Skagway’s Envirobotics team shows off their robots. Front row: Zoe Wassman, Elena Saldi, Riley Westfall, and Rosalie Westfall; back row: Taylor Carlson, Trevor Cox, Aidan Klupar, and Yasha Saldi. The team heads to Anchorage next month. Vivian Meyer

Lego League: Envirobotics coach breaks it all down

This all started on September 5th when the First Lego League announced this year’s challenge. This years challenge theme is “climate connection” or how we affect our environment and how our environment affects our lives. It is open to all children age 9 to 14 on January 1st of the challenge year. A team consists of a minimum of three children and a maximum of 10. The challenge consists of about 19 missions for the robot to perform that schematically represent possible courses of action based on the annual theme. One mission was to bring people together. Little Lego people are placed at specific locations around the board. The team would be awarded points for using their robot to successfully collect and place a person at a new location. The more people placed the more points. At no time are the children allowed to touch or influence their robot once it has left on a mission. One of the rules is: If an action or technique is not specifically prohibited then it is allowed. This is the ultimate play environment for a curious and creative mind. The children study the mission then design,build, and program a robot whose purpose is to accomplish the mission, then return to base. To make things compatible among teams the robot brain is the Mindstorms NXT from Lego and the robot parts are standard Lego pieces.
Next is the hard part where they run the mission and analyze the results. The mission never worked on the first go, so they would redesign, reprogram and rerun. We spent the last two months solving missions. At the Juneau Robot Jamboree each team has 2.5 minutes to attempt as many missions as possible. At the end of the time period the referee examines the board and awards the team points for each accomplishment. As you will see there are two teams performing at a time. They are not competing in the traditional sense, as each team has three attempts to get their highest score, so a poor showing at one time or any time is not a big deal.
If there is a referee in the picture it means he is discussing the results the team accomplished. If there is no referee then the kids are preparing their robot to run a mission. Teams warm up in a practice pit before their try at the big board.
After the team completes a round, the score is posted on a large score board. Naturally when a new high score was posted everyone wanted to see how this team approached the problems. The most amazing thing to me was the collaboration among the teams; when a new technique was demonstrated you would see it attempted in subsequent rounds by other teams. The speed and agility that the teams used to develop new solutions was truly impressive. The Skagway teams managed to develop, program and successfully run several new missions they were afraid to try in Skagway. They were caught up in the excitement of the moment. What is special about First Lego league is that work is kid -directed and you get to see and experience the fruits of their creative energies. Coaches are allowed to mentor, but not provide or direct solutions. So when it is all done, the kids have a personal sense of accomplishment, no matter what they score. One of our teams won second place for Robot performance.

Riley Westfall, Rosalie Westfall and Taylor Carlson of the first place Envirobotics Blue team are interviewed by a referee about their robot’s project.

Trevor Cox, Zoe Wassman and Aidan Klupar of the Envirobotics Green team practice with their robot in the pit. They earned the award for best teamwork. Photos by Karl Klupar

One of the core values of First Lego League is “Gracious Professionalism.” It is reinforced many times throughout the competition. In short it means competing fiercely, doing your absolute best, while showing respect and consideration for your teammates and competitors. Dave Patterson, head referee and FLL leader for Alaska, related a story from last year’s national championship where one team was going to scratch for lack of one small part. The opposing team, rather than taking one win based on this misfortune, loaned the first team the part to compete. In the end the loan of the part cost the second team the championship. However it was a magnanimous show of gracious professionalism which earned them great respect in robot circles. It is not about winning, it is about doing your best.
To this end the teams also had to present the results of their independent research on the climate connection theme through a five minute presentation. One team studied Skagway’s incinerator and came up with ways to improve how we handle trash. The other group suggested that all the CO2 causing global warming be sequestered as dry ice inside glaciers to keep the glaciers from receding. The solutions didn’t have to be considered plausible to win, just show their understanding of the problem. Next their teamwork skills were tested in a five minute exercise. The team was given a tailor’s cloth measuring tape, four sheets of newspaper, a bottle, and two tables. The mission was to suspend the bottle between two tables above the ground. It had to stay suspended for a couple of minutes to be a success. While one team didn’t successfully solve the problem, they won the competition for the way they went about solving the problem and the way they treated their teammates. Next was a technical interview where the kids had to explain how they went about solving the robot missions. They were expected to explain the engineering aspects of their robot design and explain the programming issues that were involved. To be successful everyone on the team had to participate. Had they been spoon -fed the solution by parents or coaches, it would be very obvious during this interview. The kids had to do theseinterviews with the coach and parents absent.
For me it was exhilarating to watch the kids’ resiliency develop, working through the missions and projects. While the mentors / coaches are there to keep kids safe and focused, First Lego League is all about the kids directing their own activities, interacting with the robots and engineering technology to solve problems. The purpose is to learn something about themselves, especially when presented with a challenge. – KARL KLUPAR

