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Girl Scouts practice teamwork for robotics competition

Maggie Conlon, a POP Creators member, builds works on a Lego robot.

Maggie Conlon, a POP Creators member, builds works on a Lego robot. Photo By Peter Zuzga

Dec. 18, 2013

Teaching "Poppy" to do tricks wasn't easy.

Six members of Girl Scout Troop 2296, based at Wisconsin Hills Middle School, had to learn software programming, exercise patience and meticulously calculate movements for the Lego robot, whose mission was to save a model community from a flash flood.

The girls, known as the POP Creators, began working on the robot back in August for the state's FIRST Lego League, an international robotics program for children ages 9 to 16.

Using certain Lego materials, children must build a robot that can accomplish certain missions for regional, state and national competitions. Participants must also conduct in-depth research and form a presentation addressing a certain topic related to the missions.

This year's theme was "Nature's Fury," so the POP Creators decided to focus on flooding for their presentation.

"We wanted to do something that we could relate to," said 11-year-old Lauren Roskopf. "(Flooding) happens in our community and stuff like forest fires don't really happen here. It's relevant because a lot of the girls have been in floods before or know people who have."

As part of their presentation, the girls consulted the City of Brookfield Fire Department, City of Brookfield Police Department, American Red Cross and other resources for research. They also developed Water Watch, a potential educational program that teaches children about flood danger.

Training Poppy

With the help of a $1,000 grant from the Girl Scouts of the United States of America, the girls were able to obtain the materials needed to make the robot. Once created, the Scouts taught the robot to move, lift and swing using special computer programs.

They even trained for competitions using a replica obstacle course — a scale-model community — located in a team member's basement. To prepare for the competitions, the girls attempted to accomplish as many missions as possible within a time limit of 2 minutes and 30 seconds.

"We had been thinking about (participating in FLL) for a few years, but we wanted to prep the girls so they were ready, because this is a big time commitment," said Linnea Logan, one of the troop leaders and team coaches. "I wanted to make sure they were ready for it, because the whole idea is for them to be confident and love science, and if we did it when they weren't ready, it would counteract."

The Girl Scouts had been playing around with a Lego robot for a few years and established a computer science class, called Scratch, to teach fourth- and fifth-graders about animation programming.

"I think a big part of (FLL) is that it's fun," Logan said. "There's a huge demand and need for jobs in engineering, and (FLL) can get them excited about technology and improve the representation of women in the field. They don't have to choose this, but we want to make sure they've had every opportunity and expectation that they can succeed in this field, and have fun with it, too."

Winning as a team

The POP Creators weren't the only Elmbrook team to compete in the Nov. 17 regional competition at Mukwonago High School, but they were the only team composed entirely of girls, Logan said.

The girls then went on to the state championship in Appleton on Dec. 8, when they took home the first place Inspiration Award for impressive teamwork.

The girls will not go on to the FIRST Championship in St. Louis, Miss., in April, but they savor the experience more than the award, anyway.

"We weren't disappointed at all," said Maggie Conlon, 11. "It's not about what we won, it's about what we learned and accomplished as a team."

A third aspect of FLL is an emphasis on core values, which include gracious professionalism, co-operation and integration.

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