The Green Mountain Gears Take on Community Issues,Lego Robots, and More

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Thursday November 29, 2012

The three-man team of Luke (age nine), Andrew (age nine), and Damon (age eight)–known as the Green Mountain Gears (GMG)–took on the best student engineers, grades 4-8, in northern New England at the Lego FIRST League qualifying event at Thayer College of Engineering at Dartmouth College. Hundreds of students from 27 teams gathered at the all-day event, where GMG finished in third place for “Core Values” and just missed a berth at the NH State Championships, the precursor for the Lego World Championship.

Lego FIRST is an international competition encompassing 16,000 teams across 60 countries. Winning teams exemplify Lego core values, build and program efficient Lego robots, and generate ideas to solve real-world problems. They compete in three head-to-head robot competitions and present their project and their robot design. The groups are then evaluated on their teamwork during a spontaneous task, where they are given five minutes to solve an engineering problem. This year’s theme was entitled, “Senior Solutions,” and the teams took on major issues facing the elderly–such as feeling isolated.

The boys met with three local experts on seniors, including Deborah Worthley from the University of Vermont’s Center on Aging, Beth Alpert from the Cathedral Square Corporation, and Wendy Mortan from the Champlain Valley Agency on Aging. These experts helped the team to understand issues facing the elderly and encouraged them to harness their own interests.

As avid readers, GMG elected to solve the problem of isolation by interviewing seniors and then writing a Choose Your Own Adventure Story starring the interviewee, which could then be shared online with their family and community. To prepare, the team contacted Choose Your Own Adventure LLC, in Waitsfield, Vermont. Melissa Bounty, a publisher for the company, and Doug Wilhelm, a Choose Your Own Adventure writer and author of the young adult book, The Revealers, agreed to meet with the team to help teach them how to write compelling plots.
Next, the team made the stories more compelling and interactive using Scratch programming language, which enabled them to add visual and audio effects to the interviews while publishing them through the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) website. The team learned Scratch during practice sessions and interviews with area seniors, including Hope Lindsay, Donald Wright, and Barbara Ann Cochran. Through these interviews, the team learned about Lindsay’s time living off the grid in Costa Rica, Wright’s civil rights work in Mississippi, and Cochran’s gold medal victory in the women’s slalom at the 1972 Sapporo Olympics. All parties benefitted; the boys were excited to interview the seniors and to learn Scratch, and their work made the seniors feel more connected to their communities.

Luke, Andrew, and Damon attend the Orchard School in South Burlington and play U10 soccer for the Strikers. They met bi-weekly for eight weeks to prepare for the Lego FIRST League, including four-hour Saturday sessions. Their coach, Paul Fitzgerald–a math and science teacher for 16 years–says he could not be more proud of the team. Although the Green Mountain Gears were forced to travel to New Hampshire because Vermont does not have enough teams to host their own state-level event, Fitzgerald hopes that the team will develop together for the next four years, and believes that this type of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) project-based learning should be a regular part of every child’s school day.

SOURCE: Green Mountain Gears