Middle School Lego Robotics Team Survives FIRST Competition

It was the day the Styrofoam Swashbucklers had trained for- the FIRST Robotics competition at Londonderry Middle School. The fledgling team, under the guidance of science teacher Gino Tiella, had designed and crafted a robot made of Legos to complete a set of challenges against 12 other groups. For its first competition, the Styrofoam Swashbucklers did well, placing ninth overall.

“I felt pretty good about my kids at the end,” said Tiella.

There are different levels to the FIRST Lego League, and the Swashbucklers competed in the division for grades five through eight. They faced off against other local middle school teams on Nov. 11 at Lononderry Middle School in a series of challenges that tested their ability to create a robot that could do simple tasks for “the Robot Game,” and to solve the problem within “the Project.”

This year’s theme was all about hydrodynamics. The teams were given Lego Mindstorms sets to build a robot that could complete as many of the 18 challenges in the robot game that it could. Most of the game involved having the robot move Lego pieces around a map to a specific target.

“The kids like the robotics part, the building and programming of the robot,” said Tiella.

His boys were able to finish “three consistently” when it came to the challenges, he said. For each challenge completed, the team won points towards an overall score. The Styrofoam Swashbucklers scored 45 points during their longest run. Tiella said most teams averaged between 45-50 points for the game, although the best scoring teams broke 100 points.

Still, he was very proud of his team’s achievements. “To get a few of them is an accomplishment,” he said.

For the project, Sedrik Spaulding designed a video game based on research he and his teammates did about water conservation. They thought that not enough people knew about it and they wanted to use that opportunity to educate them. The boys looked up information on the Environmental Protection Agency’s website and made a quiz show where wrong answers would land the player in a lake of lava.

Besides learning about robotics and creative problem solving, the team developed a sense of respect for each other and sense of pride in their teamwork. But the best part was getting to see their creation in action by following commands.

“That was definitely a highlight for them,” said Tiella.

Tiella created the team this year after being approached by high school Assistant Principal Kate Sullivan. Tiella said his history in robotics made him a prime candidate for leading the squad. He ran a similar team about 10-years ago, but it became too expensive to continue. The resurgence in the club is thanks to the high school team, The PVC Pirates.

Members of the PVC Pirates, Bethany Costello, Mackenze Conner and Adrianna Belanger, came to the middle school to help coach the younger kids. Tiella said there were always at least two that joined the Swashbucklers. The team is currently eighth graders, consisting of Ben Laverty, Sedrik Spaulding, Matt Gingrande, Trevor Betty, Nolan McKiverson, Clayton Peterson and Max Stormann. After this year’s success, Tiella plans to open it up to all grades in the middle school.

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