By Natalie Conrad
Herald Staff Writer
A whole new world of career possibilities and learning outside the classroom is opened to fourth-graders through their involvement in the robotics team.
This year’s group is no exception, continuing the ambitious legacy started by the current middle school team, also known as last year’s Team Tobor.
“This is a wonderful group of students,” Robotics Team Coach and Gifted Education Teacher Sheryl Kennedy said. “I am not directing them; they are constantly evaluating and coming up with ideas and solutions.”
Team S.H.I.N.E, which stands for Super Handy Intelligent Navigating Endeavor, proved its namesake and then some at this year’s competitions.
The group of 10 dedicated youngsters won the category of Best Robot Design at the F.I.R.S.T. Lego League Regional tournament in December, which catapulted them into the state competition in Ames last weekend.
While the kids didn’t place or win any awards at the state level, they finished in the top 10 percent and held their own as one of the youngest teams in a field of predominately seventh- and eighth-grade teams.
And the lessons learned go far beyond the awards ceremony.
“I learned teamwork and to be a better listener,” team member Madison Thompson said. “We met lots of interesting people and had lots of fun.”
This group of 9 and 10 year olds, aren’t going to waste time dwelling on their losses.
“It’s more important to learn and have fun than it is to win,” Zach Schutte said.
At state, the team had five events to compete in: project (research and presentation skills), core values (teamwork), robotic programming and structure evaluation, and three different robot matches. The team presented in front of thousands of spectators.
In addition to programming their robot, constructing obstacles and working on missions, the kids had to prepare a project to solve a real-life problem. This year’s theme was helping seniors stay connected and involved in the community. After putting their brains together, they came up with several props to make the lives of seniors safer and easier such as a digital identification walking cane, a sensor for stoves that could help ward off house fires and other items.
All the inventions were senior approved. The team went to Eagle Point Nursing and Rehab Center to interview seniors and get ideas.
Teams also are judged on core values, including working as a team, finding guidance and learning with mentors, honoring friendly competition and treating each other with respect and kindness.
“We learned to be gracious professionals and help others,” Zayne Feller said. “We helped a sixth grade coach that was new to the competition.”
These students were so dedicated to the team that they put in extra hours after school and often gave up recess time to work on S.H.I.N.E. For some the opportunity to be a part of the team has helped them discover future ambitions.
“My favorite part was being at Iowa State, where I want to go to school to become an electrical engineer,” Bella Sager said.
Kennedy puts extra work and time into leading the group, because of the important life lessons it offers her students.
“I enjoy the way it makes kids think,” Kennedy said. “There are no right or wrong answers, but there is always a choice and something you can do better. It’s a really important life lesson.”
When asked whether they will compete in the F.I.R.S.T Lego League again, the students did everything but jump for joy as they all replied in unison an overwhelming “yes.”
“I’m already excited for the theme for next year, ‘Nature’s Fiery,” Riley Sowle said. “That sounds really fun. I already have some ideas.”