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Magnolia Students Embark on Lego Robotics Competition

Magnolia Elementary students create robots with the hope of coming out champions in this weekend's face off against 15 other Maryland schools.

After the final bell rang at Magnolia Elementary School, a group of students armed with boxes of Lego bricks, microcomputer packs and programming software, were hard at work. Their task: to create robots for a competition this Saturday against other Maryland students.

Five high schoolers from Eleanor Roosevelt High School’s robotics club have been volunteering to work with the young engineers at their weekly meetings — and help ready them for the face-off.

“They’ve done very well considering how much they’ve had to learn on the go,” said Kyle Montemayor, 15, a sophomore at Eleanor Roosevelt. “They had to figure out how to build the robot itself — making sure it can move without breaking and that the motor supports it — as well as programming, which is a different set of skill sets.”

This year will be the first time Magnolia will send students to compete in the For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) Lego League Challenge. A partnership between the FIRST Robotics Competition and the Lego Group, the league provides a program for students from second to sixth grade to build car-like rolling Legos, programmed to complete an obstacle course-style game.

“I’ve never been in a competition before at all,” said Jason Hernandez, 9, about Saturday’s competition. “But I feel ready. Hopefully we’re going to win.”

In addition to solving a robot challenge, students will research and present solutions to food safety issues, said George Boyce, the group’s instructor. Boyce works for SAIC, a technology consulting firm, and is assigned as a systems administrator at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. When he heard about the FIRST Lego League through work, he decided to get involved.

The 30 elementary school participants were divided into four groups, two of which will compete Saturday with 15 other Maryland schools at Woods Academy in Bethesda, Boyce said. The other two teams will attend the same competition on Jan. 7.

The other part of the competition, to present a research project on food safety, allowed the students to unleash their creative juices. The projects included a game show and a skit about preventing salmonella.

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