DDF update from Haines

The weekend of Nov. 21, the Skagway High School DDF team flew across the Lynn Canal to compete in the Haines Drama, Debate, and Forensics tournament. They took a team of five, consisting of Tylor Forester, Alini Jashinki, Jayce Ellis, Brandy Mayo, and Shelby Surdyk.
Tylor Forester, still sidelined by a shoulder injury incurred while wrestling, was unfortunately forced to forgo the performance of his pantomime due to its physically demanding nature. He instead tested the waters of expository speaking with a new speech he’d written regarding the potential relationship between hurricanes and climate change. Forester also competed in extemporaneous commentary, where students are given twenty minutes to write and then perform a short speech on one of three randomly drawn topics.
Alini Jashiki performed a Solo of the biblical character, Salome. Though her vibrant and disturbing portrayal of Salome as retold in the play by Oscar Wilde received very positive feedback from her first round judge, it was ultimately met with a mixed reception. Jashiki also competed with her original oratory speech on juvenile delinquency, which tied for fifth place overall in the tournament.
Jayce Ellis competed in three events: Extemporaneous Commentary, Expository Speaking and Original Oration. Ellis’ Expository on the carbon footprint of commercial airline travel took fifth place, while her oration urging smokers to respect the health and rights of nonsmoking friends and family placed third overall.
Brandy Mayo also competed in three events. Her Dramatic Interpretation of Literature, a haunting and disturbing portrayal of a woman struggling with mental illness, took fourth place. In Extemporaneous Commentary, Mayo came but a single point from tying for first place, ultimately taking second overall for that event. In her third event, Mayo’s Duo Interpretation of Gary Larson’s There’s a Hair in My Dirt, a piece performed with her partner Shelby Surdyk, took second place – a wonderful finish for this new piece which had not yet been tested in competition.
Team captain Shelby Surdyk competed in four events and had an outstanding showing at the Haines tournament. As stated, her Duo with Mayo took second place. Similarly, Surdyk placed second with her Expository about the potential of nuclear energy. Surdyk took first place in her two other events: Extemporaenous Commentary and Original Oratory. This was particularly impressive given that this was the first meet at which she had competed with her Oratory, a speech which encourages listeners to explore and understand the origins of their day-to-day resources.
The DDF team is taking a bit of a break from competitions until late January, at which time they will travel to Ketchikan. The team has last year’s “DDF Showcase” for sale. See details in the White Pass community ad. – JACQUELINE LOTT

Brandy Mayo and Shelby Surdyk impersonate earthworms in their duo interpretation of "There's a Hair in my Dirt." Jacqueline Lott

Skagway student active in Polar Bears International
SHS senior Shelby Surdyk made a trip to the Arctic in early October with 16 other students her age to participate in a leadership camp for Polar Bears International. She was sponsored by PBI USA.
Shelby has posted a blog about the experience on the PBI website. In it, she wrote about observing polar bears, which could be extinct in 100 years, and the need for humans to change their way of life to address climate change.
Here’s an excerpt:
“After spending a week in a bubble of ‘save the polar bears’ energy and influence, I have finally come to a realization: If everyone took shorter showers, it might help. But it is not a solution. If everyone recycled their soda cans, it might help. But it is not a solution. We can all walk rather than drive two days a week, encourage our schools to buy biocompostable utensils, and plant a tree in our back yard, and it really might help. But these little changes are not solutions. They help, but they are not solutions. They are band-aids; and what our planet needs is surgery.
“If there is one thing I have taken away from this experience, it is that ‘climate change’ is not a political, economic, or even an environmental fight. It is a spiritual fight. If any real change is going to be made, it will be made because people have the desire to preserve their planet, their one and only home. It will be made because people have the desire to stop compromising humanities for convenience. It will be made, because the population experienced a spiritual development.”
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