The Guam Department of Education College Pathway Program held the second annual Texas Computer Education Association Lego EV3 Arena Competitions at the Dusit Thani Guam Resort on Jan. 18.
There are few on-island competitions available to students that allow their passion for STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — to shine. The local TCEA competition gives winners the opportunity to compete in Texas, representing Guam.
Dr. Leah Beth Naholowaa, the director of the College Pathway Program, opened the competition by emphasizing the importance of expanding and developing students’ knowledge and excitement for STEM. After observing the competition in Texas in 2018, she said she brought the game to Guam, to allow students here the opportunity to compete.
Every year the organizers present a new set of challenges for the competition through a unique theme. This year’s theme is “Bees, Bots, and Beyond!” Teams were to create a robot using LEGO Mindstorms, EV3, NXT, or RCX kits that would take the role of a honeybee. Their robotic honeybee was to help its fellow bees by gathering “pollen,” “nectar,” and “water” to place them in the correct frames inside of a “Langstroth hive.” The different game pieces inside the arena represented their respective real-world variants.
It was on this Saturday morning that students raced to compete, each with enough drive to power a locomotive.
Generally speaking, each "honeybee" robot had to move checkers pieces, "pollen," to designated zones on the mat, in order to score points. They also had to move the cotton balls, or "water," to the designated frames as well, and then place the queen bee, which was a Lego piece, on a specific frame.
The Intermediate Division
Composed of more than 20 elementary and middle school groups, the intermediate division of the competition gave younger STEM fanatics a chance to try their hand at a real robotics competition.
The competition was a first for many of these kids and you could feel their excitement.
The winners were the teams that took robotics to another level.
In third place, Juan M. Guerrero Elementary School scored many points through precise coding. The Astumbo Dragonites of Astumbo Middle School ranked second, and their creative strategy proved that design wasn’t everything.
In first place was Team GRMC of Benavente Middle School, which trumped the competition by innovating a robot’s design unlike any other, paired with a remarkably efficient strategy.
During an interview, the first-time competitors from the middle school modestly stated: “We took inspiration from other robots we found online.”
Arguably, one of the hardest aspects of this competition is the steep learning curve for the LEGO Mindstorms EV3 code. However, through dedication and with the help of mentor Francisco Lazaga, team captain and programmer Michael Villeza was able to innovate their robot’s artistic code.
“My coach taught me different techniques, such as introducing the gyro-sensor very early on. We learned a lot through the lessons he taught us, and applied it to the mission,” the young programmer said.
This year’s “Inventions” division allowed students to showcase their research, robot performance, robot design, marketing strategies, and presentation skills for three judges at the TCEA Inventions Contest. The goal is to create a robot that has the potential to solve environmental problems.
Teams introduced robots that could sort trash, till the soil, clean water and even help plant crops. These conceptual and prototype designs are steppingstones into real STEM careers that focus on improving and protecting our environment.
In this division, Okkodo High School’s Wise Dogs team took third place. Simon Sanchez High School took second, and coming in first was Astumbo Middle School.
The Advanced Division
The winners from the Advanced Division faced the toughest challenge. And rightly so, the winner, Team Galaxy of John F. Kennedy High School, will fly to Texas to represent Guam in a national competition.
In second place was the Sharks of Simon Sanchez High School.
In third place was the Wise Dogs from Okkodo High School.
During the competition, Team Galaxy proved that their name wasn’t the only thing sky-high — they earned the highest scores in the competition with an average of 257 points.
“We looked at which task was the easiest, which was scoring the checkers (pollen), and then we programmed our robot to loop itself into picking up those checkers,” said Johnny Yang, the captain and programmer.
“We also wanted to find an easy way to collect all of the checkers, so we used the back of the robot to push them to the side, and then differentiate what is black or red. We also were going to use a claw to pick up the cotton ball (water), but we removed it.”