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Local teams build winning robots

Students get action, inspiration out of LEGO bricks.

December 15, 2010|By Andrew Shortall, andrew.shortall@latimes.com
  • The Break'n Bricks, a team composed of La Canada High 7/8 students, hold up their ribbons after placing third overall and winning the teamwork award at the Lancaster Qualifying Tournament.
The Break'n Bricks, a team composed of La Canada… (Courtesy of Steven…)

The La Cañada Engineering Club proved to be a powerhouse in a LEGO robotics competition at the competition's Lancaster Qualifying Tournament on Dec. 5.

Four of five La Cañada teams made the cut for the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) LEGO League Robotics teams Los Angeles Region Championship Tournament, which takes place Saturday in Chatsworth. The La Cañada Engineering Club led the way, taking home first-, second-, third-, fourth- and sixth-place awards in four different categories.

"There are about 170 teams competing in the Los Angeles area; 32 go on to the championship. We're pretty proud that more than 10% of those teams are from La Cañada," said Steve Zimmerman, a La Cañada High teacher who runs the La Cañada Engineering Club.

It's been a turnaround year for the club, which includes students from all La Cañada unified schools. In 2009, the group was unable to send a single team to the regional championship.

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There are two aspects to the FIRST Robotics competitions. First, teams must complete an imaginative research project that integrates engineering with biomedical research. Teams must also create a robot out of LEGOS that can fulfill several simple tasks, like moving objects or pressing a button. Points are awarded for how many tasks a team can complete in a certain amount of time.

The La Cañada Engineering Club pairs elementary- and middle-school students with LCHS students, who help them with their robots and projects.

"Everyone gets to apply what they are learning in school, and [everyone gets] exposed to engineering," said Bryan Watson, president of the club and a senior at La Cañada High.

The big winners of the Lancaster tournament were the two junior-high teams from La Cañada High, known as the Break'n Bricks and Golden Circuit Breakers. The Break'n Bricks won the teamwork award and placed third overall in the competition. The Golden Circuit Breakers were runners-up for the Champion's Award, placing second overall in the tournament. Both teams earned a ticket to the Los Angeles Championship.

"This is my first time going to the championship," said Riley Owen, a Break'n Bricks team member who didn't discover his love for engineering until joining the club. "We expected it a little bit though, because we knew we did well on our project."

The BioCougars, a team made up of Paradise Canyon Elementary students, and Panther Pi, a team composed of Palm Crest Elementary students, also qualified for the Los Angeles tournament. The BioCougars won the Innovative Robot Design Award and placed fourth overall. Panther Pi was given the Innovative Solution Award and advanced to the championship after placing sixth overall.

Competition success is great, Zimmerman, said, but he cares more about what the teams learn than he does about competition success.

"I get more pleasure from them taking what they learn here and applying it to what they do in science class," Zimmerman said. "That's really what this is all about to me. The kids are doing more than just competing. They're learning concepts, responsibility and how to work together as a team."

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