Mark Maham, William Scott, Robert Black and Kate Packham are members of the Jackson Robotix Team at Warren T. Jackson Elementary School in Atlanta, or as they like to call themselves ‘Ten Programmerz.’ They competed in the first Lego League Nature’s Fury Challenge Super Regional at Clayton State University. (Staff Photo: Johnny Jackson)
MORROW— The North Clayton Middle School RoboTigers robotics team returned to familiar surroundings Saturday to defend its Super Regional title at Clayton State University.
The First Lego League-sanctioned robotics competition featured elementary and middle school teams throughout metro Atlanta.
North Clayton’s team included seventh- and eighth-graders Micah Iheanacho, Amadou Kebe, Kimani Dixon, Morgan Flood, Marquel Parker, Jahde Blair and Khadija Usman. Coaches Nezetta Johnson and Stacey Nelson and mentors Marshall Troup, Zenobia Johnson and Sandra Caughman provided moral support.
Nelson led the team in a pre-contest rally in a far corner of the cafeteria inside Clayton State’s James M. Baker University Center. They chanted the team name as others rushed in from the rain outside to find their own spots to prepare for the competition.
Lila Roberts, dean of Clayton State’s College of Information and Mathematical Science, greeted the estimated 600 people who attended the 32-team competition.
Her announcement to the crowd about severe weather warning and tornado watch in the area was a fitting homage to start the day of “natural disaster” problem-solving.
This year’s Nature’s Fury-theme robotics challenge focuses on raising awareness of natural disasters and how people can help lessen the effects of such catastrophes as earthquakes, wildfires, tornadoes and floods.
Flood, 12, appreciated the confluence of circumstances — a team preparing to demonstrate water purification techniques for flood victims as high winds and heavy rains consume the outdoors.
“With floods, people’s water is always contaminated and filled with debris,” Flood said. “We’re using purifiers and testing the pH of the water. If the pH is seven, it is (neutral).”
Scott Bailey is a professor of mathematics at Clayton State. He organized the Super Regional, one of six throughout the state.
Bailey said the FLL competition showcases science, technology, engineering and mathematics disciplines by focusing on student-led projects in computer science and robotics. And students learn how to research and about teamwork in the process.
“It engages them,” Bailey said. “Whenever you can engage a middle grades student, or any student, it gets them interested in STEM disciplines.”
“The big thing here is to get students focused on the skills they will need as they move forward with their education,” Roberts said. “We have under-representation from women and minorities, and that’s where the good-paying jobs are — in one of the STEM fields.”
Students also have pure fun competing, said Richard Hatcher, coach for the Jackson Robtix team out of Warren T. Jackson Elementary School in Atlanta. Hatcher and fellow coach Robert Hill brought a large team of fifth-graders to its first FLL Super Regional.
“They learn a lot,” Hatcher said. “But it’s a lot of fun. It’s been a fun season.”
Their team hoped to impress judges with their concept of counteracting vortex wind forces with mega-wind turbines.
Hatcher said the students’ ideas, while lofty, were not far off. He said he discovered later that a similar premise was researched and developed at the college level with grant funding.
Top teams from Super Regional competitions around the state will go on to compete in the state championship at the Georgia Tech in Atlanta.
The championship is sponsored by Georgia Tech’s Center for Education Integrating Science, Mathematics and Computing.
FLL teams will compete in three areas: robot design, core values and their Nature’s Fury project. Teams are evaluated by consensus, whereby judges discuss and rank-order teams in each of the nine award categories.
The categories include mechanical design, programming, strategy and innovation, robot performance, research, innovative solution, presentation, inspiration, teamwork and gracious professionalism.
Robot performance is the only category based solely on a numeric score, according to FLL competition rules. Teams are not assigned overall scores from rubrics. Instead, judges use rubrics to make notes and discuss the merits of each team’s performance.
Organizers will announce the official winners in the coming days.