Rector Elementary School LEGO Team Competes at State

Thursday, February 2, 2017
Members of the RES LEGO team includes, from left: Front-Carter Hill, Drew Henderson, Austin Simmons, Emma Holmes and Ehtan Simmons. Back-Kayeleigh Steward, Kaley Isom, Jackson Hill, Evan Holmes and Landon Haywood.(courtesy photo)

The Rector Elementary School LEGO League team has found great success since its inception three years ago. This year happy team members won the Champion's Award in a regional qualifying event at Searcy, earning them a spot in the First LEGO League (FLL) Arkansas Championship Tournament held Jan. 20-21 on the campus of the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville.

In a contest with 35 other teams from around the state, Rector students took the top prize for Robot Mechanical Design, one of three areas of competition, also including Project and Core Values.Their smiles and those of sponsors Lance Mabrey and Christin Holmes reflected the great joy of their success.

"When Mr. Mabrey became our GT (gifted and talented) teacher, we brought it to his attention that we were interested in starting a LEGO League team," said Holmes.

He was quickly on board, and with the assistance of Holmes and parent volunteer Heather Simmons, the team got off to a great start, qualifying for state competition in only its second year.

The team didn't get to make the trip last year due to snow, so this year's state event was even sweeter for those involved.

"We still learn new things each year, and our teams have gotten better each year," Mabrey said. The school supports and sponsors the team, which currently includes only students in the school's GT program.

"The team members change each year, and we allow the GT students to vote on who is deserving of a spot on our team," Mabrey said.

The 2016-17 team includes Landon Haywood, Evan Holmes, Jackson Hill, Kaley Isom, Ethan Simmons, Drew Henderson, Carter Hill, Kayeleigh Steward, Austin Simmons and Emma Holmes.

Last year's team included Lane Stucks, Devin Brown, Olivia Sutherland, Evan Holmes, Landon Haywood, Jackson Hill, Kaley Isom, Ethan Simmons, Drew Henderson and Carter Hill.

The first team, formed in the 2014-15 school year, included Jacob Holmes, Zane Holloway, Sophie Simmons, Sadey Underwood, Lane Stucks, Olivia Sutherland, Maddox Trail, Evan Holmes, Landon Haywood and Jackson Hill.

"Each year, all LEGO teams are presented a challenge for which they must develop a solution," Mabrey said. "Last year the challenge was 'Trash Trek' and our team started a recycling system for our school. This year, the challenge was 'Animal Allies' and we had to find a way to make interactions between humans and animals better."

The Rector team developed an alarm, called a D-larm, to keep deer from eating the crops in fields and gardens.

"Our customizable deer alarm uses lasers and mirrors to create a barrier around the area that is being disturbed by deer," Holmes said. "When deer cross the perimeter of the laser light, a high pitched sound is emitted that only animals can hear. Our product is solar powered with a potential life of five to six years."

Competiton presentations require hours of practice and research," Mabrey and Holmes said.

In addition to the project presentation, the team must display core values and give a presentation of how they displayed them throughout the season.

The core values are:

* We are a team.

* We do the work to find solutions with guidance from our coaches and mentors.

* We know our coaches and mentors don't have all the answers; we learn together.

* We honor the spirit of friendly competition.

* What we discover is more important than what we win.

* We share our experiences with others.

* We display gracious professionalism and cooperation in everything we do.

* We have fun!

"The final presentation the team makes at competitions is the robot design," Mabrey said. "The team must describe how they designed the robot and how they programmed the robot to do specific missions. All of this is done by using a computer to input data and downloading those programs onto the robot.

"After these presentations, the teams compete in the robot mission rounds, in which programs are run to make the robot perform certain tasks on the playing field. The robot may need to collect something and bring it back to the base, maneuver around obstacles or take something to a certain spot and leave it there. It is really fun and amazing to see these robots do these missions. This is, by far, the students' favorite part of the LEGO competitions."

LEGO League team members meet after school, beginning in August and continuing until competition.

"In the early stages of the challenge, our team meets one day a week for 1 1/2 hours right after school," Mabrey said. "The first few meetings are for any student in GT interested in being on the team. During these meetings, the students and coaches are looking for students who participate, cooperate with others, work hard and who take this seriously. Only 10 students can be on the team and these first few meetings determine who is awarded a spot.

"Once our team has been chosen, we continue meeting 1 1/2 hours a week to start preparing. During this phase, students brainstorm ideas, problems and solutions that fit within the specific challenge that year. As a team, we look at each idea and make decisions based on what is the best idea for the project. As we get closer to the competitions, our team may meet two to three times a week. Sometimes we even meet on weekends or at night to prepare for the competition. Finding extra time can be hard, scheduling around basketball games and practices. The students even use their recess time to come in and work on programming the robot during school, just to get the missions perfect."

Holmes said day one of the the state event started at 3 p.m. with students enjoying a time of fun, including a robot knockout tournament and pizza party.

The second day of serious competition ended with a closing ceremony from 6:15 to 7. The Rector group then attended the Arkansas/LSU basketball game at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville and returned home the following day.

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