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4-H Lego program grows, readies for regional competition

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 3 November 2014 at 12:00 am

Photos by Tom Rivers – Zach Moore, a member of the Kids Only Work Zone or KOWZ, finds an attachment for the team’s Lego robot during a practice on Saturday. Zach, 13, of Albion has been with the program each of its three years. Jayden Neal works on the computer.

ALBION – It started two years ago with a team of about a dozen kids, ages 8 to 14. The First Lego League expanded to three teams last year and now there are four teams with about 40 kids altogether in the program through 4-H in Orleans County.

The teams have been meeting three times a week since mid September. They have a regional competition on Nov. 15 in Churchville, vying against teams that are typically affiliated with schools with paid staff.

In Orleans County, the FLL program is under the 4-H umbrella with Erik and Marlene Seielstad as the volunteer mentors with help from their son Morgan and some other adults.

Anna Reese, 10, of Medina uses a laptop to research Alzheimer’s. Her team is studying ways to help people with Alzheimer’s preserve their memory skills. In addition to working with a Lego robot, the teams need to research a topic and present that information before judges.

The mentors provide some supervision and advice, but the kids are driving the action. They meet at an onion packing house, the former Remley Printing Company in Albion. Signs taped to the wall say, “Kids do the work.” (Panek Farms donates use of the space for the teams.)

The teams have their own workspaces. They use WiFi on their laptops to research topics. This year’s theme is “FLL World Class: Learning Unleashed.”

Teams have discretion in researching their topics. One is studying how to better communicate, advocating for interpersonal skills over email. Another team is developing a new method for teaching typing skills and another team is researching how to preserve memory skills for Alzheimer’s patients.

Most of the focus is on the robot, which needs to be designed and programmed to conquer challenges, including retrieving rings on a course, throwing a ball through a hoop, opening doors and clicking on a switch.

“The kids get the opportunity to work together and accomplish things,” said Mr. Seielstad, who works as a systems engineer in Rochester.

Erik Seielstad has volunteered as mentor in the Lego program since it started in 2012. He is pictured with Dan Squire, 13, of Medina.

Seielstad and his wife also are mentors for the robotics team, which includes high school kids. That program starts in January.

The Seielstads and their son Morgan, now a senior at Albion, have been champions of the robotics and Lego program in the county. It now draws participants from throughout the county, as well as from Elba and Brockport, which are outside Orleans.

“I find it overwhelming that this has occurred,” said Mrs. Seielstad, a member of the Albion Board of Education. “Our uniqueness is we have people from all over our county, as well as kids from other counties.”

Jason Foote, an engineer, provides some supervision for one of the Lego teams, which includes his son Jacob. Jody Neal and Mike Beach are also active adult volunteers with the program.