The Wellington Middle School robotics teams are headed for their first regional competitions in the First Lego League tournament at two venues in December.
But the winners won't be judged solely on what happens at the Dec. 1 and Dec. 15 events; students' outreach efforts also are part of the equation.
Wellington will send teams to Edison Intermediate/Middle School, 1240 Oakland Ave. in Grandview Heights, on Dec. 1; and to Columbus State Community College on Dec. 15. Both contests are scheduled from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. and will be open to the public during "robot rounds" in the afternoon.
Monique Sierzputowski and Dave Nye coach the teams.
Sierzputowski, a Wellington parent and a Dublin resident, said the event combines engineering, computer programming, problem-solving, research and teamwork.
"Teams compete in a sports-like environment where spectators cheer their successes," she said.
Judges will evaluate the teams' design, programming and problem-solving strategies and each team's research project, solution and outreach, she said.
Sierzputowski said the middle school teams have to build and program a robot to complete a number of tasks on a competition table in a 21/2-minute "robot round."
"Everything on the 4-by-8-foot table is built out of Legos," she said. "One mission is to knock down pins as if you are bowling and another is to deliver some quilt squares to hit certain markers on the board. There is also a mission where you have to hit a flag and the flag raises up."
The robots are built with Lego NXT Mindstorm software bricks, then finished with Lego pieces for their bodies and attachments, she said.
Sierzputowski said the theme of the competition is "things having to do with seniors" and each team is expected to research a related service component.
"The kids needed to explore a challenge that exists with seniors and come up with an innovative solution," she said. "A family friend of one of the team members is a senior and said she has trouble sometimes with age-related memory loss, so the team elected to tackle that problem."
She said students talked to seniors at St. Stevens Community House and scheduled a presentation of their solutions there Nov. 28.
"The team researched the problem and how memory works and came up with the solution to offer a class to seniors to teach them why the memory loss is happening and what food, brain games and other techniques could help to retain memory," she said.
The students also talked to local recreation centers to see if they would offer a class. The presentation Nov. 28 at St. Stevens was to get input from seniors to see if such a class would be interesting to them, Sierzputowski said.
Members of the team competing Dec. 1 are fifth-graders Alan Chow from Upper Arlington, Ian Gleissner of Powell and Andrew Dzorkin from Dublin. Seventh-grader Spencer Povoski is from Dublin; eighth-grader Anusha Kalyanasundaram is from Powell; and eighth-grader Ellora Majumder is from Dublin.
Sierzputowski coaches a second team of Wellington students who happen to be her own children: sixth-grader Ben, seventh-grader Jacquie and eighth-grader Will.
"My kids are mentors for the first team," she said. "They were members of a team in Dublin schools when they attended there."
She said her children will compete in the Dec. 15 regional at Columbus State.
"There are four regional competitions and 25 percent of the top teams advance to the next level of competition in January," she said.
Sierzputowski said a Wellington parent stepped up to donate the $1,250 needed for first-year funding of the program to buy the robot software.
"I love this program because it combines creative thinking, problem-solving, team building and research -- all in a friendly competition," she said. "The maximum you can have on a team is 10 children, but now that we have our robot kits in place, we hope the team members will present to other children about the program and get more students interested in being on the team."
Erin Noviski, head of Wellington middle school, said she likes the fact a service component is involved in the competition.
"What I like best about the team is that students are working together and trying out things, then starting all over again when things don't work out," she said. "I think it has been a great program for the school."