CORVALLIS, Ore. - When 117 teams gather in Hillsboro for the Jan. 19-20 Intel Oregon FIRST® LEGO® League state robotics championship, eight of them will have ties to the Oregon State University Extension Service's 4-H program.
They'll be competing at the Intel Oregon FIRST LEGO League Championships at Liberty High School. The tournament is free and open to the public.
In December, more than 400 teams and about 3,000 students participated in qualifying rounds in Oregon and southwest Washington. The students, ranging from ages 9-14, had to build a small robot out of LEGO Mindstorm NXT kits and program it to carry out as many missions as possible on a 4-foot by 8-foot playing field. Separate from the robot, students also had to present a concept for a device that solves a problem faced by a senior citizen.
The Bend-area 4-H team, Girls on Fire!, developed a prototype for a device called a "Med Minder," an electronic wall calendar that beeps to remind people to take medication. The team is made up of six girls and formed for the first time this year. One of its members, Katie Slough, 12, said only two people on her team had experience with LEGO robotics. She was one of them.
"Last year I was on a team that was me and three other fourth-grade guys and it was a lot harder to make decisions," she said. "This year with all girls we could make decisions easier."
Over in Wasco County, a 4-H team there talked with neurologists and developed a concept for headbands and gloves to help alleviate hand tremors. To help with their project, they also interviewed two senior citizens from The Dalles, including a Vietnam veteran who is paraplegic and uses an electric wheelchair.
"A lot of the kids didn't think about senior citizens and the trials they go through," said Holly Morris, a Wasco County 4-H program assistant. "This project opened their eyes to a whole new world they never looked at before. It also gave them the chance to think about what life would be like when they are a senior citizen one day."
Team member Sarah Treichel, 14, said, "I like doing robotics because you can understand how different technology works and apply that to real life."
Her robotics team is part of a 4-H after-school technology program that is held at Dufur School and The Dalles Middle School. About 20 children from The Dalles area meet after school two hours per week to design computer games, build soapbox derby cars and construct submersible robots.
Another state-qualifying team affiliated with 4-H is from McMinnville and is made up of seven home-schooled students. It also has ties to a McMinnville cooperative, Enjoy Learning Together, that is geared toward families who teach children at home.
"Though people say home-schooled kids need more social skills, these kids had better social skills than many of my students," the team's volunteer leader, Ann Clabaugh, said. "They had strong abilities in teamwork, problem-solving and making compromises."
The LEGO robotics program aims to inspire kids to consider a technical career while teaching them teamwork in a creative, hands-on environment and building up their self-confidence.
4-H is a program of the OSU Extension Service. Students can belong to various 4-H clubs centered on areas of interest that include not just robotics but also photography, website design, livestock and sewing.
The following Oregon teams affiliated with 4-H earned spots at the state tournament:
For information about the Intel Oregon FIRST LEGO League Championships, go to http://www.ortop.org/fll
For information on participating in 4-H, contact the OSU Extension Service office in your county. Links to the offices are at http://extension.oregonstate.edu/find-us
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Molly Slough, 541-419-6288