By Amy Kent Herald Staff Writer
The Clinton Herald
---- — CLINTON — Building robots and small cities out of Legos is more than just a game for students at Camanche Elementary School and River Bend Middle School. It is a chance to win a national championship.
The For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) Lego League is an international program that teaches students all over the world the importance of teamwork and engineering, and for the students at Camanche and River Bend schools it has been an exciting experience.
“It seems scary at first but once you do it a couple of times, it gets much easier,” Camanche Elementary School fourth-grader Kaitlin Stansbarger said.
Students in Sheryl Kennedy’s fourth grade FIRST Lego League (FLL) class have been working on a project for more than four months and on Dec. 14, they will present that project at the Lego League regional competition at the Putnam Museum in Davenport.
Those 10 students, the Disaster Blasters, will have 2 1/2 minutes to program their Ev3 robot to run a series of missions, collecting points along the way. The missions are based on the 2013 Lego League theme, Nature’s Fury, which challenges children to use science and technology to master the effects of natural disasters.
In Kennedy’s class, students have developed a process to quickly and effectively provide relief to victims in the wake of a tsunami.
“The fourth-graders chose to study tsunamis since several of them read a book by Peg Kehret about tsunamis,” Kennedy said. “We are safe from tsunamis here in Iowa, but we all want to visit places where a tsunami could happen. So, we chose to focus on how to help tourists survive tsunamis, since we could be the tourists in a dangerous situation.”
For the middle-schoolers at River Bend, however, choosing a natural disaster that hit a little closer to home felt more beneficial to the project and to the area.
“Overall we all have the same theme, but each team comes up with its own thoughts and ideas,” Lego League adviser and School Board President Dan Portz said. “Nature’s Fury is the overall subject, and our issue is with flooding. So our idea is putting GPS systems on buoys on the river as opposed to the dams.”
To help them understand the complex nature of the river and the dangers of flooding, the River Bend Riptides invited Maren Stoflet, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Weather Service hydrologist, to visit their school and learn all about their FLL project.
In turn, the Riptides will use that information in their project to develop a way to provide more data and accuracy to help forecasters better record and project river levels on the Mississippi River.
“We’re pretty excited to move this forward,” Portz said. “All the technology for what we’ve come up with exists, and I think that’s what everybody is so excited about. The possibility of it happening in real life is becoming a reality.”
The River Bend FLL team will participate in its qualifying tournament on Saturday at the John Deere Middle School in Moline, Ill., with the hopes of advancing in the competition for an opportunity to compete against teams from across the world.
As both teams prepare for the FLL competition, emotions are high and the students are beginning to feel excited and nervous for the big reveal.
“It’s been hard,” Camanche fourth-grader Danika Dodson said. “But we know that it’s more important to learn than to win.”