Tensions were high as the high school gym scoreboard counted down from 2 minutes 30 seconds. Parents cheered. Coaches yelled directions, and eight elementary competitors were trying to make the most of two months of preparation.
But there was not a ball in sight.
This was the First Lego League Challenge robotics competition at Crestwood High School in November 2023.
Dearborn Public Schools hosts two dozen robotics teams from lower elementary school through high school, including 15 teams in elementary schools. Elementary schools with one or more teams include Geer Park, Henry Ford, Lindbergh, Maples, McCollough, Miller, Snow and Lowrey.
For Laila Jarouche and Rykaya Bazzi, fifth graders from Miller Elementary, robotics is fun and social.
“We get to interact with each other and do coding and practice and learn new skills,” Rukaya said. The girls both said they enjoy coding, problem solving, strategizing about what challenges to complete, and of course, the teamwork.
At the November competition, the Miller Bots earned a berth to the state competition in Saline on Dec. 16, 2023.
First Robotics challenges vary by grade level. But at every level, students need to assemble a robot to meet certain challenges and then program it. Younger students will build a shoe box sized Lego robot that is entirely preprogrammed to run autonomous missions, and they will do a research project and presentation on an innovation challenge based on that year’s theme. Older students will design and build larger robots and drive their robots during competitions.
The fourth and fifth grade students in the First Lego League Challenge build a Lego robot and prepacked Lego challenges. During the competition, the robot leaves one of two start areas and travels onto the competition field to complete one or more tasks before returning to a starting area. Tasks include actions like flipping levers on a Lego challenge or delivering objects to a designated spot on the field.
“Robotics is fun because you make friends and you learn to code and then maybe you want to be an engineer one day,” said Hiba Shagira, a fifth grader from Henry Ford Elementary.
Ryan Foss, also in fifth grade from Henry Ford Elementary, liked robotics so much that he got his own Lego robot to build and embellish with spinning parts and other extras.
“I like art so I wanted to put art on it,” Ryan said.
Cameron Yaseen from Maples Elementary joined the team with his fourth grade friend Hassan Hassan.
“We get to build and program. We like to make games together,” Cameron said.
Kathleen McCormick oversees the Henry Ford Elementary robotics teams and is also a STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) teacher at the school. While elementary school robotics provides obvious STEAM skills, she sees lots of value in other talents the team builds in the students.
“Robotics is a fun way to engage students’ interest while they are learning teamwork, core values, communications and how to problem solve,” McCormick said.
In addition to support from the district, the robotics teams are funded, in part, by the Dearborn Education Foundation. The Foundation provides funds towards buying the robotics equipment and supplies, registration fees and other team costs.