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Arizona youngsters and their robots are on the move

March 25, 2011

ASU K-12 education outreach efforts give students opportunities to participate in national and international robotics festivals and competitions

Young students on five teams that participated in last year’s Arizona FIRST LEGO League competitions are on their way to national and international FIRST LEGO League events this spring.

Arizona State University has hosted the Arizona FIRST LEGO League State Championship tournament for the past three years.

ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering organizes the event, which brings about 400 Arizona youngsters, ages 9 to 14, to compete using robots they design and build from LEGO MINDSTORMS kits.

The program of regional and state competitions challenges students to develop and demonstrate technical know-how and problem-solving skills.

The events offer “incomparable learning experiences that can inspire children to pursue education and careers in science, technology, engineering and math,” says Patty Smith. She’s a K-12 educational outreach coordinator for the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering and the Arizona operational partner for the FIRST LEGO League program.

A team from Salt River Elementary School on the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community will be among more than 80 teams from around the world participating in the FIRST World Festival April 27-30 in St. Louis.

Called the Titans, the team members are Last Star Alderete, Ryan Allen, Darrell Chiago III, Michael Collins, Briah Johnson, Dakota Larabee, Brelon Pahona, Jonathan Perez and David Ray. Their robot’s name is “Wall-E.”

They are coached by Salt River Elementary School teachers Rae Begaye and Keri Tuchawena-Norris and Bill Johnson of Scottsdale Community College.

The team’s trip to the World Festival is being supported by the LEGO Care for Education Initiative, which aids programs that are effectively developing children’s learning skills and creativity through constructive play activities.

The MedTechs, a team of home-schooled youngsters from Phoenix, is raising funds to participate in the FIRST LEGO League Open European Championship June 2-4 in the Netherlands. The team plans to be one of six teams from the United States at the event among 60 teams from 50 countries.

The MedTechs members are Andrew Rasch, Aaron Rasch, Brian Gastineau, Trevor Recker, and Truett Unfried. Their robot’s name is “Anaconda.”

The MedTechs qualified for the European tournament by winning the Research Project Presentation award at the Arizona State Championship tournament.

Three Arizona teams will participate in the FIRST LEGO League North American Open tournament May 21 and 22 at LEGOLAND California.

The Building Bananas team from Mountain Elementary School in Flagstaff will be joined by The Revenge of Los Locos Amigos team from Madison Park School in Phoenix and the Purple Adrenaline team from St. Francis Xavier School in Phoenix.

The World Festival and championship tournaments give students not only more opportunities to learn about robotics but “to learn about the research and the teamwork skills that are critical to developing innovative solutions to real-world problems,” Smith says. “And by interacting with children from around the country and the world, it prepares them to think globally.”

Prominent inventor Dean Kamen founded FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) in 1989 to inspire youngsters to appreciate science and technology. FIRST designs accessible, innovative programs to build self-confidence, knowledge and life skills, while motivating young people to pursue opportunities in science, technology, and engineering.

The 2011 FIRST LEGO League state championship tournament is scheduled for Dec. 10 at ASU’s Tempe campus.

Read more about the Arizona FIRST LEGO League.