Portland School Notebook: March 23

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Baxter students’ robot rocks at first competition

Baxter Academy for Technology and Science’s 2-year-old robotics team, the Outliers, won the highest engineering award at the Granite State district event in Windham, New Hampshire, on March 6 during First Robotics’ opening weekend of competition in New England.

Local team members who represent the Portland public charter school include freshman Olivia Scola, who is part of the pit crew and sophomore Julian Bernard, who is head of programming.

The team robot, named Christine after Stephen King’s fictional car, was proclaimed “a scoring powerhouse.”

The team now ranks ninth in New England. The Outliers will be on the floor again at Maine’s Pine Tree district event April 7 and 8 in Lewiston.

Judges awarded the team the Rockwell Automation’s Innovation in Control Award for the Outliers’ development of a continuously variable transmission, a complex transmissions technology that is believed to have never been successfully used in First Robotics competitions before. Judges also cited the team’s use of an Inertial Measuring Unit for angular position control, as well as the use of a Raspberry Pi for video processing.

A high scorer at the event, the team tied for best Offensive Power Rating for its ability to contribute points in three-team alliance play. The Outliers toggled between first and second in the rankings in qualifying rounds Saturday, but slipped to fifth after having to forego a round of play to repair the robot. In the semifinals match, the team was eliminated when an alliance partner lost radio communication with its robot.

Baxter engineering teacher and team mentor, Jonathan Amory, said the team had an outstanding performance in the qualifying and final events. “The robot was one of the most adept on the field for scoring and breaching defenses,” Amory said. “Both in qualifying and playoff rounds the robot was constantly the best shooter.”

Amory noted that another Portland team, the Duct-tape Dragons of the Boys and Girls Club, also did well in the finals and is now ranked 20th in New England.

“It proves that Maine teams can do well against the larger and better funded teams from New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Rhode Island,” he said.

SMCC student chosen for All-Maine team

Emily Cleary, of Portland, is among 14 Maine community college students who have been named to the All-Maine Academic Team for two-year colleges at a ceremony planned for March 23, at the Senator Inn in Augusta. Students chosen for the team also receive a $500 scholarship.

Cleary is enrolled in Southern Maine Community College’s pre-engineering program and is president of the Engineering Club. She said her dream job is to work for NASA, designing technology for space exploration.

Peaks Island Elementary School launches Trash RRR-Evolution

Peaks Island Elementary School students and staff got down and dirty last week, when they took on a project to find out how much trash island residents produce, and how it is taken care of. They began by carrying around all their own trash to get a sense of how much waste they produce.

On March 18, with the help of ecomaine, the waste was sorted and weighed. On March 21, they were scheduled to travel to the mainland to follow the trash to ecomaine to see what happens when it leaves the island.

The project involves math and reading and focuses on writing and science, particularly engineering.

The unique endeavor is part of a new project-based learning effort called RRR-Evolution, said teacher leader, Renee Bourgoine-Serio, adding that RRR-Evolution “stands for Reduce-Reuse-Recycle and evolution or change.”

“We are exploring the big idea of, ‘What is the impact of trash on our island community?’” she said.

Bourgoine-Serio said students and staff carried all their trash, including paper, snack and lunch waste and paper towels.

“In my bag, I have soda cans, paper, folders, coffee grounds, banana peels and Post-it notes,” Bourgoine-Serio said. “My office reeks of coffee grounds.”

USM’s Newman Club holds drive for Preble Street

University of Southern Maine junior Lydia Tsadik was one of several members of the Catholic Newman Club who encouraged students and faculty to give generously March 8-10, for a supply drive to benefit Preble Street in Portland.

Preble Street meets a variety of needs for hundreds of local people each day.

Clothes, backpacks, toiletries, and nonperishable food items were among the donations dropped off at the club’s table at the Woodbury Campus Center on the school’s Portland campus by members of the USM community.

“I like to help out. I like to help people,” said Tsadik. “This a good way to be involved in the community.”

“Even things as simple as batteries, ponchos, bus passes, stuff like that,” said Forest Gates, co-president of the club. “We’re doing it to help the homeless in Portland and to have a nice charitable event that everybody, from all walks of life, can get into and donate to.”

The supply drive was the Newman Club’s Lenten service project and also comes as the Catholic Church is celebrating the Holy Year of Mercy, declared by Pope Francis.

“This really mobilizes the Year of Mercy because it is part of the corporal acts of mercy: feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, tending to the sick,” said Gates. “We have this big pope cut-out behind us, and he kind of epitomizes the Year of Mercy.”

Plan to drop in at Makers@PPL, coming April 23

Makers@PPL, a festival of STEM learning for people of all ages and backgrounds, will take place 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday, April 23, throughout Portland Public Library. The event is free and open to the public. STEM is an acronym for science, technology, engineering and math.

Makers@PPL is an opportunity for the greater Portland community to come together to learn about and take part in creative, hands-on, science-based experiences. The festival launched with an inaugural event in April 2015, welcoming close to 2,000 participants, and 75-plus presenters and workshop leaders.

Makers@PPL 2016 has activities in themed tracks that include: Arts & Letters, Technology & Science, DIY, and Food & Drink. This year’s event will host a wide range of workshop for children and teens, and will also include classes for residents from across the community. Exhibits and presentations are designed for drop-in-style learning.

Makers@PPL combines elements of the traditional maker movement with STEM learning and community engagement. Topics will include: 3D printer and 3D scanner demonstrations; calligraphy; pendulum sand painting; raspberry pi coding; cupcake decorating; map making; fermentation demos; trebuchet construction; origami; book making and book arts; learn to fly a quad copter; and print a 3D scan.

A raffle will be available with prizes such as museum passes, restaurant gift certificates, and a ticket to Maine Start Up and Create Week.