Homer Alaska - Schools

Story last updated at 5:05 PM on Wednesday, February 8, 2012

West Homer robotics team wins invite to Germany

By McKibben Jackinsky
Staff Writer


Photo provided

McNeil Canyon's "Mindstorms" included Jaron Morris, front; Koby Etzwiler, Michael Reutov, Bradly Wythe and Jordan Beachy; and coaches Vikki Wythe and Travis Ogden.

In their second year in First Lego League Alaska competition, West Homer Elementary School's robotics team has taken second place out of 53 teams from across the state. In addition to a trophy, the team has been invited to compete in the European Open Championship in Mannheim, Germany, in June.

Known as "Your Mama's Llamas," the WHES team is comprised of Lauren Cardwell, Douglas Dean, Joe Ravin, Caleb Rauch and Ben Kettle, working with coach Arthur Kettle and WHES team facilitator Suzanne Haines.

"They started as fourth- and fifth-graders, now they're fifth- and sixth-graders ... and they're just unstoppable," said Haines of the team's performance in the Anchorage Robot Rendezvous held Jan. 21.

Kettle, whose son Ben is on the team, agreed.

"They did great," he said.

First Lego League is an international robotics program for ages 9-14 designed to spark enthusiasm for science and technology. The recent competition's theme was "The Food Factor Challenge," with an emphasis on food safety, during transportation, processing, storage and cooking. Teams had to come up with a problem and a solution based on the theme. The WHES team focused on finding a solution to strawberry mold.


Photo provided

West Homer's robotics team "Your Mama's Llamas" included Lauren Cardwell, left, Douglas Dean, Joe Ravin, Caleb Rauch and Ben Kettle, with coach Arthur Kettle.

"They came up with a contraption that you would purchase and put in your home that would take food, unwrap it, analyze it, subject it to different storage treatments," said Kettle.

The team created a presentation on their topic using posters, drawings and scientific graphs. The competition also included using Lego parts to build and program a robot that would perform specific actions to solve theme-related challenges.

The team began work in September, as soon as the theme was announced. They met for two and a half hours three times a week, getting their project and robot ready for peninsula competition, the Kenai Qualifier, in November. Both the WHES team and the McNeil Canyon Elementary School teams were invited to advance from the Kenai competition to the Anchorage Robot Rendezvous in January.

Encouragement from McNeil Canyon is what originally led to WHES becoming involved in FLL competition.

"They told us about it and Ben and I were interested, so we got a team started last year," said Kettle.

This year's Anchorage competition was held in the gymnasium at South Anchorage High School with all the teams "going at the same time," said Kettle. "We went to Kenai last year, but this was our first time in Anchorage. It was a much bigger deal."

WHES proved themselves up to the competition, however, winning the Second Place Champions Award. First place went to a team from Sand Lake.

The McNeil Canyon team came home from Anchorage with the Innovative Solution Award for the research project.

Known as the "Mindstorms," the team is comprised of Koby Etzwiler, Bradly Wythe, Jaron Morris, Jordan Beachy and Michael Reutov

"The boys designed a portable meat fridge to keep meat cool in the field when hunting," said McNeil Canyon teacher and team facilitator Sheryl Sotelo. "The judges really were impressed with their solution to this year's challenge which was about finding ways to prevent food contamination."

McNeil's second trophy was won by Vikki Wythe and Travis Ogden, "two incredible adult coaches and mentors," said Sotelo. "They received a trophy for adult mentoring and coaching."

More than 200,000 youngsters from 55 countries participated in The Food Factor Challenge. In Alaska alone, 150 teams took part, eventually being narrowed down to the 53 registered in the state tournament.

"There's all sorts of benefits," said Kettle of student participation in FLL. "One is working together as a team. The Lego program in robotics stresses professionalism, teamwork with respect. ... They have to find solutions to all sorts of problems and have to do that as a team. They're also doing research and putting the presentation together and delivering the presentation."

Kettle's coaching also has been beneficial to the team.

"He's very hands-off, letting the kids come up with their own ideas," said Haines, a reading, math and language teacher at WHES. "The competition is theirs and they know what they're doing. It's not as much adult-driven as it is fostered by a knowledgeable adult. The kids do their learning by doing."

Seventy teams from more than 40 countries have been invited to the Open European Championship. To make the trip, the WHES team has some work head of them.

"They're actually still deciding if they're really going to go full-fledged for it, but it's looking like everyone wants to go," said Kettle.