By Bonny Van

The Catholic Commentator 

With eager faces, members of the robotics team from Holy Family School in Port Allen grabbed base plates, iPads and bins of Lego pieces and started to work. They were building, creating and coding. However, these students aren’t just playing around, they really understand the challenges and how to execute the program.  

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Holy Family School in Port Allen technology coordinator Annie Cagle helps students Brice Laws and Blake Weber with their robotics design. Photo by Bonny Van | The Catholic Commentator 

 

So much so that the fourth- through eighth-grade robotics team qualified to attend the First Lego League state tournament at Jesuit High School in New Orleans on Dec. 15.  

“Each time that they went to the field they increased their score,” said Annie Cagle, technology coordinator for Holy Family. “So although they might not have been in the top to receive a trophy each time they went, they increased and they were excited for that increase. So that was important to me.” 

Twenty-five second- and third-grade members of the Holy Family robotics team also attended the First Lego League Junior Expo, held at Jesuit on the same day as the state tournament. Team members on the junior level were recognized in a number of categories including “Inquiring Minds,” “Show and Tell,” “Artistic Eye,” “Complexity and Decoration” and “Efficient Builders.” Students also received participation medals. 

For seventh-grader Blake Weber, this was his second time to attend state competition. It’s something he never gets tired of.

“It’s fun seeing the other robots and trying to compete with what we have,” said Weber, a veteran robotics participant. “Our robot, we just wanted to keep it simple and we didn’t worry too much about the building, it was more about the programs.” 

According to Cagle, robotics at Holy Family is increasing in popular. She has seen the program grow steadily over the past four years but she said it really took off this school year with a total of 38 students in the fourth- through eighth-grade level participating. It’s especially impressive considering that the amount of time devoted to athletics increases with grade level, leaving less time available for other extracurricular activities. 

“It’s something that’s fun and they’re interested in it and they know that it has real life applications,” explained Cagle. “I think our STEM night (activity) that we did last year helped them to see real life applications of how robotics can fit in. I mean we had a lot of drone companies and all the different things that they might not have realized they can do and they can see where this fits in. And I think that they just have that excitement and they just want to learn more about it.” 

She also credits older siblings involved in robotics with influencing younger students. Weber’s younger brother, Mason, is in the second grade and is also involved with robotics. He attended the FLL Junior Expo while his older brother was competing in the state tournament.

“I like building and coding,” said Mason.

“So, I probably should tell you that the best part is the robotics skills but it’s not to me,” noted Cagle. “My favorite part about what they are getting is the teamwork, time management, problem solving, logic … you know, those forgotten skills that are necessary but are often overlooked.”

For the state tournament, teams were required to identify a physical or social problem “faced by humans during a long duration of space exploration.” 

“My group did it about exercise and the lack of muscle when it comes to being in space and how gravity plays an effect,” explained Cagle. “Their solution was to create a specialized suit imbedded with patches that adhere to the body to provide electrical stimulation that astronauts could wear while inside the spaceship.” 

According to Cagle, the students postulated that the astronauts could receive muscle stimulation, such as with a TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) unit, as they continued with their daily activities on the spaceship. For competition, the students had to research electrical stimulation. 

“Mrs. Cagle has done an outstanding job of moving our kids forward as far as technology and STEM,” stated Holy Family principal Michael Comeau. “They’ve done a great job and they’ve lived up to her expectations. The program is extremely important – with the way technology is moving forward in this country – there are jobs that haven’t even been thought of yet that these kids will have opportunities with and we want to make sure they have a sound STEM background.”