Lego and robotics help kids learn

Published 10:09 pm Monday, November 12, 2012

Members of one of two Suffolk/Isle of Wight Lego robotics teams are Betsy Pollard, Olivia Newman, Michael Kilduff, Jake Newman and Jacob Sorrentino. Team coach Jamie Newman says that competing in the FIRST Lego League is becoming more and more popular among middle school-aged kids.

Lego robotics is becoming a popular pursuit in Suffolk and Isle of Wight County, providing a fun way for students to learn about math and engineering, according to two team coaches.

On Nov. 3, two teams with kids from Suffolk and the county took part in a Lego Robotics regional qualifying tournament of the Virginia/D.C.-area FIRST Lego League.

The contest was held at Crittenden Middle School in Newport News, and while neither team made it to the next round, both were recognized with special awards.

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“We are an independent team,” said coach Jamie Newman, whose children Olivia and Jake Newman, who attend Isle of Wight Academy but live in Suffolk, are teammates of Betsy Pollard, also a student at the academy, King’s Fork Middle School’s Michael Kilduff, and Jacob Sorrentino, who is home-schooled.

The students won a Judges’ Award, which, according to Newman, “is a new award given when judges encounter teams’ unique efforts, performance or dynamics meriting recognition.”

“We were the only team (at the competition) not supported by a school, which takes a little bit more organization and financial dedication,” she added.

The other team is the official Isle of Wight Academy team, made up of, from the county, team captain Kevin Jurewicz, Zachary Rhodes, Darren Upton and Chris Vaughan, along with Suffolkians Will Ciaston, Will Ellis, Alex Gardner, Jacob Gray and Michael Laskey.

Coach Amy Herrmann, a Suffolk resident, said that the Core Values Award won by the students “signifies teamwork and professionalism.”

The competition involves four components and changes annually. This year, for the research component, students worked on a project to help senior citizens remain independent and engaged in the community.

“Out topic was teaching senior citizens how to text to their grandchildren,” Herrmann said.

The students, she said, interviewed an elderly lady from Smithfield, asking her about “concerns and issues she had as a senior citizen that we could possibly help with. She said she wanted to learn how to text.

“We sent out invitations and had some ladies come in and we did one-on-one. We texted family, and the ladies were just thrilled that they could see results right away.”

The other components are staged around robot performance, robot design and teamwork. During “robot games,” students have to make their robots complete a series of tasks on top of a table, Newman said.

“I think with the move toward STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), this will become more popular,” she said. “It’s exciting to see them get so excited about science and math.”

Newman’s independent team is looking for sponsors for the 2013 competition. With team registration, purchasing robots and additional costs, it’s not a cheap pastime, she said.

To inquire about providing sponsorship, call Lou Pollard on 238-8237.