Program boosts prospects of Wai'anae Coast robotics teams

University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa
Elizabeth A. Simon, (808) 864-0527
Office of Student Equity Excellence and Diversity
Kellen Smith, (815) 451-3797
Support Specialist, PLACES
Posted: Nov 8, 2012

Robotics score a hit with Wai'anae youngsters
Robotics score a hit with Wai'anae youngsters
Students along the Wai’anae Coast are learning and practicing skills in preparation for their futures – futures that require research, technology, and teamwork. Nine robotics teams will be competing in the second annual Wai’anae District First LegoLeague (FLL) Robotics tournament on Saturday, November 10, at Wai’anae High School cafeteria from noon to 3:00 p.m. 
The nine teams competing represent Kamaile Academy, Leihoku Elementary, Nanaikapono Elementary, Wai’anae Elementary and Wai’anae Intermediate Schools and Manana Elementary.  Students and teachers have dedicated countless hours in preparation of this competition that is coordinated by the Program for Afterschool Literacy Support (PALS), administered through UH Mānoa.
The winning teams will move on to a spot in the Hawai’i State Championship. FLL robotics is open to students between the ages of 9 and 14, and is designed to get students excited about science and technology. In FLL afterschool classes, youngsters work with the popular interlocking brick toys, trademarked as LEGOS, to design and operate autonomous robots.
FLL robotics is an international organization that was established in 1998 as an afterschool activity and was brought out to nine Wai’anae Coast teams last year with administrative and funding support from PALS. The Wai'anae teams made a strong showing at their first tournament last year, placing in the top 50 percent ahead of many veteran teams. 
“Our Wai'anae students are highly motivated to excel in robotics. Many come from disadvantaged households that couldn’t afford to buy LEGOS kits sold commercially. But the kids are more than making up for any previous lack of exposure with plenty of enthusiasm. So we encourage the community to come out and cheer them on,” said Kellen Smith, a UH Mānoa PALS Support Specialist who is also the Wai'anae Tournament Coordinator.
The theme of the 2012 FLL robotics tournament is “Senior Solutions.” The challenge has gone out to more than 20,000 FLL teams in 61 countries to use robotics as a way to improve the quality of life for senior citizens in their communities. The theme must be addressed in three activities—a robot game, a special project and the expression of core values. As part of their Senior Solutions special project, several youngsters from the Wai'anae robotics teams conducted interviews with area kupuna and organized a sign-waving event with slogans reminding passers-by to respect their elders. The Wai'anae teams will be debuting their robots at the upcoming tournament and will be judged partly on how well the autonomous machines provide answers to questions of how seniors can remain independent and engaged in their communities.
“The FLL robotics program is very integrated across several subjects. It uses toys to bridge the gap between play and education, so that learning is fun. The children discover that they can be creative in science and math. The aim is to boost their confidence so that they will be able to tackle more difficult coursework in high school and become college ready,” said Smith.