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St. Joseph School student club uses Legos to construct robots, solve real-world issues

By Jennifer Corbett

Designing and constructing cars and buildings has become something Cal Tipton and Hayden Bond can not “Lego” of.

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The St. Joseph School students use Legos as their method to construct and then de-construct items.

“When I was about 5, my parents got me my first Lego set,” said Tipton, a third-grader.

What began as a hobby has transformed into a passion for the budding engineers. 

Now, the St. Joseph School students have expanded their repertoire into robotics — something both students said is much harder than it seems.

Bond and Tipton are part of the school’s robotics club, a club that combines a love of Legos and engineering to construct robots that can move.

“It’s Legos to the advanced,” said Bond, a sixth grader who is in his third year in the club. “It’s fascinating and interesting. The possibilities are endless. I never thought I would be making robots.”

Members of the St. Joseph robotics club recently took part in a First Lego League robotics competition at Bullitt East High School.

According to Katrina Ballard, third grade teacher at St. Joseph and director of the club, membership has grown over the years.

Currently, the school has four teams of 10 students.

Prior to the competition, the First Lego League decides an overall theme. The theme deals with a real-world issue.

Last year’s theme focused on the elderly.

St. Joseph students were tasked with creating an object that would help the elderly in their daily lives.

“They give you the specifics and the kids work on the perimeters,” Ballard said.

The club practiced after school for an hour and a half to two hours. They would be divided into three groups: builders, people who would run the robots and group programming.

The group also had to create a poster  and presentation to present to a panel of judges at the First Lego League competition.

Their final product was an “armatic.”

According to Ballard, the students got the idea from observing the elderly use automatic shopping carts at the grocery store.

While it helps them maneuver around the store, it doesn’t help them reach items on the top shelf, Ballard said.

So the students thought to create an attachable robotic arm the elderly could use to reach for items without getting out of their seat.

The robotic arm could also be used at home. For instance, someone could attach it to the end of his or her bed to get a book, Tipton added.

Building the robotic arm was not built overnight.

“It took six or seven tries to get” the arm of the robot, Tipton said.

The robotics club worked for months prior to the competition, designing the schematics, figuring out which way the arm would move and how. They also had to get input from professionals to see if the product would be beneficial to the elderly. 

“They use a lot of critical thinking,” Ballard said. “It’s a lot of math, science and computer programming. A lot of thinking outside of the box. It lets them see things in a different way.”

Both Bond and Tipton said they felt a high amount of pressure during the competition.

Tipton said the pressure he feels during a robotics competition doesn’t come close to the pressure he feels during a hockey game.

Hockey “is not even close to the amount of pressure I feel” during a robotics competition, Tipton said.

The competition was also aggravating at times.

“Sometimes your robot will go in the wrong place.” Tipton said.

“Or it might accidentally fall over,” Bond added.

During the robotics round of the competition, players had to abide by a strict set of rules.

“In robotics, only two people are allowed in the square,” Tipton said. “If you have one foot over the line, they disqualify you.”

Overall, Ballard said the robotics club is an opportunity for students to try something new. It’s also an opportunity for them to have fun while learning.

“Part of the challenge was not only do these kids make these things,” Ballard said. “But they have to get real world input. It’s a great way for the kids to bond. It’s a lot of work and a lot of dedication.”

JENNIFER CORBETT can be contacted at jcorbett@kystandard.com