Seven students from Skyview Elementary School of STEM in Windsor are putting their brains and presentation skills to the test in the FIRST LEGO League competitions, and they’ve proven to be among the state’s best.
Fifth-graders Sydney Larsen, Alex Jarrett, Joseph Kusluski, Daniel Bouma and Andrew Price, and fourth-graders Kalynda Newport and Ethan Bruehl placed third out of 47 teams in the FIRST LEGO League state qualifier in Fort Collins on Nov. 16, and will compete in the 60-team state competition in Denver on Saturday.
The students, who go by the name of Skyview Fierce Falcons, took off on the theme of Nature’s Fury and created “The FloodZone Home Alert” product, something they say is the most advanced home-alert system that will save more lives than any other weather alarm. Similar in look to a smoke detector, the FloodZone plays off cell towers with the hope that they will be a necessity in all homes.
The students used the television show Shark Tank as a model, presenting their product to two of the judges on the team. They also have robotic missions through natural disasters and have to display team work and use core values that the FIRST LEGO League represents.
In just their second year of participating in FIRST LEGO LEAGUE at Skyview, the students and sponsors — Gifted and Talented teacher Kendra Jacoby and first-grade teacher Roxanne Visconti — have come up big, especially since the competitions include going against students up to eighth grade.
The team started working on the project before school started in June, and decided on flooding as the natural disaster they would work on because of the September flooding.
They took a field trip to the National Center of Atmosphere Research in Boulder in July, have been mentored by Joseph’s father, Gary Kusluski, an engineer who works at Agilent in Loveland, as well as Ethan’s dad, Matt Bruehl, an engineer at Intel in Fort Collins. They’ve also interviewed and received assistance from meteorologist Tye Parzybok of Fort Collins; Matt Rogers, a research scientist at Colorado State University; Jay Gallagher, a Windsor tornado victim in 2008; and Dave Jacoby, a paramedic with Banner Health and the husband of Kendra Jacoby.
Gary Kusluski said the students started out by working four hours a week in June, increasing to six hours per week in August and have been working on their project and presentation 10 hours each week since then.
“A lot of it’s research and how to talk to people,” he said. “They’ve had to interview adults. They’ve had to learn how to be comfortable in front of people.”
Sydney said she likes FIRST LEGO League because of the building and programming aspect of it.
“I like to be involved with school things,” she said. “We’ve come a long way from the summer.”
Alex said he didn’t think the team would make it this far, and he was surprised by its success.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing that we’re going to state,” Alex said.
Joseph said it’s his second year in FIRST LEGO League, and he decided to join to have fun and try it out and he ended up loving it.
“We’re were deciding between flooding, tornadoes or hurricanes,” Joseph said. “We probably would have gone with tornadoes, but the floods happened right here which made us decide on flooding so we could get more information.”
Daniel said the whole experience of working on and researching the product has been fun for him.
“We know what it’s like having flooding nearby,” Daniel said.
Jacoby said as adults, she and others are there to guide the students.
“We’re here to be references and to guide them, but we’re not here to give them the answers,” Jacoby said. “Having that teamwork, having that passion for the programming, being able to do the research projects, being able to talk about these things and stand up and present it, as adults we know how important that is.”
Andrew said he thinks his team has a chance at nationals after state.
“You have to rank in the top 15 in all parts, not just the robots,” Andrew said. “Team exercises are pretty important. It’s having each other’s backs.”
Kalynda said she enjoys the robots in FIRST LEGO League, and that the whole team is a unit.
“We all get along,” she said.
Ethan, the other fourth-grader beside Kalynda on team, said he was surprised at how quickly the team has succeeded.
“Last year, we got last place in the whole competition out of 27 teams, and this year we got third place out of everyone,” Ethan said. “We have kids that have experience. We know more than we did last year, and we were so wound up to do it that we put our hardest work into it. I went home (after the state qualifier) and had a milkshake, ate ice cream and had some cake that my dad picked up while we were driving home. I was so happy that we earned a trophy this year.”