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NO ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE HERE: Sherwood students take second place at statewide robotics event

by: Ray Pitz, ROBOT CROSSING – From left to right, Avery Pierce, Josh White and Brett Stoddard, all members of the Lego robotics team, run their robots through their paces while practicing for state competition at Archer Glen Elementary School.

A Sherwood Middle School team placed second in the 'robot programming' category in January, edging out 53 other teams for the accolade during the Intel Oregon FIRST LEGO League 2007 state championship tournament.

The team, the Super Smashing Bionic Turkeys, received the award Jan. 19 during a competition at Liberty High School in Hillsboro.

'I was ecstatic,' Eric Campbell, the team's coach said of his team's performance. 'I think all of the teams did really, really well.'

Campbell believes the second-place designation may be the highest ranking a Sherwood team has received in the state event.

Among the participants were students ages 9 through 14, competing around the topic of sustainable energy and the global 'Power Puzzle.' The LEGOs they used to build the robots came from standard kits and students completed missions on a 4-by-8-foot playing field mat.

Sherwood was amply represented at the event with two teams from Sherwood Middle School (one coached by Campbell, the other by Jim Pedersen), an Archer Glen team coached by Dawn Perazzo and a Middleton Elementary School team coached by Mike Decker.

'It's just amazing what these kids can do,' Campbell said.

Meanwhile, Sherwood schools have had a stellar year in the First LEGO League events with Sherwood sending 11 teams from Archer Glen and Middleton elementary schools and Sherwood Middle School to participate in qualifying tournament competition in December.

During those events, Campbell's team and an Archer Glen team known as The FBI, received first-place awards in their divisions. Also, a Middleton team earned a trophy for the first robot performance for one category and another Middleton team earned a runner-up championship finish designation in all areas, earning them an invitation to the state tournament.

The Sherwood teams are funded by their respective Parent Advisory Committees.

'There's about 13 different missions they can do,' Campbell said of what the students must do with their robots. The trick, he said, is that teams must play to their strengths because they have only 21/2 minutes to complete those missions.

Prior to the state event, Sherwood LEGO students talked about preparing for state and making it through the qualifying competition.

Brett Stoddard, a member of the Archer Glen team, said he enjoyed the regional match up.

'It was kind of difficult because you've got to be really creative,' said Stoddard. 'We had no idea we were going to state.'

Students estimated it took them three months to build their LEGO projects for a competition judged on such things as teamwork, completed missions, project judging and technical judging.

Most knew what they would be up against in state competition.

'We have an idea what the state tournament is like because we were there last year and it was difficult,' said Lauren Zinkel, a sixth-grader.

Cambria Rooney, a sixth-grader who serves as team manager for the Super Smashing Bionic Turkeys, said during the qualifying event she spoke with students from other teams to figure out how to improve the team's robots. Such communication and sharing of information is encouraged.

Sixth-grader Evan Campbell said one thing he planned to be aware of during the state event was that secret judges would be walking around the competition. Because of that, students said they wanted to set a good example.

'You have to have good behavior … and not be wild,' Rooney pointed out.

Practicing for state competition, Avery Pierce said her goal was to improve.

In addition to proving the prowess of their robots, students had to touch on this year's theme of sustainable energy and the global power puzzle.

Rooney said her team interviewed Sherwood School District officials on the energy efficiency of Sherwood Middle School and ways to improve it.

'We also called the PGE company … and asked them ways to save energy,' said Rooney.

Stoddard said he and other Archer Glen students, accompanied by Principal Pete Miller, brainstormed ways to save energy, coming up with solutions such as using solar panels and having motion censors control classroom lighting.

Riley Goff, a fifth-grader, said some solutions were deemed more practical than others but they decided they all could do little things.

'So we decided to turn off all the computers (when we're finished),' said Goff.

Coach Campbell said like any competition, the teams have gotten better with practice.

'The first time, I don't think we went a foot straight (with the robots),' he said. Now, with the evolution of the teams over the last few years, the teams can go as far as 10 feet, said Campbell.

Campbell, who works as an applications engineer at Mentor Graphics, said he likes advising his team.

'It hooks kids up to engineering (and) working in teams,' he said.