Kids, robots, and Legos can all be found at a robotics group at the Marinette Middle School. With advisor Lynn Francour, a group of 40 sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-graders work together to create Lego robots. Ten of these students form the traveling team which attends the FIRST Lego League tournament.
FIRST is an acronym for For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology. As part of the competition, the group designs robots to perform specific tasks laid out on a course . But FIRST is about more than technology—students are also evaluated on their presentation of a group research project. Throughout the competition, the students must demonstrate the organization’s core values: Teamwork, problem-solving, friendly competition, and Gracious Professionalism.
Assisting the group were four local engineers from Enstrom Helicopter Corporation: Matt Walrath, Devin Overstreet, Jaime Martinez, and Dan Shank. They met with the group after school three days a week where they helped the students prepare for the challenges they would face during the competition.
To see science and technology applied in real life, the team was invited to visit Enstrom Helicopter across the river in Menominee, Michigan. The students rehearsed their presentation to an audience of engineers and management, and got to see where their advisors work. They toured the production facility, checked out the helicopters, and were treated to a flight display by Director of Engineering Bill Taylor. Finally, they visited the training classroom where they got an insider’s view of the workings of a helicopter.
What was their favorite part of the visit?
“I’d have to say my favorite part is watching if fly.”
“When we got to sit in the helicopter and see the control stuff.”
“Seeing the different designs of how they put the helicopter together.”
“Being able to see and actually be inside one of the helicopters they have built.”
The FIRST Lego League team and Enstrom have another connection. FIRST founder Dean Kamen, known for his inventions (including the Segway), is a former owner of Enstrom.
The Marinette team competed on November 16. “They accomplished every mission they set out to do with the robot,” said advisor Matt Walrath. “We’re eager to continue and improve.”
For the rest of the school year, the group will work on other robotics projects, then gear up again next fall for another round of FIRST Lego League.