Tech is tops at expo

Photo by LORETTA JACKSON A fine showing as representatives of Mastricola Elementary School was made by all of its FIRST Lego League Junior Expo teammates, foreground from left, Mrs. Tiffney Trant, a teacher; Abigail Trant; Zoey Parker; Joey Schiavo; and Canaan royer; joined by Lochlan Fletcher, standing, and others awaiting the evening’s award ceremony.

Computer programs coded by teams of elementary students from Thorntons Ferry School, Reeds Ferry School and Mastricola Elementary School activated the robotic vehicles that during a recent FIRST Lego League Junior Expo at Thorntons Ferry scooted across moonscapes stocked with survival structures.

Fences and supply sheds and fuel depots were constructed by the young makers at the event on March 7. Everything they replicated assisted human survival upon the moon. Rockets graced launch pads. Water pipelines were Lego constructions. Food storage and transport problems vanished through creative thinking and inventions built from shared Lego blocks, a thousand or more in rainbow colors.

Nancy Rose, CETL, director of technology and library media services for the Merrimack School District, commended event organizer Chad Coolidge, a parent volunteer who coordinates the Thorntons Ferry School FIRST Lego League Junior teams and the expo.

She noted that the range of technical activities in Merrimack schools has rapidly expanded. The well-known acronym, “STEM,” short for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, lately has adopted an “A” to represent Art.

The STEAM appellation, she said, brings an extra dimension to STEM, for it is artists who render graphic designs, sculptural prototypes, photographs and blueprints.

“These STEAM programs allow kids to get hands-on experience in problem solving,” Rose said. “They learn to code and they’re doing real-world projects while engaging in team building.”

Rose noted that the school district last year was the recipient of a Federal Title IV grant of $43,000 for robotics, STEAM education and staff development. The grant secured funding for expanding FIRST programs and others.

The FIRST program morphed from its root, “For Inspiration & Recognition of Science & Technology.” It was founded in 1989 in Manchester by inventor Dean Kamen, an entrepreneur and proponent of sharing science and technology with others.

Rose added earlier that town trustees gave an additional $50,000 for iPads to further the education of Merrimack’s three pre-kindergarten through grade-four schools. In addition, Android tablets were made available to the schools with older children. Some compact STEAM kits currently are encouraging students to explore coding and build robots.

“These funds enabled us to acquire a number of ‘Maker Ed’ technologies and establish a library which we manage as part of the district library program,” Rose said. “We move equipment around the district all the time.”

Ken St. Hilaire, senior mentor for FIRST, said the enthusiasm of students is fantastic to behold. Mastricola had six teams at the expo. Reeds Ferry sent five teams. Thorntons Ferry had around nine. A home-schooled team competed.

“There are upwards of 20 FIRST teams through high school,” St. Hilaire said. “Our goal is to get kids involved at a young age – get them started in technology, now.”

Julie DeLuca, assistant principal for Thorntons Ferry School, toured the dozens of booths at the expo. She said the level of creativity displayed by the youngsters was rewarding to witness.

“We work a lot on creativity and inquiry, asking questions as part of our learning,” said DeLuca. “We are thrilled to offer any program that supports these learning efforts.”

Information on FIRST programs, including FIRST Lego League Junior; FIRST Lego League; FIRST Tech Challenge; and FIRST Robotics Competition, programs that are noted on the FIRST website to thus far have reached more than 400,000 young people, can be had online: firstinspires.org.

Loretta Jackson may be contacted via email: