compete at state level
Homeschool team continues on to nationals
By RUSS CHOMA
As the home of inventor Dean Kamen, for
Bedford to field anything less than one of the top robot building
teams in the state would be a crime.
So, it's no surprise that Bedford fielded three.
Three Bedford teams one from McKelvie Middle School and
two independent teams competed on Dec. 13 in Nashua at
the FIRST Lego League state tournament.
FIRST is a competition in which high school students from across
the nation compete to build, program and operate a robot which
will carry out a series of complex tasks. The Lego League is
the junior level competition in which elementary and middle school
students construct the robots out of Lego building blocks.
The competition was founded by Dean Kamen, and this year, the
New Hampshire competitions were sponsored by BAE Aerospace in
FIRST place A
team of homeschoolers from Bedford, Hollis, Merrimack, Milford,
and Wilton took top honors at the FIRST Lego League state tournament
last Saturday Dec.13, at Nashua High School North. Team Mindstorms
Mayhem competed against 47 other teams from around the state
to build and program a robot to solve nine missions. They'll
go on to the national contest in April. Team members pictured
are (front row, from left) David Gray (Junior Team Member), Melissa
Gray and Dan Umenhofe In back are coach Bill Gray, mentor Christopher
Jennings, Vickie Umenhofer, Jacob Krupkin, Brian Jennings, Nathan
Streeter, Nathan Gray, David Schunemann, Ben Krupkin, Ben Streeter
and coach Ken Streeter.
This year's theme was "Mission Mars,"
in which teams had to construct and program a robot to carry
out specific tasks on an imaginary Martian surface. In addition,
each team was required to research a certain aspect of Mars exploration
and then develop a presentation.
The Mindstorms Mayhem team from Bedford made up of home-schooled
students from Bedford and several other nearby towns pulled
in the prestigious Director's Award at this year's state competition.
The award is given to the team who captures top honors in the
The team also placed third in robot performance and has earned
the right to represent New Hampshire at the national competition
McKelvie Middle School also sponsored a team, culled from eight
in-school teams, which, unfortunately, ran into technical problems
the day of the competition.
"We had some glitches that day," said Roger Steines,
the team's coach. "Some unfortunate things that always happen
when you have so many variables in play did happen."
At the competition, the slight problems McKelvie was running
into seemed to do nothing to dampen the team's enthusiasm for
Crowding around their robot to show its various parts and what
task they accomplished, the seven teammates talked energetically
about the project.
"It's fun. It sort of gives us a head start," said
Hickman and several of his teammates said the competition had
sparked an interest in engineering and computer science for them.
At the next team pit station over, students from the other independent
Bedford team The Munchkins bubbled with similar
The Munchkins, sponsored by Dean Kamen's Deka Research
company, was made up of a mix of McKelvie students and homeschoolers.
Stephanie Schaeberle, a seventh-grader at McKelvie, spoke at
length about the types of subjects she and her teammates researched
"We had to research about rovers going to Mars," she
explained. "How they get stuck what we would do."
Schaeberle and her teammate's research and hard work apparently
paid off as the team captured second place statewide in the programming
part of the competition.
This kind of enthusiastic response about the robots,
the research and the possibilities of a future career planning
mission to Mars is exactly what many parents and educators
are looking for.
Nancy Streeter, mother of two Bedford home-schoolers on the Mindstorm
Mayhem team, said she thought the competition was invaluable
for students to get involved with.
"It's great especially for home schoolers to work together
with other students in a team environment," she said.
This sentiment was echoed by McKelvie coach Steines.
"I think (the competition) does a lot of things. For one,
it has the individuals working as a group," he said. "And
in the real world, where they may not see themselves right now,
they'll be working in groups always."
Streeter also said that the competition was an excellent way
for parents and educators to introduce students to subjects they
may not necessarily get.
"It's also wonderful for me to have my boys learning other
topics I don't necessarily know a lot about," she said,
citing the programming aspects as an example.
Streeter said it's fantastic that the program was getting students
motivated to research and learn.
"The research aspects of the program are wonderful. It's
not just building a mechanically sound robot, it's also researching
and being able to present your findings," she said.
"They've used the Internet and e-mailed scientists to research."
"It's really been very good for inspiring research. Kids
aren't always motivated to do that," she said. "So,
its nice to find a context where they're excited about that."
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