Ephrata students find joy and purpose in Lego robots

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Charles H. Featherstone/Columbia Basin Herald Parkview School sixth-graders Jared Dormaier, Ellinor Somnichsen, Brenden St. Mary, Krista Jenn and Kendall Laugen put their Lego robot Evan through its paces.

EPHRATA — It wasn’t looking good for the Ephrata Wildcats.

It was a Saturday competition at Clovis Point Intermediate School, and the Wildcats getting ready to take the field when their robot died.

Battery failure. And they didn’t have a backup.

“It died in the first round,” said sixth-grader Brenden St. Mary. “There were no bars left.”

It wasn’t the biggest crisis. After all, St. Mary said they has another robot. Several others, in fact, all made of Legos, and all programmed to perform a series of tasks on a special table, named Charley, Bob, Matilda and Evan.

And all designed to do to some kind of work related to water.

“A middle school gave us a new battery,” said sixth-grader Krista Jenn. “It’s called cooperation, cooperation and competition together.”

The team, made up of fifth- and sixth-graders from Parkview School, faced off with 14 other teams on Dec. 9, to see whose Lego robots — built and programmed using the Danish company’s Mindstorms robot set — could do the best simulated water work.

The Mindstorm kits come with motors, sensors and a programmable core complete with its own programming language.

“We decided to use broken main water lines as our problem,” said sixth-grader Kendall Laugen.

They chose that, according to Janae Hughes, who teaches math and science at Parkview School and advises the robotics students, because of the problems the city of Ephrata has with its aging and leaky water mains underneath Basin Street.

They then built and programmed the simple Lego robots to do some very basic tasks — remove and replace simulated pipe, filter water, flush a tiny toilet.

“We tried to find an innovative solution to fix the problem,” said sixth-grader Ellinor Somnichsen.

“It was a solution our community was using, so we could back it up,” Jenn added.

However, another team had devised some similar solution to dealing with irrigation pipes. So the Wildcats didn’t place on Dec. 9, and won’t be going on to the state finals. But each of the students enjoyed it all hugely, and despite only working together as a team since early November, they seem like they’ve been together forever.

“It’s Legos and robots!” Jenn said. “You can’t pass that up!”

And some have already figured out what they want to do with their lives.

“I want to be a robotic engineer when I grow up,” the diminutive Laugen very confidently said.

“A lot of people have told me I should be an engineer,” St. Mary said.

Since they aren’t going to be facing any more competitions, it’s uncertain whether or not these kids will get to spend any more time with their robots this school year.

“That might be the plan, to keep allowing the kids do this,” Hughes said.

“You can’t just give us robots for six weeks and then take them away!” Laugen said.

Charles H. Featherstone can be reached via email at countygvt@columbiabasinherald.com.

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