Most kids like to go to recess or eat lunch with their friends when they’re in elementary school. But that’s not the case with Enota Multiple Intelligence Academy’s robotics team.
The group of 10 students spent most of that time this year in their teacher’s classroom working on their project for the First Lego League challenge. It paid off when the team took first place in project presentation at the state competition from among 769 other teams.
“I hope they walked away with the pride that they had developed a product that could potentially be patented,” said Audrey Thornton, one of the team’s coaches and a gifted teacher at Enota. “And going to state was a huge experience for them.”
There are three parts to the First Lego League challenge: robot game, project and core values. Students can win different awards in each category. Enota took the top prize for its presentation in the project category.
The theme was hydrodynamics and the students went to work as soon as school began in August. They started researching different things having to do with water to find the most interesting idea.
“We really wanted to solve a problem that was local to our area,” said Caroline Lee, a fourth-grader on the team.
Their idea kind of fell in their laps. They had a field trip planned to Don Carter State Park, but the trip was canceled after the beach area was closed for a short time due to high levels of E. coli in the water. The students were disappointed, so they tried to figure out why it closed.
They met with the headwaters director for Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, Dale Caldwell, who explained to them what the issue could be. He explained that because Gainesville has so many chicken trucks passing through, when it rains the feces from chickens in the trucks is washed out and ends up in Lake Lanier.
“This group of students, they are very bright, brilliant and full of ideas and questions and very receptive to learning about local water issues,” Caldwell said. “It’s exciting to see this younger generation engage and go above and beyond to think of solutions.”
They developed the idea of a garage the trucks could go in to be cleaned using ultraviolet light, which they said would get rid of 99 percent of the bacteria.
“We just tried to come up with something a bit different than other teams,” said Jess Freeman, a fifth-grader on the Enota team.
From start to finish, the students created a presentation on exactly how it would work, what it would cost and what they would need to make it happen. All the while, they were working on programming a robot for the other part of the competition and making sure they displayed core values like teamwork and good sportsmanship.
“We had a lot of struggle throughout the process,” Freeman said. “We had to work really hard on it, and we had to do tons of math to find out the cost analysis and that was really hard.”
Thornton said each student on the team joined because they’re driven to be part of something. But one of the main reasons she thinks students wanted to join the robotics team was their sense of pride for their school. They’re already thinking about colleges like Georgia Tech and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and wanted to show that off.
“The opportunities open up as kids get older to represent their school and to wear that uniform that has their school name on it,” Thornton said. “But when they’re in elementary school, they’re limited in the amount of things they can do to actually represent their school, and this was one of the ways they could do that.”
North Hall Middle School’s robotics team was also at the state competition and came in fourth place overall.