Spare parts lie across the tables, instruction manuals pile high, the walls covered with charts and labeled diagrams, and, in the middle of it all, eager students huddle over a robot they created themselves. It may appear that mad scientists have inhabited the Tiger Woods Learning Centers, but in fact, those scientists are none other than TWLC Robotics team members.
Beginning in fall 2012, two TWLC Robotics teams comprising Learning Center students formed to compete in their respective FIRST LEGO League regional competitions. After weeks of preparation, both teams' hard work paid off. On Nov. 2 at Savanna High School in Anaheim, Calif., the TWLC OC Robotics team placed first in the Core Values category of the competition and advanced to the Southern California Championship held Dec. 1 at Legoland in San Diego. On Nov. 17, the TWLC DC Robotics team placed fifth out of 11 teams in the FIRST LEGO League regional competition in Fredericksburg, Va.
"I have learned a lot from my experience on the team," said Zohir Kahn, member of the OC Robotics team. "I learned about how to work as a team and focus on planning and working independently."
The FIRST LEGO League (FLL) is a robotics program designed to excite students, ages 9-16, about science and technology while teaching them valuable life and employment skills. Each year, the FLL holds competitions that concentrate on real-world scientific topics and allow students to apply their STEM skills through friendly competition.
"The team is hugely beneficial to the students," said Eric Moore, program director at TWLC DC. "Students learned valuable lessons in teamwork, cooperation, hard work, creativity and dedication, not to mention STEM skills such as structural design and programming."
The competition, themed Senior Solutions, focused on improving assistance for senior citizens and creating an innovative solution to a problem as part of their project. Students put their true robotics skills to the test as all teams programed an autonomous robot to score points on a thematic playing surface when faced with a multitude of challenges.
A first TWLC Robotics team formed at the Parkside Campus in Washington to start the 2012-'13 school year. With the help of TWLC instructors Moore and Thomas Hailu, the team's 10 members carried a level of excitement from the team's first meeting to competition day, and this joyful attitude propelled them through the event as they improved their score each of the three rounds of the tournament. Despite the obvious competitive nature of the day, the DC team displayed a level of excitement throughout the entire competition, laughing and dancing while encouraging one another as they watched their robot scurry across a game board.
"The competition was amazing," said James Gant, member of the DC Robotics team. "Sometimes it was difficult, but it taught us to work hard and how to cooperate with each other."
Not only did participants enjoy their first trip to a FIRST LEGO League competition, but the instructors valued the event as well.
"For the coaches, [the competition] was an uplifting experience," Moore said. "We saw what good things can happen when students buy in and commit themselves to each other and an ultimate goal."
Across the country, the OC Robotics team was formed with that same ultimate goal in mind. Led by TWLC instructors Arturo Valdez and Mehrab Sarwar, the two-membered team of Sammy Mohammed and Zohair Khan met twice a week in preparation for their competition. Despite forming just a month prior to competition, the small-but-mighty team exuded the same positive attitude as their east coast peers and received the highest honor for displaying spirit, teamwork, professionalism and, of course, the ability to have fun throughout the competition.
"[Mohammed and Khan] displayed outstanding leadership and accountability throughout the entire season," Sarwar said. "The two also developed a friendship and a great working relationship as they both constantly bounced ideas off each other and learned how to work with each other's tendencies."
With the 2012 season behind them, both teams look ahead to this year's competitions. In fact, as a result of the success of the Robotics programs, the TWLC DC campus has now created a NXT Robotics class that meets two-to-three times a week to continuously prepare for upcoming competitions.
"I'm really excited about the [Robotics] class after last year," said Kylee Palmer, member of the D.C. Robotics team. "I can't wait to use what we learned to be even better this year."
As a new year begins, both teams hope to build off an educational first year to continue their winning ways at this year's competitions.
"The team enjoyed the event and gained valuable experience watching how the other teams operated," Sarwar said. "We're looking forward to refining and practicing these skills for future competitions."