Inventing with LegosLego Land, at the Mall of America, is a popular destination for many elementary and middle school students, but a spot to pick up supplies? One of Math and Science Academy’s FIRST Lego League teams, the Surfing Elements, took a field trip to the play zone to pick out everything they needed to build their robot.
By: Amber Kispert-Smith, Woodbury Bulletin
Lego Land, at the Mall of America, is a popular destination for many elementary and middle school students, but a spot to pick up supplies?
One of Math and Science Academy’s FIRST Lego League teams, the Surfing Elements, took a field trip to the play zone to pick out everything they needed to build their robot.
“All you need to build something is a good idea and a box of scraps,” seventh grader Zack Hagstrom-Skalnek said.
The Surfing Elements and a second MSA Lego League team, the Chaotic Tacos, competed in the state FIRST Lego League state tournament on Saturday at the Washington Technology Magnet School in St. Paul. Both teams are comprised of seventh-grade boys.
The Chaotic Tacos placed 19th overall. The Surfing Elements received and innovative design award.
Teams are judged in four areas — design, programming, research and teamwork.
FIRST Lego League is a national organization that sees students competing in the design and demonstration of functioning robots. Each year the robots must perform a different mission.
Additionally, teams research an actual problem, associated with the year’s theme, that scientists and engineers are trying to solve. The teams then develop and innovate solutions to the problem.
This year’s theme was the Body Forward Challenge, which looked at the areas of biomedical engineering.
“This year all of those missions on the field are meant to represent something in biomedical engineering,” Surfing Elements member Max Haland said.
“I love this idea of how Lego League allows these kids to turn something that is in their mind into a physical reality,” Ellizabeth Hagstrom-Skalnek, the Surfing Elements coach, said. “These kids are your future.”
Fighting with elements
When the Surfing Elements began work on this year’s Lego League challenge, the first step was to identify a research project.
Since the research project had to deal with some sort of problem within the biomedical community, the Surfing Elements eventually landed on prosthetic legs and how to make them better.
“We started with just a really broad idea and eventually decided that prosthetic legs would feel more natural if they were to fit better,” Surfing Elements member Max Haland said.
For their research, the eight-member team looked online for information and even toured a prosthetics company.
The boys took what they learned and designed a functioning prototype.
“Everything was a pretty big challenge since you have to think about everything from scratch,” Zack Hagstrom-Skalnek said.
When it came to designing the robot to perform the various missions, the team started with a basic design that all teams began with, and added to it and made it better. The team found their final design on the Internet.
“Since this is engineering and not necessarily science, it’s totally acceptable to use something as a starting point and make it better,” Elizabeth Skalnek said.
A chaotic taco
MSA’s other state-bound Lego League team, the Chaotic Tacos, took a different approach to its research project. Rather than bettering something that already exists, they decided to look into something that is still on the horizon — nanobots.
Nanobots and microscopic robots are machines that can be utilized to address problems. For example, nanobots can be utilized in the human body to locate and destroy cancer cells or other medical deficiencies.
“Nanobots were the obvious choice,” Tim Beretti, the team coach, said. “I think it was the science fiction aspect of it that attracted the boys to nanobots — even though it has been a prospect, it’s really not a reality yet.”
Once the five-member team decided on nanobots as their broad idea, it was up to the team to make it more specific and more specialized to them.
It was Chaotic Taco member Charter Jacobson who had the solution.
Jacobson was recently diagnosed with neurofibromatosis Type II, which causes tumor cells develop on nerve endings in the brain.
“Charter had the idea to have the nanobots attacking some bad tumor cells,” Beretti said. “Our project did bring home a sense that we have a stakeholder.”
Both Elizabeth Hagstrom-Skalnek and Beretti said they were pleased this year’s Lego League challenge addressed the future of science in a way that the boys could potentially see realized.
“I’m thrilled that these guys have a problem that’s interesting enough that makes these guys want to learn science,” Hagstrom-Skalnek said.
“The boys love the idea of being able to design something to do whatever you want to do,” he Beretti said. “Plus it’s something they can potentially see within their lifetime.”