The late Eldon teacher Jerry Barsby was awarded a trophy as an especially impactful coach and mentor at the FIRST LEGO competition world championship awards ceremony Saturday afternoon in Texas.
Barsby had long dreamed of building a robotics program that would take his students to a world-level robotics competition, where they could interact with other young tech enthusiasts from around the world. His students saw Barsby's dream become a reality as they walked across the awards stage in his honor, less than a month after he died in a mechanical accident.
"It was pretty emotional, but the students were excited," LEAP site coordinator Claire Graves said. "They all carried themselves very well and brought that trophy back after the awards were done and were excited about showing everybody. They are just filled with joy right now."
The Eldon Upper Elementary robotics team, RoboH2O, is made up of 10-12 year olds who take part in the Learning Enriched Afterschool Program (LEAP). The team is part of the Gearheads after-school robotics program, which teaches children analytical thinking, creative problem solving and technological expertise. It was led by coach Cory Matthias and mentor Marty Graham.
Barsby, who is credited for building the Eldon robotics program, encouraged students to interact, teach and learn from other students hailing from around the world. Graves said team RoboH20 members have greatly enjoyed doing just that during this potentially once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
RoboH2O competed in the FIRST LEGO world championship Thursday through Saturday in Houston. FIRST LEGO uses different themes to teach the importance of robotics in improving the world. This year's theme was hydrodynamics. Teams were required to enter their communities and find water-related issues they could help solve.
The team worked with staff members of Eldon's water treatment plant to formulate a filtration system to help reduce pollution into the Saline Creek, where the city's storm water drainage is discharged. The students planned to use a spiked filter to ensnare large debris and a mesh filter to catch smaller pieces of litter. The students' calculated the filters will reduce the storm drains' pollution rate from about 40 percent to 2 percent. Graves said the city is making plans to implement the new system.
The Eldon students presented their filtration project to judges Thursday. They also took part in the core values portion of the competition, in which judges rate the team's ability to work well with each other and judges while attempting to solve a problem.
"The judges basically give them a problem to solve on the spot — and that's in a closed room with judges — and the students have to come up with a solution to whatever that problem is," Graves said. "They are judged on how they solve the problem, and how they act while solving the problem with each other and interacting with the judges as well."
The team began Thursday by taking their LEGO robot through three practice runs. Graves said the team performed well after making a few adjustments to the robot.
"They've really stepped up overall," Graves said during the competition. "There's been a little bit of emotion here and there. When it comes down to the actual robot and the technical things that go along with that, that was Mr. Barsby's forte, and so not having him here, the students are really having to think outside the box and step into his shoes and think, 'What would Mr. Barsby say right now?' They are doing a really good job with that."
Graves said the students were nervous before the final run Saturday, but after some initial difficulties, the team was able to achieve a good score. They didn't make it into the top three of 109 teams in any categories, but Graves said it was their first world-level competition, leaving room to improve for next year.
The team members said it was an overall great experience, and they also hope their success will broaden the field of robotics in the Eldon area as the Gearheads program works to rebuild in Barsby's memory.
"Robotics is not just about the robots," Graves said. "It's about teaching core values. The students not only have to be able to know how to (operate) the robot, but they have to be able to interact with people — other kids, other adults — in a professional, mature, gracious way and show perseverance through many difficult obstacles. Our students have definitely faced obstacles."