Practical Science Students Get LEGO Robots Ready for Competition

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Byline: Madhu Krishnamurthy Daily Herald Staff Writer

With NASA's Mars Rover spacecraft approaching the Red Planet, middle school students are getting a chance to build their own robotic explorers.

They are designing and building motorized robots with LEGOs and are programming them to do tasks, in the same way that scientists with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration work with their robotic spacecraft.

Fourteen northeastern Illinois LEGO teams will converge at Lake Zurich Middle School South, 435 W. Cuba Road, on Dec. 6 to compete in one of several regional competitions to be held throughout the state. It will be from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the school gym and is open to the public.

Ten of the 14 teams are from Lake Zurich. The rest are from Arlington Heights and Barrington schools. Similar competitions are being held in other communities, including Lake Forest, Palatine and Schaumburg.

The winners then go to the state tournament for the FIRST LEGO League's Mission Mars Challenge, Dec. 12 and 13 in Arlington Heights.

The exercise is challenging but easier than it sounds, says Neil Precilio, 12, a sixth-grader at Middle School South.

"You're happy when you complete it all," he said. "You kind of feel really smart."

The competition comes a month before two NASA Mars Exploration Rovers are expected to reach the Red Planet. The spacecraft Spirit is expected to reach the planet Jan. 4, while Opportunity is expected to get there Jan. 25.

LEGO provides students with robotics kits that include small computers, motors, sensors and all the tools necessary to build the robots. Students are given 10 weeks to prepare.

"But it's up to the kids to decide how to apply those tools to run the missions," said Larry Hoehne, one of the Middle School South coaches. …