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BU Academy students mentor Lego-building team

Cambridge’s Morse School students win trophy for engineering a Lego robot

Eight students in grades two through six represented the Morse School in Cambridge at the annual F.I.R.S.T. LEGO League (FLL) Eastern Massachusetts State Tournament. Coached and mentored by Boston University Academy (BUA) students, the team successfully built a robot that made it to the quarterfinal rounds and brought home two LEGO trophies.

The students were mentored by several BUA 9th- and 10th-grade students and coached by 11th grader Andrew Macrae. Coordinating the team’s efforts were Gary Garber, a teacher at BU Academy, and Carol Copeland, the Morse School activities director. Additionally, Gabe Maeck (CAS’09), a College of Arts and Sciences freshman, provided supervision and support for the Morse School students.

The BUA students are members of a high school F.I.R.S.T (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) team, based at Boston University. At the high school level, students must build a five-foot-tall, 120-pound robot that completes a series of tasks in a manner similar to that of the LEGO League, but on a larger scale. There are several regional competitions around the country. The Boston Regional Competition will be March 24 and 25 at Agganis Arena, the first year there will be a regional competition in Boston.

In FLL, students apply physics, math, and engineering concepts to build a robot using a LEGO Mindstorm kit consisting of LEGO blocks, motors, optical sensors, touch sensors, and a programmable computer memory chip. The robot is about 12 inches long, and must complete a series of tasks in a themed mission at the tournaments. This year’s game was called Ocean Odyssey. The students write a computer program to control the robot, which operates autonomously for almost three minutes to complete the series of tasks.

The December 3 tournament at North Quincy High School was sponsored by Gillette and the Quincy Public School System and was attended by 31 teams from 20 different middle schools from Massachusetts and New Hampshire. After three qualifying rounds, the top 16 robots compete in the final rounds. One of the few ‘rookie’ teams at the tournament, the Morse team not only made it to the final rounds, but survived in head-to-head elimination to take seventh place.

The team members were interviewed by the judges on the abilities and technical aspects of their robot. The Morse team received a trophy made of LEGOS for the Robot Consistency Runner Up Award. Team coach Macrae also received a trophy, for the Best Young Mentor Award.

Starting in October, the students met two afternoons a week at the school. They started out by assembling the themed playing field. Based on the Ocean Odyssey theme, the complex playing field consisted of an oil pipeline, a shipwreck, dolphins, a shark, and other aquatic objects. The students as a group decided on a game strategy and build a robot based on this strategy.

The Morse students are excited about continuing their exploration of science and mathematics. They plan to start building their robot earlier next season so they have more time to practice and can develop a more sophisticated machine. They are hoping to raise money from local businesses to help pay for team T-shirts and more LEGO parts. This year’s competition fees and LEGO parts were paid for jointly by the Morse School and Boston University. BUA students plan to continue to mentor Morse students in the spring and hope to pilot an introductory electronics course for middle school students using the Machine Science curriculum.