Classrooms at Mesa Elementary School have long been filled with the sounds of levers dropping and latches catching. It’s the sound of the LEGO Robotics teams fulfilling their challenges by creating codes that program their robots to accomplish different tasks. Each task is worth different amounts of points and in competitions, every point matters.
Just ask the Mesa Team, who have dubbed themselves the “Roborunners,” who scored just enough points to qualify for the state competition in Albuquerque in February. The team qualified by coming in ninth out of 27 teams at the regional tournament in Durango, Colorado in early January.
“We were all pretty nervous for the competition,” Alexis Ball, a student at Mesa, said. “But it was really fun, and once we got started we realized it wasn’t as intimidating as we thought. We thought we might not make it to Albuquerque, but when we found out we did, I almost started crying that’s how happy I was.
The team practice their challenges on work tops that sit on student desks grouped together. The students alternate posts at the computer where they enter codes that dictate which moves the robot will make, to the table, where the robots carry out their orders. They go back and forth and back and forth to make sure the robots don’t move as much as an inch further than they are intended.
The program started with the students in the Gifted Program at Mesa Elementary but has since been expanded to include all students at the school. The program is sponsored by Jeffry Hammons, the gifted teacher Mesa.
Students who began at the program at Mesa but have gone on to Tsé Bit'a'í Middle School started their own team and have seen incredible results, including placing second at the same regional competition in Durango.
At competitions, teams are judged on three areas: the Robot Game, the Project and Core Values. The Robot Game is the portion of the competition where competitors program their robots to carry out certain tasks – always starting in the same spot and returning to the same location. The tasks, or challenges, center on the theme of the competition, which is hydrodynamics this year and the tasks included dropping a LEGO water barrel in the right place, moving a tripod into a marked location and pushing water barrels over a bridge.
The TBA team embraced the theme with full force and applied it to a real life situation – the debate over the Dakota Access Pipeline. The team wore shirts with “water is life” printed on it and explained how the pipeline could affect water and people who use the water near the pipeline.
“The pipeline would be near the Sioux tribe’s source of water,” sixth grader Jude Thomas said. “Water is sacred for our nation and our community. It’s a precious resource that we live on – it grows our food and crops. It grows our sacred food and the food we use to feed livestock. Just like our crops grow, we grow as a team every time we practice.”
After the challenges are completed, the teams are judged on their project and on their core values, which include teamwork, discovery, inclusion and more.
Keeping with the theme, the TBA team chose again to look at a real-life issue, the Gold King Mine Spill. The Gold King Mine Spill resulted in toxic waste water from an abandoned mine pouring into the Animas River, a river used for drinking and farming by many Four Corners communities.
“We tried to find solution for the spill, like using a super filter,” student Navon Begay. “We want to be able to solve problems in our community and other places. This a problem that could affect our tribe and our whole population. We are still working on a solution.”
The team’s focus has been put on the state competition where, if they finish high enough, they could qualify to compete at the national competition.