It was all work for Ben McShane's Lego Robotics class last week as students prepared for competition.
McShane's Lincoln Elementary GATE students were preparing for a Lego robotics competition in the Roosevelt Middle School auditorium. Preparations have been intense, with students spending at least eight hours over the last couple of weeks preparing for a full day of competition with students from throughout the district.
Points were earned for traversing the obstacle course successfully, not crashing into barriers and collecting plastic hoops and returning them to the starting point.
Awards, but not points, are also given for a robot's design.
"We only have eight weeks with some of these kids, so we can't really work to do the most complicated stuff," McShane said.
"We've chosen a couple of [courses] that we know that we can do."
McShane works for Parker-Anderson Enrichment, an after-school enrichment program that offers classes for students in more than 100 schools in the Los Angeles region, according to the company.
"I've been a Lego fan because I've been buying [the] sets, building them," said student Nathan Lee, 10.
"It's kind of like a hobby. This takes it to a whole new level."
The hardest part of the competition, students said, was getting the robot to do what they wanted. Each robot is programmed by computer. Once unplugged from the computer and activated, the robot proceeds down the obstacle course depending on its programming parameters.
But it's not so much programming the robot, McShane said, as it is about the math to get the robot to behave in the preferred way.
And there is a lot of math, most of which is used to figure out parameters for wheel rotation, degrees for turns, distance, when to turn, when to stop and when to back up.
For the students, the challenge lies in getting those parameters just right so that the robot goes in the desired direction within the confined space — a combination of math, engineering and problem solving, McShane said.
"You keep doing it, with different speeds," said Team 2 member Carter Walch, 10, of La Crescenta, who acknowledged the team was not yet ready for the competition.
"Eventually, it works. Probably the most challenging part has been trying to get the points. Rings are hard to get."
During Thursday's test run, the four teams representing Lincoln could be found dashing back and forth multiple times from the school's computer lab to the course set up in the hallway, hoping on the return trip that their robot had been programmed properly.
"It's about getting the right formula and the right pieces to do what you want, and to get it around the obstacles or all the things you need to do to get it where you need to go," said Lincoln student Adam Aronovsky, 10. "A lot of people put in a lot of effort in our team. I think that's going to pay off when we actually go to do it."
At times, the robot did what it was supposed to, but in the last few maneuvers it either traveled too far or not quite far enough. Sometimes the robot would crash into the sides of the mat, or knock over barriers that it was supposed to avoid.
"Do it again," McShane said, while giving some last-minute directions on how to fix the error. Sometimes it was just a matter of inches in order to get the maneuver right.
"You try it out again, or try a different piece," said 11-year-old Lizzy Crotty.