MGAES Celebrates Inaugural Lego Robotics Showcase

April 30, 2015 | Malaika Childers

This year, a few brave parents of Meadow Glade Adventist Elementary School (MGAES) in Battle Ground, Wash., took the reins of a program that would prove to be a phenomenal experience for those who participated. Michael and Stephanie Mowry, Peter and Heidi Schmalenberger, and Jonathan Erich headed up the program that consisted of biweekly classes for several months during which students learned to assemble and program robots. The program was sponsored, in part, by Murr Elektronik.

Preston Schafer, part of the team that placed first in the Lego Robotics Showcase on March 12, says, “It was really fun learning about robotics. I also liked spending more time with my friends. At the showcase, our robot performed the best it ever had.”

Each week the students attended one class after school and an elective class on Sunday. Working in pairs, students took turns programming and assembling the robots. Then they would test their programmed robots on one of two boards. One board was dedicated to checking for accuracy in getting their robots to accomplish particular goals. A robot would be programmed to make a Lego windmill turn and release an energy cell, activate a Lego dam to release an energy cell, or perform similar tasks. The other board was a test board where students would check a robot’s progress.

“We had so much fun watching the kids learn new skills this season. Many of the kids signed up because they liked to play with Legos. They learned pretty fast this wasn't just about building. There was design, engineering, programming and strategy involved," says instructor Heidi Schmalenberger. "Most importantly, it was about teamwork. I loved to watch a team finally accomplish a mission and see the other kids get excited and give high fives. I'm so thankful for the opportunity to be a part of this.”

Every year, Lego provides a theme for participants. This year, MGAES used the theme, “Green City Challenge.” The idea was that robots would be programmed to turn a Lego city “green” by releasing energy cells that were located inside different Lego buildings. Once enough energy cells were collected, they would be inserted into a Lego house that was then operating on a more efficient, “greener” level. Mission accomplished!

Columbia Adventist Academy (CAA) allowed the class to use their robots and space on campus for the year. They had been purchased for a Lego robotics class at CAA a few years ago. Working together, principals Jeff Jackson, of CAA, and Ric Peinado, of MGAES, were hopeful that the program could begin at the elementary school level and continue to build into a program across the street at the high school level.

The culminating showcase event featured each team’s robots attempting to release energy cells and activate the “green” house. It took place in CAA’s Ad Building and was attended by CAA and MGAES faculty along with parents, grandparents and friends of the participants.

The Lego robotics class was comprised of students from grades five and six at MGAES: Tommy Aitchison, Camron Bordeaux, Marideth Childers, Ethan Erich, Branden Ermshar, Dylan Farrell, Trey Hart, Tyler Havens, Jamie Mayhew, Joshua Mowry, Ryan Mowry, Aidan Scalf, Preston Schafer, Dawson Schaffer, Noah Schmalenberger and Bailey Waldon.

Peinado says, “We [MGAES and CAA] are thrilled with the club’s success and the opportunity to provide our children with an engaging way to learn about engineering. I am so thankful for the parent volunteers and want to also thank Murr Elektronics for their support of our school’s team and the hard work of everyone involved. It was a great night to not only showcase our kids’ skills and talents in STEM [science, technology, engineering and math] education, but also to show our students and community that science and fun can go together.”

Following the class, an anonymous donor provided funding so that the program can continue to the next level. The money means MGAES can purchase new robots and software and form at least one team, and possibly two teams, to participate in the Lego Robotics Invitational April 2016 at Walla Walla University. The program MGAES will be joining next year, the Adventist Robotics League (ARL), is comprised of schools across the North Pacific Union Conference. The ARL includes instruction and demonstration in project management and presentation as well as robot building and programming.