Young LEGO leaguers engineer success

December 20, 2007

by Richard Wolfe

Two professors of engineering sponsored two groups of elementary students in a state-level research and robotics competition in New Orleans Dec. 1.

Hisham Hegab, an associate professor of mechanical engineering and academic director of electrical engineering, sponsored a team from A.E. Phillips Lab School including Jonathan Craig, Ryan Duke, Rachel Hegab, Ben Sawyer, Margeaux Smith and Andrew Thompson.

Hegab said his team consisted mostly of fifth graders, but they also had students from the sixth and seventh grades. He also said there were 26 teams in the state-wide competition, and his team won second place in the robot performance event.

Hegab said, “The overall number of teams competing [nationally] is in the thousands.”

He also said the winners go on to the national competition in Atlanta and that each team must design and program their robots.

“They build an autonomous robot,” Hegab said. “This robot must perform a variety of missions.”

He said the students used a LEGO product, Mindstorms, to construct their robot.

“It’s a very simplified environment for them to program in,” Hegab said. “It’s not like they’re writing code.”

Hegab also said his team started meeting once a week around mid-August for approximately two hours at a time.

“As they start getting a framework for the design, it gets a little less messy,” Hegab said.

He said both teams had to do a research presentation as part of their project, and his team did an energy audit of Tech’s campus.

“It’s an opportunity for them to learn about science in a fun way,” Hegab said.

David Hall, an associate professor of mechanical engineering, sponsored a team of home-schooled students, Ruston Renewables, including Anna Hall, Sarah Hall, Story Moller, Evan Morse, Mary Peshoff and Jonathan Walker.

Hall said his team conducted an energy audit of the Lincoln Parish Library as part of their research project and won second place for overall score in all events.

“What attracts most kids to it is the LEGOs,” he said. “Kids like playing with LEGOs.”

Hall said the whole idea is really exciting to the students, and they really wanted to participate.

“It teaches the kids how to systematically approach a problem and work consistently,” Hall said.

He also said the kids first build the playing pieces that go on the playing field, a 4-by-8 piece of plywood with material printed on a rubber mat over it.

“After those pieces are in place and they understand the missions, they start building a robot that can complete as many missions as possible,” Hall said. “It’s very challenging.”

Jennifer Cobb, a senior chemistry education major, said it is beneficial that the students were learning to work as a team.

“When they get older and they get a real job, they’ll have to work with other people collaboratively to get a good finished product,” Cobb said.

Cobb said it seems like the state as a whole is trying to incorporate math and science by exposing students to environmental issues at a younger age.

Cobb said, “By making them more aware at an early age, they can better see how it affects us.”