. They relied on each other’s strengths to get the job done. For example, Eduardo is quick to problem solve and identify what needs to be fixed. Steven is a natural leader and public speaker. Jaylyn and Bryce found acting in the skit to be easy. Mason has a sharp memory and keen listening skills. Edana kept the team’s positive spirit. Asteroid Lights’ visual acuities range from totally blind to 20/400. At times, they did need help with programming and setting up the robot in exactly the right spot to run the missions properly. When they needed help, they asked their mentors. During competition, the judges asked the arena to be silent so that our students could hear each other and work together. The programming and coding were the most difficult part because it was not compatible with accessibility programs. Recently, our staff discovered a programming language called Quorum that is entirely accessible and we hope to teach our students to use it in preparation for another competition season in the fall of 2016.
The most rewarding part for Asteroid Lights was being able to present their skit to their peers at STARS After School Enrichment. Many of the younger students looked up to them and said they can’t wait to be a part of this. The team is very excited and looking forward to being able to participate again.