In recognition of October being National Substance Abuse Prevention Month, the Crescenta Valley Drug and Alcohol Prevention Coalition has collaborated with its strategic partners, The CV Weekly and school club supporters to deliver a message promoting healthy lifestyles.

By Lynn Repath-Martos

Adult mentor for the CVHS Robotics program

How do we know it’s fall in La Crescenta? The evenings are brisker, the sycamore and liquid amber trees are showing new colors, pumpkin patches are sprouting all around, and the after-school hallways are filled with the intriguing whirr and clatter of autonomously programmed robots completing challenging robotic missions. Yes, robots! FIRST Lego League (FLL) is in full swing, and more than 14 local teams have sprouted up at schools and clubs in our valley.

FIRST stands for: For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology. This amazing organization has four levels of robotic challenges designed to involve students of all ages in games that require practical application of their knowledge in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM for short). FIRST’s mission is to “inspire young people to be science and technology leaders, by engaging them in exciting mentor-based programs that build science, engineering and technology skills, that inspire innovation, and that foster well-rounded life capabilities including self-confidence, communication, and leadership.”

Several local high schools, including CVHS and Clark Magnet, have participated for years in the most advanced level of the FIRST program, FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC). FRC challenges high school students to design and build, from the ground up, a fully functional, five-foot tall, 120 pound robot in accordance with a new game designed each year. The game challenge is issued in January, and teams have a mere six weeks to build and program their robot.

Under the watchful eye of adult mentors, all of the work is student-led: teams are structured so that students analyze, strategize, design, engineer, fabricate and program all elements of the robot and game strategy. On average, team members each spend more than 20 hours a week brainstorming, collaborating, machining, welding, wiring, testing, driving and programming the robot.

In March, teams meet up at regional competitions where they use their robots, their strategies, and their minds to compete at being the best to play the game, for a shot at the international championship in St. Louis.

Crescenta Valley High School’s FRC team, Falkon Robotics Team 589, enjoys this program so much that the team members wanted to do more, so they have set into motion a plan to expand FIRST program participation to nearby middle and elementary schools. In partnership with teachers, support administrators, and parents, they have started up 14 FIRST Lego League (FLL) teams, expanding from the two teams they founded a year ago. These dedicated high school students meet with each of these teams weekly, helping the younger students understand the FLL game challenges, strategize on mission sequence, conceptualize and execute efficient robot design, and learn basic programming so that the robot can compete. CVHS students are mentoring FLL teams from Rosemont Middle School, La Crescenta Elementary, Monte Vista Elementary, Valley View Elementary, and two Girl Scout teams.

This year’s FLL challenge is called “Senior Solutions.” The “robot game” has 14 missions for a possible high score of 400 points. Team members use the Lego Mindstorms kit and software to build and program a robot that can solve the game challenges, whether that be pushing a lever to “activate” a Lego service animal or bringing a broken chair back to home base to be repaired, or even launching a bowling ball to knock over Lego bowling pins.

The mission pieces are all built of Legos, and the robot must also be built entirely of Lego pieces as well. In addition to the robot game, there are two additional, equally important elements to the FLL Challenge: the research project and the FLL Core Values.

Teams must contact and interview a senior partner (defined as anyone over the age of 60 years) about problems the individual has faced or currently faces as a result of aging. Teams must research the problem and come up with an innovative solution to that problem. As they work together on the project and robot game, teams put in to practice the FLL Core Values of teamwork, cooperation, friendly competition, learning by doing, and most important of all, having fun. FIRST claims that participation in these robotic programs are “the hardest fun you’ll ever have” – and I believe all of the kids involved in FIRST – from FLL to FRC – would wholeheartedly agree!