Students from the Mack Benn Amazing Marlins Robotics Team, from Mack Benn Jr. Elementary School, compete in a recent First Lego League competition at Lake Taylor Middle School in Norfolk.

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Mack Benn ventures into Lego league

Published 8:15pm Thursday, November 22, 2012

Last spring, Mack Benn Jr. Elementary School principal Keith Hubbard ordered some programmable robot Lego for math classes. Little did he know the competitive creativity that would be unleashed.

After the U.S. Navy’s Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command, or SPAWAR, contacted the school with an offer of sponsorship, Mack Benn was able to use the kits by forming a First Lego League, gifted resource teacher Elizabeth Petry said.

The Mack Benn Amazing Marlins Robotics Team competed in its first league competition at Norfolk’s Lake Taylor Middle School on Nov. 17.

Members of the team are Ayanna Brooks, Cameron Brooks, Kristen Gerton, Cali Hinnant, Seth Byrum, Isabella Villalba, Samantha Pelkey, Russell Goff, Erika Faith Crews, Emma Robinson and Aizaah George.

The students are coached and mentored by Petry, Kari Maskelony, Megan Farabaugh, Tayloe Brooks and Deana Hinnant.

“They have a different theme each year,” Petry explained. This year’s was helping senior citizens remain active and independent.

Teams had to find a senior to interview and devise a way of helping them. The Amazing Marlins “determined our senior partner needed to be aware of obstacles in her path as she was walking,” Petry said.

“All of the missions that were set up for the robot … were kind of around that theme. One was bowling, one you pushed a device to get service. They built robots from the Mindstorm (Lego) kits – they are computer programmable.”

Their first competition taught the Mack Benn students that many other schools have competed in the Lego league for several years, Petry said.

“You don’t get the missions until August, and we didn’t start until October,” she said. “It was more or less an exhibition on our part. We participated so we can learn more about it.”

For the next year’s competition, Mack Benn, which has four of the Lego kits, plans to create four separate teams of 10 and run its own competition during the spring to help prepare for the league.

“Even though we won’t know the missions … we’ll have had practice building and programming and know a little bit more,” Petry said. “The robots have different sensors, and we haven’t even got to that level yet.”

The competition is a way for students to “put math and science into real life,” she added. “They learn a lot and they work as a team.”

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