'Robot does what bot wants'

Sitting in the gym at Roosevelt Middle School, 11-year-old Shirak Poghozian and his two teammates were anxiously awaiting the results of two months of hard work.

“So far, I’m kind of nervous to see if we’ll win the trophy,” said Shirak, a fifth-grader at Mountain Avenue Elementary.

Shirak and his teammates were part of about 100 fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders from schools across the district who participated in a Lego robotics tournament Friday afternoon. Students had met after school for weeks in preparation for the competition, learning how to build and then program the miniature robots, made almost completely out of Legos.

Donning team shirts of assorted colors, groups of students were scattered across the gym, practicing or competing with other robots. Teams were awarded points based on how many tasks — such as completing an obstacle course, or picking up a ball — their creations completed.

But the robots didn’t always do as they were told, said Carolyn Gross, a fifth-grader at Monte Vista Elementary. “The robot does what the bot wants, not what the team wants,” she said.

Randy Kamiya, a teacher at Roosevelt, organized the event, which was for participants in the district’s Gifted and Talented Education program. Working with robots helps the students practice math skills, such as measurements and geometry, he said.

“It requires the kids to use their higher-level problem-solving skills,” he said.

For Carolyn, problem solving included trying to figure out how to put her robot back together.

“Some of our pieces have been crushed to pieces,” she said. “Today’s been really topsy-turvy.”

Christine Walley, a teacher who organized Fremont Elementary School’s team, said learning to work together was also a valuable lesson, beyond the science and math skills.

“Teamwork was probably the biggest challenge by far,” she said.

Walley said her students were already looking ahead.

“They found it very exciting and very challenging,” she said. “It will make them prepared for next year. I don’t think they knew quite what to expect.”

To Shirak and his teammates, working with their robot, Willy, was a source of pride. They enjoyed showing off what it could do.

“We basically built and programmed this entire robot by ourselves,” he said.

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