Last Saturday, the 8th grade robotics team, Sophisticated A.I., returned from a trip to Detroit where they represented Parker, Chicago and Illinois at the FIRST LEGO League World Festival.
It was a tremendous achievement to be among the 106 teams that secured spots to compete at this World Festival from among the 32,000 FLL teams worldwide. Sophisticated A.I. earned the right to represent the state of Illinois by winning the Champion’s Award at a state tournament in January. All FLL events involve a robotics competition, a design project and a teamwork and core values component.
When they arrived, the team went to the team area and set up their pit, which would serve as their base during the four-day event. Their pit prominently featured a Chicago flag, a Parker flag, a collection of succulents illuminated by purple LEDs and their Foam Farm.
The Foam Farm is an open-source hydroponics system that the team built based on plans from the Open Ag initiative at MIT in an effort to explore how hydroponic systems work. They wrote a proposal, and the school awarded the team a Jill Harris Grant to purchase materials for the project. The Foam Farm is currently set up in the library and actively growing arugula in a climate-controlled environment that uses sensors to detect the temperature and humidity and adjusts the internal conditions of the system to try to promote optimal growth.
In addition to building a Foam Farm, the team also proposed two ways to make the initiative more accessible to a younger audience, including a Foam Farm simulation app and some improvements to the build instructions. The World Festival provided another great opportunity to raise awareness about open-source hydroponics as the team shared what they had built not only with judges but with curious children and adults from all over the world.
The team also had much to celebrate with regard to the performance of their robot at the festival. They managed to work hard together to troubleshoot a few mechanical problems and improve their code and ended up scoring a personal best for their robot for the season, placing them about 60th out of the 106 robots at the event.
Many of these 8th graders had participated in FLL at Parker since 6th grade with a few new members joining in 7th and 8th grades. They also had a chance to reflect on and share with the judges all they have learned about working together as a team. They discussed their success at developing an appropriate division of labor based on their unique interests and skills but also the ways they came together as a team to encourage each other, make decisions and share what they have been learning.
Sharing their experiences is an important aspect of participating in FLL. The team has demonstrated their robot at MXes with older and younger students and related their experience with the Foam Farm online in the Open Ag forum, with our visiting scientist Dr. Rick Stevens and with Lower School Science and Technology teachers Mr. Audrain, Ms. Sheahan and Mr. Bacon.
Eighth grader Star Rothkopf helped document the event and has compiled a montage to capture the experience.
You can also check out the app they created here