Falmouth senior turns LEGO love into middle school activity
FALMOUTH — Some people might think Falmouth High School senior Carson Hooper went about things backwards.
After all, a lot of seniors scramble during the final months of their last year of high school to find the perfect "Independent Project," a graduation requirement that challenges students to answer the question, "Who am I and what can I do?"
But a year ago, Hooper wasn't even thinking about fulfilling project requirements when he began forming a Falmouth Middle School LEGO team. He was just looking to give middle school students a fun learning opportunity he enjoyed a few years back with his father and other students.
"When I was in middle school, my dad started a LEGO League of his own and he was coach," Hooper said. "I just thought it was really, really fun, a great time and a great experience for me."
So he researched what he needed to do to get a group started and discovered there were a lot of steps. He sent letters and "got the parents' attention." By the fall, he began working with the half-dozen students on the FIRST LEGO League (FLL) challenge, which culminated in a state-wide competition Saturday, Dec. 12 at the Augusta Civic Center.
FIRST stands for For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology – a non-profit organization founded by Dean Kamen, inventor of the Segway Personal Transporter. The FIRST LEGO League introduces middle school students to real engineering concepts, challenging them to use their knowledge, skills and imagination to design a LEGO robot capable of completing assigned tasks.
This year's FLL emphasis, called SmartMove, focused on transportation. Presented with a series of navigational challenges, students were required to design a LEGO robot and program it to perform several maneuvers successfully on a large game board, adult volunteer Irwin Gratz said. Though they were provided with many choices, the Falmouth team attempt to knock a loop off a center post, pick up a standing hoop and end inside a target circle on the approximately 8-foot by 4-foot board, Gratz said.
"It's just a wonderfully creative activity for them," he said. "A wonderful way of getting them into these skills in something they really like."
A research component related to transportation rounded out competition requirements. The Falmouth students chose to create a survey that examined the pros and cons of bicycles and that explored the obstacles their riders must face, he said.
Gratz' son, Eli, was a member of the team. Though Eli Gratz said working as a group was challenging at times, he enjoyed the experience. Eli plans to participate on the team again next year.
"I thought it was really fun to go up (to Augusta) and have our robot in the competition, but also to see what other kids created," he said.
Fifty-two teams from all over the state competed in the event. Falmouth brought a five-member team, two adult mentors – Gratz and and high school teacher John Kraljic, and high school student coaches Hooper, Aaron Kane and Samuel Kane. Though the Falmouth team did not receive an award, its members and mentors were encouraged by its level of achievement in only the first year of competition.
"It was a lot of fun to see what the different teams came up with," Irwin Gratz said. "You could see the teams get excited when their robots accomplished things. I was surprised that a lot of the robots did not do what they were expected to; it's one reason this team did as well as it did."
For Hooper, who has participated in the Robotics Club in high school and has aspirations for a career in the biological sciences, his coaching debut has him revisiting what several of his teachers have been telling him all along – that he would make a good teacher.
"I'm not convinced, but I guess their word is better than mine," he said. "The whole experience of me coaching the middle school LEGO team showed me I could teach kids and share my knowledge...and share robotics in general – how you want things to work."
Though Hooper will move on, he said next year's team will be in good hands under the Kane brothers, who will return in the fall.
And without even stressing over it, Hooper has completed his "Independent Project," leaving a "LEGO-cy" to build on for those who will come behind him.
Peggy Roberts can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or firstname.lastname@example.org.