District 200 Challenge Corps kids take on robotic challenge
Students from Woodstock School District 200’s middle school Challenge Corps competed at this year’s Lego League State Robotics Competition held in January at Forest View Academy, Arlington Heights.
Members of Creekside Middle School’s team, known as the Jitterbugz, are Eric Arias, Anthony Benjamin, Joey Brown, Mei Eldridge, Justin Leith, Sophie Rogers, Gabriela Scolio and Chris Villavicencio. Northwood Middle School’s team, the Snow Birds, includes Danny Blalock, Zac Emricson, Veronica Grover, Ryan Hanson, Matthew Haynes, Tim Killam, Tony Killam, Laura Nicks and Josh Powell.
The students used special computerized Lego building bricks to create robots and program them to complete simple tasks centered around a theme. This year’s competition theme was Senior Solutions and addressed ways senior citizens could remain independent and connected.
The competition consisted of four equally weighted components: research; design, programming and engineering; robot performance; and teamwork.
The students included a community- outreach component in their projects. Northwood’s Snow Birds sponsored a Senior Prom, which brought senior citizens out for an evening of dancing to music that ranged from 1940s’ big band to 1970s’ disco.
“The students generated the materials, got a DJ, invited people, decorated inside and out,” said D-200 Challenge Corps coordinator Gigi Carlson.
Creekside’s team made 80 Thanksgiving cards for residents of Hearthstone Communities, Woodstock.
“The team members worked with each of the CMS teachers to obtain signatures from their students and then hand delivered the cards to the residents, extending Thanksgiving wishes face to face. It was an amazing experience for all involved,” said Creekside’s Challenge Corps coach Mark Rigby.
The students began preparing for the competition in September and worked approximately one hour a week during their Challenge Corps pull-out session.
Carlson said the different aspects of the competition gives it broad appeal.
“It’s different for every child. Some are into the research. Others like the programming and design elements. They all enjoy working apart, then coming together to create something unified and special,” Carlson said.
The chief benefit is students employ higher level thinking skills to complete the challenging project.
“The idea is not to be perfect, but to stay in the struggle, synthesizing what they learn, applying it and evaluating. That’s upper-level thinking, which is what we want them to do,” she said.
In December, the teams competed at a regional competition in Harvard, where the Northwood team won an award for technical design while the Creekside team won an award for teamwork. Their success at the regional competition placed them among the top 25 percent of Illinois teams and qualified them for the state competition. Carlson said 80 teams qualified for the state competition.
This is the ninth year D-200 has participated in the Lego Robotics Challenge.
The D-200 Challenge Corps program for gifted and talented students begins in fourth-grade and continues through high school. The program is an in-school pull-out program for students fourth through eighth grade. The high school program meets monthly during lunch hours and serves as more of a social and emotional support network.
Selection criteria include high scores on standardized and IQ tests and teacher and parent survey information. Between 5 and 8 percent of D-200 students qualify for the program. This is in line with national averages, Carlson said.