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Elbow students get hands-on look at high-tech future

April 7, 2012

David Williams, Big Spring Junior High GEAR robotics participant, works with students at Elbow Elementary before the practice competition in Lubbock at Texas Tech University. The final competition will take place April 21. (Courtesy photo)

LEGOs + robots = learning?

Elbow Elementary students are working — not playing (OK, maybe a little play) — with LEGOs and robots while gaining an insight into engineering.

For the first time, GT (gifted and talented) students in grades second through fifth at Elbow are taking part in the LEGO Robotics Challenge. Students traveled to the Texas Tech campus in Lubbock on March 24 to participate in a practice run and will return for actual competition April 21. There will be about 65 elementary teams competing.

“Since the first competition, we have made adjustments and have been able to make adjustments that allow our robots to complete several tasks instead of just one,” said Caden Williams, GEAR (Get Excited About Robotics) team member.

In order to prepare for the new venture, students from the GEAR robotics team at Big Spring Junior High have been working with the Elbow students.

“It was exciting seeing the kids from Forsan and Big Spring learning from and encouraging each other,” said Diana Newton, GEAR instructor at Elbow. “Teamwork is a main goal of this program and we hope the students will apply creativity and cooperative life skills to solve problems, both now and in the future.”

GEAR is a non-profit volunteer organization created to bring interest in the youth to engineering, science and technology. The six to eight week challenge is designed for elementary and junior high students. The object is to have teams not only build, but program LEGO robots to perform specified tasks. The competition takes place on an 8-foot-square playing field.

“This is a great program, which had been done at another school I was at, and it is something that can be expanded beyond the Tech program,” Elbow Elementary Principal Randy Gartman said. “It is something that can start at the elementary level and hopefully expand to the junior high and high school level, where they will have a chance at scholarships. Overall, it's a good program which helps the student ... learn problem solving.”

While taking part in this program, students have not only learned how to troubleshoot and gain an insight into engineering — they have learned a few life lessons along the way.

“People think being in GT is easy and I have been told that if only a student could be in GT then things would be so much easier, but we are working too … we may get out of class, but we are working hard,” said team member Sam Howell.

Support from parents, teachers and team members has been a huge factor in the success of the program, team members said. Several of the parents have offered suggestions which have been transformed into working ideas by the students.

“We were struggling with some things and our dads showed us ways to deal with them and taught us some new techniques,” Howell said.

Katie Averette added, “My dad came to help us one day and he had an idea that didn't work, but it made me think of something that ended up working.”

The engineering and problem-solving is only a small portion of the program. Learning to work as a team is among the several lessons the students have learned.

“One thing we learned is never say we can't do this, and just keep trying,” Reese Rutledge said.

Averette learned more can be accomplished if the work is divided up. One lesson that seemed to resonate with all the students involved was that even if there are disagreements, it doesn't mean the end of the world.

“It's important to not get mad right away. Always listen to what the others have to say,” Mason Hillger said.

Zachary Bailey agreed, “Don't ever say, 'This is enough.' Always do extra work.”

“Don't give up and learn from your mistakes,” Luke Settles, fifth grader, said. “When you fail you just try harder and give 110 percent.”

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