Saturday, January 12, 2008

Pack-A-Watt to go to City-Wide Tournament

By Ava Busto Schiff and Bradley Shapiro

It’s easy enough to know about what’s going on with Packer sports teams like soccer and basketball – ones that are announced about in chapel and are made up entirely of middle-school students. It’s much less common to hear about after-school activities that are the exact opposite. The teams are comprised of middle and lower school students, and their progress isn’t announced in chapel. These are teams like fencing and robotics. The former of this set is pretty self-explanatory: school teams fencing against other school teams much like a track meet or a soccer game. The latter, however, isn’t quite as simple. The Packer robotics team, who have named themselves Pack-A-Watt, is Packer’s representative to the FLL (First LEGO League). This means that Pack-A-Watt builds robots out of LEGO products and goes to a tournament where they plug in a pre-tailored command into their robot’s computer so that it can do a set of tasks based on the year’s theme (each year there’s a new one). This year’s theme was energy conservation, and robots were required to complete assignments such as moving oil barrels, pushing cars and trucks, gathering uranium and corn harvesting plants, and placing power lines, windmills and waterwheels.

But FLL feels that kids should not just know how to make and program robots, but that they should get something out of the experience. That’s why at tournaments like the one held on Saturday at Brooklyn Tech High school, teams are able to advance to the next round, in this case the city-wide, in multiple ways including team spirit, teamwork, robot design, robot programming, how many tasks you do and how well you do them, and research presentation. Before going into the details of each award, let’s examine the hierarchy of the FLL. There are three tournaments. The regional, the city-wide, and the national. The regional is the preliminary tournament that weeds out sixteen schools from each borough, as to narrow the search for the FLL champion. I am happy to report that Pack-A-Watt has passed through this tournament. The city-wide takes out the best of the best and pits them against each other to see who is truly worthy of the honor of going to nationals. Pack-A-Watt will be going to the city-wide at Riverbank State Park on January 26th. The national tournament is the ultimate battle between the ultimate warriors of the FLL. Set in Atlanta, the national will crown the winner, and hopefully, that will be us!

Now let’s take a look at the different awards and, more importantly, the one Pack-A-Watt earned. Robot building: Let’s face it, building with LEGOs is not that simple. The team who makes the best robot – even if that robot doesn’t score a single point! – can go to the next round. Robot programming: A good robot is nice, but it’s not the sword, it’s the swordsman. Programming the NXT or RCX (the LEGO computer) is hard work, and FLL honors that by letting the best programmed robot’s team advance to the next round. Performance: This is what FLL is known for: put your robot on a table and it gets two and a half minutes to complete as many challenges and wrack up as much points as possible. The top five point-worthy teams get the honor of the next tournament. Team spirit: Sometimes that best way to not be beaten is to accept defeat. If you are a real mascot for your school, or just shrug off defeat as a learning experience to be applied next time, you may well win the spirit award. Despite Matthew’s chicken dance at the end of the tournament, Pack-A-Watt strangely did not win this award. Teamwork: The twin sister of team spirit, this award goes to whoever’s team supports each other the most, even when someone doesn’t get a single point (because there’s always next round! [Each team gets four tries to get as much points as possible]). The last – and in many coaches opinion, hardest – award goes to whichever team a) chooses an interesting topic to research relating to the annual theme (we did “How much power does an average four-person brownstone use and how do you use less?”), b) spends the most time and effort into this research project and how factually correct is it, and c) how creatively and effectively you display this information (Pack-A-Watt did a skit in which a dog becomes an environmental superhero so that he could help the MacIntyre family become green with little financial disruption). Pack-A-Watt won first place for their research, and we hope to see many people on January 26th at Riverbank State Park to help push Pack-A-Watt into the national tournament.

No comments: