By COLLEEN MCCARTHY
Two groups of Armstrong Middle School students will go up against teams from around the state today in the First Lego League robotics competition in Hattiesburg.
The students have worked very hard over the last few months to get ready for the competition. They split up into two teams — the Gladiators and the Shadow Ninjas — and have worked together to build and program a robot to solve a problem.
“I am very, very proud of this group. Both of these groups have worked very hard. Their robots look great. Their research projects look great,” teacher Jackie Wilt said. “From where we were last year to where we are now is just a huge change. Last year was our beginning year, so we didn’t know what to expect. We’ve taken it to a whole new level this year, and I expect them to do very well at the competition.”
The competition theme this year is “Food Factor.” The students have researched the problem of food contamination and tried to come up with a solution.
“You have to research a food item and figure out how it gets spoiled — like in a refrigerator, is it in the grocery store or on the way to it, is it in the slaughter house or things like that,” Bryton Heiselt said.
Each team chose a different food item to study and research.
“We picked an apple. Apples are one of the most contaminated fruit — 98 percent of apples have at least a little contamination,” Michelle Li said. “Most people just rinse their apples off and eat it, but that’s not good for you. You can get really sick — like nerve damage and cancer. If you scrub your apple, it highly reduces the contamination.”
Team Shadow Ninjas came up with a device that will clean an apple, which they call the “Scrapple.” The apple is placed in the container, and several sponges clean the apple of contaminates.
“They’re actually having it tested at Mississippi State to test the amount of bacteria and stuff that are on the apple before using their creation of the Scrapple and after their creation. It’s still being tested but they’re trying to see how well it works,” Wilt said.
The Gladiators chose ham as its food for the challenge. Through the team’s research, members discovered ham is most likely to be contaminated in the refrigerator at home.
“The refrigerator is set way too high and so some people just need a reminder. A lot of people don’t know what temperature it’s supposed to be,” Lucas Elder said. “We went to houses and we checked their refrigerators, and only about one fourth of the houses had the right temperature.”
The best temperatures for storing food is between 35-45 degrees. To remind people to check the temperature of their refrigerators, the team made magnets with a notice and suggested people keep a thermometer inside the refrigerator.
The teams have built and programed their robots to complete tasks on a course related to the food contamination theme. There is only a small space on the course team members can even touch the robot, and there are no remote controls. They will simply set the robot on the course, and the rest is up to the program they’ve installed on the robot. If they set up the robot in the wrong place by even the slightest bit, it will miss the targets and won’t complete the tasks.
The teams are also judged on their ability to work together and maintain a positive attitude. All the teams developed a list of core values they felt were important to remaining professional and courteous throughout the competition. They will be given a secret challenge that will help them display teamwork under pressure.
“The things we mostly want to do is have fun and work as a team,” Montario Montgomery said.
Last year, the AMS team won the secret challenge, and members hope to do so again this year. It hasn’t always been easy, but they have learned a lot over the last few months about the importance of working together.
“They have struggled. I will tell you that this group I have in here are all leaders. They all like to be in charge, not all but most. So we’ve had to work out ways to listen to each other and listen to each other’s ideas, and not talk over each other, which some adults have trouble with too,” Wilt said. “We’re teaching skills now that they can use in all classes and later on in life. It’s not about winning the competition — that’s probably at the bottom — it’s about all of the other things that we do in this class. I’m really trying to teach these kids to use their mind to think, to problem solve and learn how to work with other people in a stressful environment. They have rose to the occasion and done very well.”
Even though the classmates will be competing against each other today in Hattiesburg, the students have kept a good attitude and been willing to help each other out.
“To me, that displays the core values more than anything because they help each other. If one group is having trouble, one of the other team members will come and help them,” Wilt said. “It’s really allowed them to work together even though they’re not required to. They’ve done it on their own, and I really like seeing that because that’s what this is all about.”