Catholic San Francisco


(Photo courtesy Vision of Hope)

St. James Ninja Tech team working with its robot at the First Lego League qualifying tournament at St. Anthony-Immaculate Conception parish in San Francisco.

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Lego League brings hands-on tech with ‘Trash Trek’ to Mission Catholic schools
January 26th, 2016
By Valerie Schmalz

One reluctant student was “bouncing out of bed” and dragging his mother out the door to get to school in time for 7 a.m. work sessions while another girl found a sense of confidence that alleviated her anxiety about school. Those were just two of what St. Anthony-Immaculate Conception principal Barbara Moodie called “unexpected consequences” from bringing the Lego robotics challenge to three schools in San Francisco’s Mission District this school year.

St. Peter, St. James and St. Anthony-Immaculate Conception schools participated for the first time and joined together to host a First Lego League Qualifying Tournament: “Mission: Trash Trek 2015” on Nov. 21. Fifteen Bay Area teams competed in the tournament held at St. Anthony-Immaculate Conception parish. Children from 80 countries participate in the 2015 Trash Trek Challenge. Students, ages 9-14, design, build and program Lego robots to solve the problem of trash collection, sorting, composting, and recycling.

“We started in September. We didn’t have a lot of time,” said Albert Bricker, technology coordinator for SAIC and St. James, who was the tournament director. “On average we met twice a week for two hours each session” sometimes before school, sometimes after school, and added weekend days as the tournament grew closer.

“Higher order thinking and problem solving skills” were nourished by the robotics experience, Moodie said. The students build Lego robotics which they program to do certain tasks on a four by eight wooden board. They also write a research paper and are graded on other aspects of the process.

“I really noticed just building confidence,” Moodie said. ”We had some kids on these teams who were so quiet and unsure of themselves. On the robotics team it was good to see them develop into confident contributing members of the team.”

The idea for robotics is to make STEM, Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, fun and accessible. At the request of a student, St. Gabriel computer science teacher Gordon Fair moderated a robotics team 13 years ago and has been hooked since. He organized another qualifying tournament held this year at Lowell High School. “It is such a great program. Albert just dove in,” said Fair, who advised Bricker. “We’ve had several graduates go on to engineering and programming, computer science. It always warms my heart when they say it all started with robotics,” Fair said.

“One of the mantras is ‘let the kids do the work,’” Fair said.

“Teams are judged on their projects, robotics and how well they demonstrate the First Lego League core values, which include cooperation, discovery and the spirit of friendly competition,” Bricker said.

Winners of this qualifying tournament advance to a regional championship. The season ends with the FLL World Festival in April in St. Louis.

While none of the three Mission schools made it past the qualifying round—they met their own goals and walked away proud and enthused to continue working with robots in another project this spring, Bricker said.

Vision of Hope donated $1,000 to pay for the Lego tournament kits for St. Anthony-Immaculate Conception and St. James, said Nancy Slepicka, marketing director of the Dominican Sisters of Mission San Jose nonprofit. Vision of Hope was started 20 years ago to support eight Dominican schools, including the two San Francisco schools, one in Oakland and five in Los Angeles, Slepicka said. This year Vision of Hope is giving about $100,000 to each of the eight schools, she said. “Ninety seven percent of our student population receives some tuition assistance,” Slepicka said. She said Vision of Hope raises more than $1 million a year to support the schools, and has an endowment of about $10 million.

From January 28, 2016 issue of Catholic San Francisco.


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