Team Prickles. PHOTO BY DAN FOX

Dual robotics teams prepare for upcoming competition


Skagway’s two FIRST LEGO League (FLL) robotics teams are gearing up for their first tournament, scheduled for Dec. 9 in Juneau.

“We’re cranking away trying to get ready for it,” said robotics coach Mary Tidlow.

The competition has several components: working as a team to solve a problem, develop a project that responds to a problem and develop a skit. Lastly, the teams need to run their robot through an obstacle course, where they will be judged on how well the robot performs.

The goal for this year is to identify a problem with the human water cycle, design a solution that makes the problem better and then share that solution with others.

Tidlow, who coaches Team Lily Inc., said her students are working on a project focused around cleaning heavy metals from water.

“Often during the manufacturing process, heavy metals are washed into the water, and so we are looking at a methodology to clean heavy metals out of the manufacturing water,” Tidlow said.

Team Prickles, the second of Skagway’s robotics teams, is working on something called the “mountain fountain” – a sustainable water source that could provide drinking water in remote locations without the need for pipes and plumbing.

It took Team Prickles a little while to find a good project to work on within the theme of water, coach Andy Miller said.

“We were optimistic about water, and then realized that there’s been water problems for centuries, and a lot of solutions already out there,” Miller said. “So it really took us a lot longer to find a problem that we could tackle this year.”

The idea for the mountain fountain had originally been a rainwater catchment system for dogs, but the team expanded the idea for use by those with two legs as well.

Miller said there was a great deal of interest in the FLL program this year, with over 20 kids interested initially. Teams are limited to 10 members.

“It’s a program that Skagway’s excelled at year after year, and we’re hoping that can continue,” Miller said. “And we’re grateful for the support that the school gives us and the community, fundraising and all that fun stuff.”

Teamwork and working without arguing are two major lessons that come with participating in the FLL program.

“The biggest lesson that they always learn is how to work together,” Miller said.

Tidlow said the students on her team all have experience with FLL, and are up to the task before them. In FLL, the students learn a number of lessons, including team building, and “coopertition” – a word created by FIRST to signify showing kindness and respect in the face of fierce competition.

“There’s a sense of discovery as they are able to successfully complete a program, as they program on the table and work with the robot,” Tidlow said. “Some kids really enjoy working on the skit and doing project research. They almost all enjoy spending time together and dance parties, and just working on the core values, building things and solving things as a team.”