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Massena schools competing in Clarkson Robotics competition

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MASSENA - Some Massena students came up with ingenious ideas to help senior citizens, which they’ll share with judges during today’s FIRST Lego League challenge at Clarkson University.

Students from Trinity Catholic School, Nightengale Elementary School and a combined team from Jefferson and Madison elementary schools will be participating in the Robotics competition, which starts with an opening ceremony at 12:30 p.m. at Clarkson University’s Student Center. The robot competition begins at 1 p.m.

The students showcased their projects and robots for others this week. Trinity Catholic School’s team traveled to the St. Regis Nursing Home, while the teams from Nightengale, Jefferson and Madison elementary schools held an open house at Nightengale.

“This is an after-school program” which takes place five nights a week, but six nights this past week to get ready for the tournament, according to William Lint, coach of the Nightengale Nighthawks team.

“It’s a wonderful program,” he said.

Mr. Lint said Massena Central actually has three levels of teams - the FIRST Lego League for students in grades five and six, the FIRST Tech Challenge for students at J.W. Leary Junior High School and the FIRST Robotics Challenge for high school students. The FIRST Tech Challenge was held Friday at Clarkson at the start of the sixth annual FIRST Championship Tournament.

He said the competition not only challenges the students, but allows them to compete for scholarships in their later school years.

“In 2013 alone there are scholarships over $16 million. There’s a lot of funding out there just because your child was involved in Robotics,” Mr. Lint said.

The elementary students participating in this year’s challenge had to research the theme of “Senior Solutions,” which challenged them to improve the qualify of life for seniors by helping them continue to be independent, engaged and connected in their communities.

Trinity Catholic School students showcased their research for residents of the St. Regis Nursing Home. Team members are Ethan Miller, Brendan O’Neill, Aidan O’Neill, Jacob Brothers, Anah Bogdan, Grace Furnace, Samantha O’Keefe and Andrew Cook, and they are coached by Ed Reyes and Heather Doe.

The students came up with the “pill power watch,” which would vibrate to alert a person when it’s time to take a pill.

“It alerts you when you need to take one of your pills,” Ms. Bogdan said.

The watch could also be scanned and programmed by pharmacists and would have an unlimited memory chip and scrolling screen.

The students spent their Tuesdays and Thursdays for the past three months talking to seniors 60 years or older about their needs, researching those needs and coming up with a solution for one of them, as well as working on their robot.

“As part of their research they had to show how they come up with their solutions, how they decided this was the best way to do this. As a coach it’s only our job to help them locate information and stay on track. It’s not our job to get the information. It’s not our job to program the robot,” Mr. Reyes said.

In their nursing home presentation, the students said they interviewed other seniors to find out the difficult challenges they faced and come up with “innovative solutions.” Then, after looking at the information they had obtained, they designed the pill power watch that could be used by everyone.

“It’s to remind them to take their medications. That’s why they decided to do this,” Mr. Reyes said.

The students from Jefferson, Madison and Nightengale held an open house for families this week and explained the topics they had delved into as part of their project.

The combined Jefferson and Madison team musically focused on combatting osteoporosis. Their team members include Nic Brousseau, Ryan Herrick, McKayla Fountaine, Danielle Eggleston, Andrew Cichetti, Seth Denney, Desiree Hargrave, O’Die Cunningham, Jordan Stone and Rebecca Lobdell, and they are coached by Darcie Fregoe.

Their proposed invention, a watch, “scans your bone so you don’t moan,” they sang.

The Nightengale team discussed their push-button door knob, much like a push button that allows handicapped individuals to open doors. Their team members are Alayna Taraska, Josh Sheets, Joey Marcello, Lauren Laughman, Gabby Brothers, Gabby Durant, Austin Keith, Kylie Letham, Ethan Larow and Rebecca Castleman. They’re coached by Mr. Lint.

Ms. Brothers said that, when they talked with seniors they asked about difficulties with their five senses and wondered what they could do before that they now can’t do.

What they found, Mr. Marcello said, were three major areas - Parkinson’s Disease, arthritis and Saracopenia (the degenerative loss of skeletal muscle mass, quality and strength associated with aging).

That led them to come up with the idea for a door knob that could be pushed to open doors.

In addition to their research project, students’ robots will also take to the playing field during today’s competition. They had to design and build the robots and then program them to handle as many tasks as possible on the playing field in a two-and-a-half-minute time limit.

More than 400 students and their coaches, comprising 45 teams, are expected to participate in the two-day event, including 23 teams from 13 local school districts and two private schools, as well as teams from Central New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania.

The tournament is sponsored by the Northern New York Robotics Academy, a local higher education consortium, and Clarkson University. The academy is directed by Clarkson Electrical & Computer Engineering Professor James Carroll.

The tournament is also sponsored by St. Lawrence-Lewis BOCES, the “Connect a Million Minds” initiative of Time Warner Cable, Champlain Valley Transportation Museum, the U.S. Air Force, National Grid and the New York Power Authority. Coordination and logistical support for the tournament is provided by Clarkson’s Office of Marketing & External Relations, and Office of Educational Partnerships.

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