Students collaborate on their project, following directions and working together. PHOTO BY DAN FOX

Junior Robotics teams hit the bricks for FIRST LEGO League


For the first time, Skagway’s School is training its second-, third- and fourth-graders for a junior robotics league.

The co-coaches for the group are fifth-grade teacher Mary Thole, who has coached FIRST LEGO League robotics before, and fourth-grade teacher Danielle McManus.

Interest in the junior robotics team started small, but exploded, according to Thole.

“We had five kids at our first parent meeting,” Thole said. “So we thought, ‘oh, okay, this will be a good little trial year.’”

By the end of the week, that number had jumped to 26 interested youngsters.

Thole said Skagway has a “ton” of kids that are interested in creative endeavors, and added that robotics is “just right up many of the kids’ alleys of blending math and science and technology.”

The junior robotics students will be learning coding and programing for their projects, and will be building as well.

They will have to build a robot that can navigate an obstacle course, Thole said, among other things.

In addition to the technical aspect of the program, concepts like teamwork, giving positive feedback to peers and valuing new ideas are a few of the skills the coaches are working to instill in the kids. The FIRST core values – “gracious professionalism” and “coopertition” – are also woven into every practice, Thole said, in addition to a real-world challenge.

That real world challenge, and the theme of the students’ projects, is water and how water is used – a topic that students will run across frequently in school, especially in science and social studies, according to McManus.

A few weeks ago, the students took a trip to Skagway’s wastewater treatment plant, to learn the process of handling the municipality’s wastewater. They have also been learning about where Skagway’s water comes from.

It’s an activity with many different facets and goals, but it’s an activity that Thole said is beneficial to the kids.

“The growth that I’ve seen from every job I’ve ever had with children, being an FLL coach was the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done, because I’ve seen the growth in engineering and the growth with maturity and core values and their speaking skills,” Thole said.

Starting students in grades 2-4 on robotics can have a good impact on teamwork and interpersonal skills, McManus said.

“I think the core values are definitely just going to help with positive social interactions,” McManus said. “Just teaching them how to be team members, teaching them to share ideas, it’s really focused around teamwork.”

Being in the junior robotics club will help students be able to bring those types of positive traits into other areas of school and their lives, McManus said.

“Hopefully by the time they reach me in the next couple of years, I’m going to have a class of team builders,” McManus said.