Building Blocks -- Students work on a LEGO project in Trenton Catholic Academy, Hamilton. Photo courtesy of Trenton Catholic Academy
Building Blocks -- Students work on a LEGO project in Trenton Catholic Academy, Hamilton. Photo courtesy of Trenton Catholic Academy

By David Karas | Correspondent

Most days, elementary school students have to leave their LEGO blocks at home when they go off to school.

But for some students in Trenton Catholic Academy, Hamilton, they got to indulge in some LEGO time as part of a school project.

TCA students who are members of the school’s robotics team this fall participated in the FIRST LEGO League Tournament, held in Steinert High School, Hamilton, and featuring students from some 28 local schools. This year’s theme, trash, challenged the students to research, develop and present on a topic related to recycling, and to program a LEGO robot to complete recycling-based missions.

“We are so pleased to be able to offer LEGO Robotics at TCA,” said Anne Reap, TCA Lower School director. “Students from fourth through eighth grades are able to participate in this after school club, ‘learning by doing.’”

She added that the robotics event affords students the opportunity learn more about STEM fields while also having fun with toys they might have at home.

“This hands-on experience is instrumental in encouraging student inquiry and discovery,” said Reap. “The children work collaboratively on a predetermined challenge fostering a spirit of collegiality and teamwork. Together they program a robot they have built to perform missions requiring knowledge of computer programming as well as problem solving.”

This year’s “Trash Trek” is part of a program designed to introduce young people ages nine to 14, in grades four through eight, to the fun and excitement of science and technology. Teams of roughly ten students each come from a range of organizations and schools, and the students themselves do the work of designing and programming autonomous LEGO MINSTORMS robot kits to score points based upon each year’s theme. They also fundraise, craft a team identity and interact with field experts.

The broader FIRST LEGO program has some 25,000 teams across 80 countries.

“Our participation in the LEGO Robotics competition affirms our strong commitment to STEM learning for our students at Trenton Catholic Academy, providing them with the skills they will need in tomorrow's workplace,” said Reap.

She added, “Our students were thrilled to participate in the Steinert Slam where they competed against some of the toughest competition in the state.”

Josue Sanchez, an eighth grader from Trenton, has been participating in LEGO robotics programs for the past three years, and looks forward to the annual competition.

“I not only learned how to program a robot but learned how to work with others on my team,” said Sanchez. “My favorite part was being able to attend the competition and being able to compete against other schools. Each year it's amazing to see how teams respond to the new challenge and how much they can accomplish with the Lego robots.”

Seventh-grader and fellow Trenton resident Amber Lynn Carr shared a similar connection to the annual tournament.

“Once I started LEGO Robotics I was hooked,” she said. “I love programming the robot and knowing that as a team we succeeded in solving the missions required in the challenge.”

The experience also taught her an important lesson that applies not only to robotics, but to the broader educational process as well.

“I learned that accuracy is everything in programming – you have to be accurate and pay attention or the mission will fail.”