Robotics Qualifier at Greenwich Academy is Serious Despite Tutus and Super Hero Capes

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As Greenwich Academy Robotics teacher Doug Rendell looks on, Jenna Hyman of Greenwich Academy finds it almost too much to witness as Nick Amatruda, referee from Chase Collegiate High Shool in Waterbury calculates points. Credit: Leslie Yager

With names like Gatortots, EduGators, Average Joes and Thick as a Brick, the 20 Robotics teams that competed in the First Lego League (FFL) qualifier on Saturday at Greenwich Academy kept a sense of humor.

Though super hero capes, tutus and purple megaphones helped keep the competition in perspective, the planning was long in the making and victories were as satisfying as the fails were disappointing.

Screen Shot 2014-11-23 at 3.14.53 PMGail Sestito and Doug Rendell, the co-directors of Robotics at Greenwich Academy, said this was the third year their school  hosted the qualifier, which was set in Raether Gym.

Rendell said the students got the project in early September and subsequently set about building the competition field. Then, at home, during the last 3 or 4 months their task was to program the robots. During Saturday’s qualifier, competitors were only allowed to touch their robots at home base, and each team received points when their robot accomplished tasks aligned to their mission, whether it be tossing a ball, or passing through a loop.


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As Greenwich Academy girls rooted for their classmates from the bleachers, Sesito described Robotics as “a sport for the mind,” with a pay it forward–pay it backward aspect. She pointed out that the girls in 9th through 12th grade serve in volunteer roles as judges and referees.

Sestito explained that each team’s score is comprised of three parts, with the points awarded while the robots are on the table representing one third. The next third of the score reflects teamwork and attitude. Lastly, each team develops a project that matches the theme.

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Susanna Warne demonstrates the chair her Gatortots team developed as part of the Robotics qualifier competition. Credit: Leslie Yager

And whereas last year the theme was “Nature’s Fury,” which resulted in more literal interpretations, this year’s theme, “World Class Education,” was a different story.

“They really thought about how people struggle to learn,” Sestito said.

The Gatortots, for example, designed a special chair which allows a student to silently fidget during class.

The girls pointed out the chair’s features, which included squishy stress balls and a clicking pen affixed to the underside of the seat, as well as a hand grip exerciser which dangles from a string for easy access.

During the competition, the girls presented their chair to a panel of judges who prodded them with questions. The goal, the girls explained, was to prod them to think about ways to improve their design, while polishing their public speaking.

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Gatortots team from Greenwich Academy. Back row L to R: Grace Ryan, Maya Walker, Jenna Hyman, Anisha Laumas, Chandler Jean-Jacques. Front L to R: Susanna Warne, Hunter Korn, Nicole Surgent. Credit: Leslie Yager

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EduGators Caroline Saunders and Rebecca Feiner. Credit: Leslie Yager

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Edugators Charlie Tallis, Olivia Jonokuchi, Ada Shaffer and Lila Murray. Credit: Leslie Yager

The Brunswick School “Zaniacs Mind Mavericks II,” achieved a measure of success, at Saturday’s qualifier. The boys took home a coveted golden ticket to the state tournament in December.

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Zaniacs Mind Mavericks II Brunswick middle School students and three year veterans of FLL competition: Will George, Ian Murray, Jamie Meindl, Charles Heath, Leyton Borcherding, Zane Bhatti and Eric Meindl with Coach Phil Chew. Contributed photo

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Brunswick boys at the table.

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Thick as a Brick team also won a Golden Ticket invitation to compete the state competition. The boys entered independently (not representing a school) and are students of Central Middle School. Pictured from L to R: Coach: Andrew Gesell, Bennett Hawley, Peter Scott, Rahul Subramaniam, Matthew Gesell, and Coach Prem Subramaniam. The state competition is Dec. 7th in Shelton. Photo Ellen Hawley

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Greenwich Academy’s Alexa Murray resets the table alongside Sarah Saco. Credit Leslie Yager

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Rebecca Feiner of the Edugators follows her robot on the table during a tense moment. Credit: Leslie Yager

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Doug Rendell congratulates the Gatortots. Credit: Leslie Yager

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Team Evolution from Danbury. Love the capes! Credit: Leslie Yager

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Email news tips to Greenwich Free Press editor Leslie.Yager@GreenwichFreePress.com
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