The high school students with FIRST Robotics Team 329 are still developing their own science, technology, engineering and math skills.
Yet somehow they’re finding time to instill passion for the STEM fields in their much-younger peers at the elementary level in the Patchogue-Medford School District.
The robotics team members have spent several weeks, and many long nights, developing what’s called junior engineering guides and, most recently, separating over 52,000 LEGO pieces into kits for all of the district’s 3,364 elementary students to play with, from kindergarten through the fifth grades.
Next week they’ll be delivering the kits and materials to the elementary schools.
The team is doing so using over $3,000 raised through the booster club.
“It was mainly to promote STEM,” said team member Chris Matteo, 16, of Medford. “If we don’t teach STEM to the younger students now, they’ll never remember it later. They won’t be the engineers of tomorrow like we want them to be.”
And, perhaps along they way they’ll join the nationally renowned robotics team at Patchogue-Medford High School, which as of this moment boasts a whopping 72 members — the largest roster ever for the team.
Team advisor Kevin Ray says he attributes the team’s swelled numbers not only to its success in competition, but community outreach and establishing a “culture of robotics” that extends beyond the walls of the high school’s robotics labs.
“When you get the rest of the community to buy into it, they speak about it with their children,” Ray said. “They speak about it with their neighbors, and luckily, they’re hearing of all these good things.”
The LEGO challenges at the younger grades will likely help in that process. Now, and for years to come, the district’s youngest students will get to play with LEGOs during recess. At every level, the junior engineering guides were designed so the students won’t need any help from their teachers. They only work with their classmates.
Developing the instructions involved the robotics team members observing the younger kids in the classrooms through a process called complexity testing in November.
Here’s what the older students learned:
The kindergartners and first graders weren’t about challenges; they just liked to be creative. The second and third graders couldn’t handle failing challenges. And the fourth and fifth graders enjoyed rising to a challenge.
So all the engineering guides were developed accordingly, the teenagers explained.
“This completely came from these kids,” Ray noted. “There wasn’t even prompting on the part of the adults or the adviser or anybody. They came up with the concept and brought this from concept to fruition completely on their own.”
On Tuesday, they showed off their work to administrators.
“We made a presentation for the seven principals of the elementary schools,” said team member Emily Ferrari, 16, of Medford, who gets up at 4 a.m. most mornings to start her school day. This after spending many late nights in the lab.
Even though the LEGO kits will be delivered soon to the schools, the robotics team’s efforts don’t stop there. The program will evolve, Emily said.
“We’re hoping every year we can build onto the kits,” she said. “Maybe one year we can add wheels to add the option for mobile creations. Or add characters to allow them to tell a story using LEGOs.”
One thing Team 329 tried to keep in mind when creating the guides was that the kids needed to have fun.
“So we chose fun activities that anyone would enjoy doing,” said team member and junior Ed O’Connor, 16, of Patchogue. “From making a robot to an actual complex challenge where they had to build a bridge to support five pounds, but had to use only one kind of LEGO brick.”
“It gets them thinking and expanding their imaginations,” Chris added. “And thinking about how to solve different problems in the real world and how to accomplish things together as a team.”
What also helps, is the younger students get to observe the members of FIRST Robotics Team 329 in action — leading by example.
Top photo: Robotics team members Anson and Justin Zhou, 14. (Team 329 courtesy photo)