By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published February 23, 2017
ROSWELL—A team of first-timers took Queen of Angels School’s robotics skills to new heights.
Team “Domo Arigato” earned a spot in the state competition of the FIRST LEGO League, where they faced the challenge of programing a robot to navigate a tabletop obstacle course and complete assignments. The team name, a Japanese term meaning “Thanks a lot,” was a catch phrase in the 1983 classic rock song, “Mr. Roboto.”
The school’s robotics club has been around for several years. However, the “Domo Arigato” team represented the Roswell school at the state competition for the first time. The students earned top awards at the regional and the super-regional levels of the contest to earn a coveted invitation to the state competition. Sixty-four teams out of 638 made it to the state meet.
“We truly did not expect to win. We almost fell over (when they called our name),” said Rob Caiello, one of the team coaches, about the unlikely win as champion in the preliminary rounds.
“While we did not win any awards at state, the team being a first-year team with first-year coaches far exceeded our wildest expectations,” he said.
It was another recent success for area Catholic schools that are encouraging students to tackle projects with an engineering mindset.
Schools in the Atlanta Archdiocese follow a STEM curriculum that emphasizes science, technology, engineering and math, while linking Catholic faith to the material. Computer coding for robots is taught as early as fifth grade.
Matthew Kloser, of the University of Notre Dame Center for STEM Education, said a problem-solving-based teaching approach gives students the opportunity to be a “force for good.”
“We’re not doing STEM for STEM’s sake. We can also use them to be creators to use technology, or create technology, to be a force for good,” he said.
Kloser spoke from the university where he was helping 20 local teachers enhance science teaching. The center also has a national fellowship program for STEM teachers.
He applauded a New Jersey Catholic school that teaches with a STEM mindset and ties it together with Catholic social teaching. In this case, the school collaborated to use its 3-D printer to build a prosthetic hand for a child.
The educational program combined with the Catholic faith inspires students with “that spark of creation” to appreciate the wonders of the natural world and also see how they are a part of it and can sustain it, he said.
Looking 150 years into the future
The robotics contest is one opportunity where schools encourage students to innovate to solve problems. Another is the Future City competition.
Middle school students in the latter competition look 150 years ahead to design cities to solve sustainability issues.
A team from St. Jude the Apostle School, Atlanta, represented the state of Georgia in the world finals of Future City competition during President’s Day weekend in Washington, D.C.
The all-girl “Care City” team was made up of Katie Brandt Braswell, Madelyn Cowan and Annamarie ValeCruz, guided by mentor Matt Cowan.
The team members agreed the club taught them about compromise, time management and working together.
Katie said she got to explore new activities, like building the city model.
Annamarie said, “We had a lot of challenges, but we learned a lot of ways to overcome the challenges.”
For Madelyn, it was appealing to work with friends, but she quickly learned the work would get harder.
It’s the third time in four years a team of St. Jude students has made it to the national competition.
Eleonora Straub, the school librarian, is the team’s faculty facilitator.
“Everybody finds something they like to do. Future City is an ‘aha’ moment. Everything comes together,” she said.
The sixth-graders won the regional competition Jan. 21. In addition to placing first, “Care City” received awards for designing the most accessible city and for the most innovative construction techniques.
Straub said, “They are so fearless. They are unstoppable. At the same time, they are kind. For these three girls, they will never be the same.”
St. Jude sent a total of five teams, all sixth-graders, to the regional competition and Queen of Angels sent three teams. Queen of Angels’ “Eden” team was first runner-up in Georgia to St. Jude’s winning team. “Eden” also won specialty awards for best transportation system, best futuristic city and best team presentation. The team included Emma Jacobs, Ron Miller and Jessica Sobieski, assisted by mentor Cindy Miller.
Other St. Jude teams were recognized with awards, team “La Ville Qui Vit” for best model, best research essay and most sustainable design and team “Atoranta” for excellence in systems integration.
The challenge faced by all teams focused on “The Power of Public Spaces.” The goal was to design public spaces for an imaginary city’s diverse population. Teams had to create a virtual city design, write a 1,500-word essay, build a scale model made of recycled materials and give a short oral presentation to a panel of STEM professionals.
The “Care City” team created “farmscrapers,” self-contained residential ecosystems to grow food, fruit forests where people could pick their own fruit, and other novelties.
Focus on robot, but learn other skills
Queen of Angels School had two robotics teams this year in FIRST LEGO competition. Team “Radioactive Caterpillars,” led by coaches Dave Mowrey and Maureen Cole, made it to the super-regional level. Its members were Lucas Barquin, Ryan Cole, Ryan Combs, Sean Michals, Evan Mowrey, Matthew Ristau and William Tjokroamidjojo.
“Domo Arigato” was coached by Miguel Mendez and Caiello. Its members were Daniel and Sophia Caiello, Bryce Hanna, Samantha Korac, Henry Loehrer, Max Mendez, Andrew Sinclair and John Paul Stankiewicz.
Caiello said the young programmers learned creativity and coding but especially teamwork. When disagreements came up, the team mantra became: “Discuss, decide, do.”
“We also did not focus on winning. We really stressed to the team that they focus on doing their best and not worrying about winning. We let the kids do the work and make the decisions. This gave them ownership of the team and the results,” he said.
Reaching the state level is a first for the school, according to the school’s enrichment teacher, Cristina Zimmer. There were close to 20 students involved in the robotics club and the elective, she said.
As part of the program, all the missions this year were animal focused with the theme “Animal Allies.” So the two teams had to identify and then solve a problem between people and animals.
“Radioactive Caterpillars” brainstormed about diseases caused by mosquitoes. After discussions with staff at the Centers for Disease Control and a patent attorney, they created a natural repellant soap to keep bugs away.
“Domo Arigato” worked on the problem of hunting out of season. After talking to a local hunter, students created the idea of a mobile app that would curb poaching by alerting hunters about the season for hunting different animals. At the state competition, “Domo Arigato” programmed the robot for seven out of a maximum of 15 missions.