Students at Mooresville’s Pine Lake Prep compete to learn robotics
Monday, Dec. 23, 2013

Students at Mooresville’s Pine Lake Prep compete to learn robotics

Nicole Perri, far left, lower school robotics director at Pine Lake Prep, with the Junior Engineers, their mentors and coaches.

The Robotics Program at Pine Lake Preparatory Lower School in Mooresville allows children the opportunity to learn about science and engineering while having fun through the use of Legos and robots.

“Pine Lake’s Junior Engineering and Robotics Program challenges students with the Lego Education curriculum, connecting the dots between science, technology, engineering and design,” said Lower School Robotics Director Nicole Perri.

“Our goal is to inspire creative and energetic problem-solvers while promoting respect, teamwork and gracious professionalism.”

Students meet once a week after school for 13 weeks to work on a project that they are in charge of in every way.

The overall theme each year is determined by the First Lego League curriculum (this year it was natural disasters), and adult coaches offer guidance. But the students do all of the work, from developing the initial project concept and design to programming the robots and preparing a presentation.

Children in kindergarten through second grade worked on creative projects and simple machines, while students in fourth and fifth grades worked on more complex robotics. There are some third-graders in both programs.

Within the theme of natural disasters, the students chose a problem to focus on and an area affected by it, and they developed a possible solution. In the process, they interviewed such experts as doctors and meteorologists.

“They’re learning to deal with real-life problems,” said Becky Bergman, coach for the fourth- through sixth-grade team, nicknamed the Rogue Robots.

In addition, each team works on a tabletop Lego obstacle course, for which they program robots to accomplish a series of small tasks, earning points for each one they complete successfully. Those tasks, too, are determined by the First Lego League and relate to each year’s theme.

The Rogue Robots, who decided to do their project on the earthquake in Haiti, developed a “shock house” that features a suspension system for absorbing tremors and a solar panel system for power.

They also programmed the robots for the obstacle course. That included such tasks as moving an ambulance into a safe zone, putting up evacuation signs and moving a downed tree away from power lines.

The underdog rookie team of 10- and 11-year-olds recently competed in a First Lego League competition on Nov. 9. They performed well enough to qualify for the state competition, schedule for Jan. 12 in Greensboro.

“The depth of their knowledge and skill is impressive,” said Bergman. “When you combine that with the resources we have available through our teachers and parents, the results are remarkable.

“We saw that come through clearly at regionals, and I expect we’ll see more of that when we go to state competition next month.”

The PLP Junior Engineers presented their finished projects at a showcase Dec. 11 at the Lower School. Teams set up at various stations throughout the school’s halls and gave five-minute presentations of their projects. The roaming judges included some PLP parents and faculty members, as well as local architects and engineers.

Rather than awarding teams numerical finishes, judges awarded the students such titles as “Against All Odds” for the team that overcame the most adversity or “Take Them by Storm” for the team with the most eye-catching poster and explosive team energy.

The award ceremony will take place in January.

Jennifer Baxter is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Jennifer? Email her at

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