By Jose Herrera
Signal Staff Writer
The whirling sounds of machinery echo in a nearly empty classroom except for the murmurs and then exclamation of a group of students as they make their Lego robot complete a task.
These students – a mix of fifth and sixth graders – stay after school and sometimes the weekend to participate in the first-ever Lego robotics teams at Live Oak Elementary. The students have formed two groups — the Leopard Bots and Spot Bots — and they will compete in the For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology, or FIRST, Lego League at Valencia High School on Saturday.
“I cannot wait. I want to go because I want to prove to the world that kids can do stuff, too,” said Kaiden Williams, sixth-grader and member of the robotics teams.
Williams said joining Live Oak’s robotics teams has made him more confident, and he gets to hang out with his new friends. It also encourages him to further his passion in robotics.
Students who participate in the robotics teams have various levels of knowledge, said Lara Frandzel, a fourth-grade teacher, coach and mentor for the students. By the end of their journey, students will understand robotics, programming, leadership skills, teamwork skills and other technical skills they can use in their future, she added.
Under the guidance of the FIRST Lego League, the students have been working hard to design, build, program and operate their robots to tackle as many of the 16 missions on the designated competition field as possible.
Frandzel said her students have learned how to program using Lego’s Mindstorm EV3, a coding program that teaches children basic programming skills and operates Lego robots.
“Building the robots was pretty challenging because there were so many intricate parts,” Frandzel said. “It’s not just getting a Lego kit from a store. So, building it (the robots), it took us a while.”
She said Mindstorm EV3 is a drag-and-drop-style program, so it was easier for the students to grasp. Although students do not create the code from scratch, they must conduct numerous trials and errors to ensure their robots perform the right commands.
Frandzel said she was inspired to start a robotics team at Live Oak after seeing the educational and personal benefits firsthand from her son, Jackson Strahs.
Strahs is a recent West Ranch High School graduate and a former FIRST Robotics Competition member of Project 691 with the William S. Hart Union High School District. Frandzel also mentors the students, and they often ask him questions because he has prior experience in robotics competitions.
“I’m helping them understand the entire process of engineering,” Strahs said. “You have to know what you want to do with the robot before you start building and before you start to code.”
Teamwork is essential, he added. The team will fail if they are not able to work together.
Frandzel said they could not have made it as far as they are now if it was not for the community that rallied behind them. She was able to secure grant funding from Raytheon Industries.
“There’s this concept called ‘coopetition’ – where it’s competition and cooperation,” Frandzel said. “You cooperate when you’re allies, and then when you’re out competing, you’re rivals.”
The money paid for several things that allowed the students to practice and prepare for the upcoming competition. Project 691 donated bins of Legos and a table that the students use as a mock-up.
“I’m proud of these kids. They’ve come far just being on a rookie team,” Strahs said. “This is our very first year and we didn’t even have a preseason. It takes a lot of hard work to get it done.”
They will compete in the FIRST Lego League on Saturday at the Valencia High School gymnasium against local and regional robotics teams. The Leopard Bots and Spot Bots will demonstrate their capabilities at 10:30 to 11:05 a.m. and 11:15 to 11:50 a.m., respectively.
Teams will also be responsible for creating a presentation that best represents the core values of FIRST. Each team will present to a panel of judges at the qualifying tournament on Saturday.