NORTHFIELD — With some help from the Friends of the Northfield Library, an Atlantic County 4-H robotics team that goes by the name the Tech Tigers is ready to roar.
The members are preparing for their maiden competition, an event called the First Lego League Challenge being held Saturday at Salem Community College in Carneys Point.
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The team will have 2 minutes and 30 seconds to put their Lego EV3 robot through its paces and try to complete as many of the 21 challenges as possible.
The members wrote the code for the robot, which is part of a kit they purchased, along with a mat the robot will move along to complete the tasks.
The team has 10 members ranging in age from 9 to 12, hailing from Linwood, Northfield, Egg Harbor City and Mays Landing. They are coached by Jim Bates of Egg Harbor Township and facilitator Deepa McCabe of Linwood, who is the technology and library media teacher at Egg Harbor City Community School.
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Monday evening they set up a practice session in the community room at the Otto Bruyns Public Library of Northfield, where they put their robot through the paces and fine-tuned their oral presentation.
At the competition, judges will award points for the performance of their robot, the presentation of their research, and how well they abide by the core values of the competition.
The Lego League challenge is organized by an international organization called For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology, or FIRST, that seeks to develop ways to inspire youth in the fields of engineering and technology.
Saturday's challenge involves identifying a problem in the human water cycle and proposing a solution. According to McCabe, the team decided to focus on pesticide contamination of the water supply. After doing some research, they decided one solution to keeping pesticides out of the water supply would be to grow food in vertical indoor gardens.
The team, sponsored by the 4-H Club and Friends of the Northfield Library, learned that Disney World's Epcot Center uses vertical farming to grow tomatoes. And while a trip to Orlando to check it out would have been fun, the students instead visited a farm closer to home, the aquaponic greenhouse of Tim Foster in Egg Harbor Township, who also uses vertical farming and other techniques.
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Team member Aniya McCabe, who is 10 and the daughter of Deepa McCabe, said Foster uses no pesticides. He has a large fish tank, and the fish produce fertilizer for the plants he grows.
“He told us that he had aphids but solved the problem by using ladybugs to get rid of the aphids and did not use pesticides,” she said.
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Deepa McCabe said all of the team members participated in both the research and the coding.
“Different team members did the coding for the robot to complete different tasks. But coding alone will not complete the challenge, as the robot needs the proper appendage and be positioned correctly to allow action a chance to be successful," she said.
Burke Erickson, 12, of Mays Landing was working on the robot to get it to deliver water, which is one of the challenges. He talked it through with team members Michael Carland of Mays Landing and Tommy McCabe of Linwood. They changed the apparatus, adjusted the robot in the starting corner of the mat, and when it delivered the water, teammates cheered and dug in, determined to crush the next challenge.
Bates, a recently retired union stagehand, said he has been coaching 4-H for a number of years and works with another team, of which his grandson is a member.
“We do not give the kids the answers. It’s up to them to work through the problems toward a solution,” Bates said.
The rules limit a team to 10 members and two adult volunteers, he said.
“We had 28 kids come out and want to be a part of this team, but we could only take 10. If we had more adults with the time or the willingness to get involved, all of those kids would have been able to be a part of a team,” he said.
Deepa McCabe said her role is to give the members the tools they need to solve the challenges.
“There is so much collaborative work going on here as these kids work through the problems and they figure out what they need to do to be successful,” she said. “The kids are following the core values, working together as a team, sharing their experience with others, being cooperative and having fun.”
Aislinn Erickson, 10, a student at the George L. Hess Educational Complex in Mays Landing, completed her presentation portion of the research project and suggested that projecting their voices and smiling will win the judges over and get the team a better score. Her teammates concurred, and smiles were the order of the evening during the next run-through.
Bates said volunteers are needed to serve as coaches and facilitators for the many kids who would like to get involved with coding and the Lego challenge. For information on how to become a volunteer email atlco4Hemail@example.com.
To see the Tech Tigers in action watch the video at shorenewstoday.com.