Elementary robotics teams wrap up successful season

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“It’s ridiculous how many LEGO pieces I have.”

That’s B-P art teacher Jon Aery, still decompressing from last week’s season-ending FIRST® LEGO® League tournament at SUNY Polytechnic Institute in Albany, where all three elementary-level robotics teams earned recognition from the judge’s table.

Photo of two adults and seven fourth-graders wearing medals

From left: Devin Dietz, Max Casion, Jason Poremba, Camden McClarren, Rocco Constantino, Ben Bartow and Jared Johnson

“It was a great day in Albany, with our teams getting a nod from the judges for completing missions many teams weren’t able to solve,” Aery said.

The three teams — 7 Lego-Tiers (fourth grade), S.U.B. Six (fifth grade) and Whoa-Bots (sixth and seventh grades) — had been meeting, building, practicing and plotting since August. Their task: Build an autonomous robot and program it to perform various functions in preparation for the January tournament. At the competition, they were challenged to identify a problem with a building or public space and craft an innovative solution. Twelve teams from around the capital district competed.

The Whoa-Bots (Mackenzie Barkley, Nick Parry, Cameron Verrego, Cameron LaFountain and Riley Bakuzonis with volunteer coaches Bryan Bakuzonis and Stacey Betler) designed a project that uses crank energy to efficiently power a livable pod for homeless people in need of safe shelter.

man stands with six fifth-graders wearing baseball caps and medals

From left: Lukas Morreale, Liam Snyder, Miles Purcell, Chloe Hopkins, Jacob Orapello, Madison Roser

S.U.B. Six (Lukas Morreale, Liam Snyder, Miles Purcell, Chloe Hopkins, Jacob Orapello, Madison Roser with coaches Mike Snyder and Jon Aery) assembled a biomimetic anthropomorphic hand drone designed to assist in navigating difficult access points of buildings to make repairs.

And the 7 Lego-Tiers (Devin Deitz, Max Casion, Jason Poremba, Camden McClarren, Rocco Constantino, Ben Bartow and Jared Johnson with coaches Kelly Dietz, Dave Constantino and Bonnie Peters) created a virtual tour of the B-P parking lot and building to assist people using the school grounds, by utilizing “tour builder” software and 360-degree photography. The team won the “Core Values” award.

An abbreviation for “For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology,” the FIRST LEGO League program emphasizes teamwork, discovery and innovation so that students can “emerge more confident, excited and equipped with the skills they need in a changing workforce,” according to the official website.

Five middle-school students flanked by two adults

From left: Mackenzie Barkley, Nick Parry, Cameron Verrego, Cameron LaFountain and Riley Bakuzonis

Aery, who has led the B-P elementary-level robotics teams since 2014 (along with a roster of volunteer coaches), has seen students demonstrate those principles, both on the team and during the school day.

“I see some payoff even in the art room,” he said. “How they interact with each other and understand how to work within a group dynamic. Part of the FIRST LEGO core values is they want the kids innovating, discovering things, working with other people as they try to solve a problem. That absolutely happens.”

Aery added that none of the teams’ success would be possible without “the incredible work and leadership and overall heroic effort from our coaches. They are the biggest reason this opportunity exists for B-P kids.”

Oh, and that ridiculous number of LEGOs? Each FIRST LEGO tournament season begins with a new kit of pieces. After six years, they tend to pile up.

That’s why Aery plans to invite each team member at the post-season party to build something — and then take it home.