TK Sending Four Teams to Regional Robotics Challenge

   Team members watch with anticipation as the robot moves forward, past two obstacles toward a third. There, the robot successfully hits a lever starting a Lego machine into action. The robot then backs up to home base ready for a second task.

   This time, the robot did exactly what the team hoped.  But that's not always the case.

   "It's hard. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't," said Walters, an eighth grader who will compete for the fourth year in the FIRST Lego Robotics contest.

   Thornapple Kellogg Schools is sending four teams this year to the regional competition Saturday at Grandville. Two teams of up to seven members each will represent the middle school and two teams will represent Page Elementary School. They will compete against 42 other teams

   Coach Robin Walters started the district's first team at Page four years ago. "The first year we just had one team. Now we have four teams," she said.

   She said in her opinion the biggest lesson team members learn is perseverance. "It doesn't always go the way you want it to go and a lot of times you think you have something figured out and it doesn't work. You have to try and try and try again," she said.

   Middle school student Kiyan Moma said it gets hard. "You have to work with your team. And you have to know how to build Legos. But you gotta have a good team," he said.

   The competition is split into three judged sections and a live robot run. Teams are judged on how well their teams work together and how well they explain their robot designs and programs.

   Teams must also come up with a creative and unique solution to this year's challenge called Trash Trek. All teams must identify a problem with the way the world makes or handles trash, then design a solution to the problem and share it at the competition usually in some form of skit.

  Finally, teams have their robots compete to successfully complete as many designed tasks relating to the trash challenge as possible in 2 1/2 minutes.

   "The skit is fun. I like it most," said John Plummer in his first year of competition. "I can't wait to go and compete and see how we do."

   Jack Cove is in his third year of competition for TK Schools.  "I like building the robots. It's definitely challenging, though," he said.

   Morgan Keller said she likes the competition in general and already knows she wants to be part of a team again next year. "It's a lot of different things you can do. You're not just limited to one certain thing and you make a lot of friends," she said.

   The teams started meeting at least once per week in early September. Some met more often and just before the competition, Walters' team has met daily.

   Coach Andy Cove said it can be very frustrating, but also very rewarding. "There is a lot they learn from this and one thing is not to give up," he said.

   FIRST Lego Robotics focuses on the STEM areas of science, technology, engineering, and math. Students engage in problem solving, engineering and building robots, and programming. "It's a great program for the students and they learn a lot," said Andy Cove.

   Walters said she's excited and nervous for the competition this year. "We're really hoping they do well this year. We've come a long way since that first year and we've all learned a lot," she said.