Left, Kiara Selmer and Trevor Cox prepare their robot as fellow Winter Weezers Rosalie Westfall, Zoe Wassman, Denver Evans, and Gavin Murphy watch during a recent school demonstration. Gayle Deaton

Right, Skagway Robotics team members Denver Evans and Rosalie Westfall react with coach Vivian Meyer (center) as their robot makes a move on the big board at Juneau’s Centennial Hall. Klas Stolpe

Robotics team wins Juneau Jamboree

Skagway team heads back to Anchorage in Jan. after big SE win

By GAYLE DEATON

Team “Winter Weezers” from the Skagway middle school won first place in the overall competition in the First Lego League Robotics Jamboree Dec. 10 qualifying rounds in Juneau and were also awarded their travel costs to compete in the state tournament Jan. 15 in Anchorage.
“We were psyched,” Rosalie Westfall said. “Our project was awesome.”
Trevor Cox said he and his team started to suspect they might have won when they were asked to perform a second time in front of everyone at the competition.
Initially, teams are given five minutes for their entire presentation and then spend five minutes answering judges’ questions, coach Vivian Meyer explained.
The Weezers also prepared a binder containing all of their research for judges to examine. Meyer said parents and coaches are not allowed to be in the room when the students make their initial presentations and answer questions at the Juneau competition.
So when two teams – the Weezers and Hoonah’s Ferocious Lego Lovers – were asked to perform a second time in front of the entire crowd, Cox said they started to believe they might have nailed it.
“We had a feeling we’d won,” said Zoe Wassman. “We were pretty confident.” The Hoonah team was named as the second-place overall winners. If the Weezers win in Anchorage, they go on to compete at the World Festival to be held in March 2011 in St. Louis, Mo.
Last year, Skagway students won the judge’s choice award at the World Festival held in Atlanta, Ga. Meyer said three of the Weezers team members, Kiara Selmer, Trevor and Rosalie, were on the Skagway Robotics team last year when they made it to as far as Atlanta.
This year’s Weezer team members range in age from 11 to 13 and also include: Hailey Jensen, Denver Evans, and Gavin Murphy.
“These kids were putting in one and a half to two hours of practice everyday,” Meyer said. “They really wanted it. They’ve worked really hard and we’re super proud of them.”
Another critical area teams are judged in involves teamwork and cooperation. Meyer said she believed the Weezers had an edge in that area, and they proved it when they were able to successfully work together in a team challenge. That challenge involved all seven team members standing on a sheet and having to turn the sheet over without touching it with their hands.
“We totally owned it,” Zoe said of the teamwork competition.
Skagway students also excelled in the problem-solving aspect of their project, which involved the team having to think of a health-related problem involving the human body.
Teams were asked to find innovative ways to repair injuries, overcome genetic issues or improve upon a person’s potential to lead happier and healthier lives through improvements to the body.
That’s when Denver and Rosalie, two of the student team members who have asthma, thought of their challenges.
That led them to pose the question, “Do you wheeze in the winter?”
Apparently, a hefty number of people with asthma do.
In researching how winter affects people with asthma, the seven students sought advice from Dahl Memorial Clinic Physician’s Assistant Jim Lepich who showed them examples of how winter affects the breathing of someone with asthma. Students said they saw an area where they could develop a helpful product to filter and warm the cold air asthmatics are sensitive to breathing in the winter.
Voila – the idea was born for a silk-lined woolen mask that can be worn over the nose and mouth discreetly under a winter scarf – a patent may soon be pending.
But it was far from an easy process.
Students explained earlier this month to a crowd on onlookers at a practice presentation for parents and interested community members that first, they had to research the types of fabric that hold the most moisture.
Eighth-grader Zoe said she was put in charge of conducting Internet research on fabrics.
Once she selected the most highly recommended materials for filtering moisture in the cold, she explained in a presentation to a group of parents and supporters Dec. 6 at the school, then the students had to conduct testing on each of the materials to measure how much moisture they actually held in the reality of a laboratory setting.
“We used Mr. Thole’s scale,” Zoe explained at the practice presentation. “We weighed it before and after.”
Silk won out with wool closely following.
Gavin Murphy said he brought in titanium wire that the team discovered could be molded to an individual’s face shape. Rosalie said they found the silk they needed from a dress.
So, in addition to winning the first round of the competition, the Skagway Winter Weezers may also have developed a viable product. The estimated cost of the product is $5.99 although they pointed out it could go higher if it’s ever actually taken to market.
However, the Weezers said they still need to do some tweaking on their robot. The robotics part of the team’s presentation consists of computerized robots made from Legos and programmed through a computer program called Mindstorm. The team builds the robots out of Lego pieces and must program them to perform the specific tasks required for the competition theme. The students are given a set of rules to follow when designing and programming their robots. This year’s theme was “Body Forward: Engineering Meets Medicine.” Programming the Lego robots required a great deal of time and effort on the part of students.
Gavin explained that he thought the team had already determined how they were going to address some of the small problems they’d encountered when turning it loose to complete its mission at the Juneau competition.
“Our robot was spazzing,” Rosalie agreed, “but our project was awesome.”
In fact, Meyer said the success of Skagway students in the past few robotics competitions has also led them to consider the idea of starting an additional high school robotics team next year. Meyer, who has been the robotics coach for the past three years, said her son Riley, who was a prior team member when he was a middle school student has served as a mentor to this year’s team. With the growing amount of student and community interest, she said it would be a good time to look toward expanding the program.
The team encountered some initial challenges when their ferry canceled and they had to fly to Juneau. But the Winter Weezers made it in time to compete against 21 other teams representing seven Juneau elementary schools, two middle schools, two girl scout troops, as well as community teams from Juneau, Hoonah, Haines and Ketchikan. They will be flying to Anchorage for the January 15 competition.
Skagway also took home the top honor in the 2008 competition winning first for the Champion’s Award, second in Robot Performance and first in Teamwork. Their coach, Karl Klupar, also took home the Coach of the Year award.