AUSTINVILLE — Laurel Elementary’s First Lego League (FLL) team is a colony of problem-solving Energizer Bunnies. The strength of the Sea Scavengers’ solution to stop light pollution from killing baby sea turtles has propelled the group to seek a First Lego League Global Innovation Award, following regional competition.
This honor is presented by XPRIZE® and is a competition intended to showcase innovative, real-world solutions FLL teams create as a result of their Project.
Information provided by XPRIZE indicates the goal is to get kids thinking like innovators. The Award encourages and assists teams to further develop solutions to real-world problems demonstrating originality with the potential to add significant value to the world. According to fifth grade teacher and FLL Coach Mark Nottingham, this year’s innovation competition asked teams to become “Animal Allies.” The team rolled up its sleeves, got down to research and was surprised to find out light pollution endangers newly hatched sea turtles.
The members of the Sea Scavengers are Ryan Gallimore, Nathan Barker, Katelyn Wheatley, Kadance Gravely, Neila Stewart, Samantha Lineberry, Garret Frazier and Katie Graham. Stewart explained this year’s FLL competition asked participants to concentrate on an animal problem caused by human interaction.
“We found out (artificial light attracting baby turtles away from the ocean) was the number one problem for sea turtles. We figured that since it was the number one problem maybe we can solve that and make it not a problem.” said Gravely. The team agreed none of them had heard of this problem before.
The Scavengers’ solution is a nine-foot diameter dome which supports fabric that dims artificial light. The dome’s frame is made from PEX pipe (polyethylene tubing) and a four-foot runway from the dome serves as a chute to guide the young turtles to the sea. Stakes can also be used to anchor it in the case of a high wind. The entire solution cost $118 and was made from materials purchased locally. It can be assembled and placed by one person over the clutch of turtle eggs in the sand. The team said if it were mass produced the cost per dome could be $100.
Team members said after deciding what they needed to do, they met an additional two days after school to be sure the project was finished on time. All agreed the presentation portion of the competition was their favorite part. Frazier was credited with coming up with the initial idea of using a dome.
“I thought the tunnel would be so they couldn’t escape. So they can only go in one direction. Towards the moon and not go any other direction,” said Frazier.
The team talked with Myrtle Beach State Park’s Ann Wilson and Michelle Tate of the South Carolina Marine Turtle Conservation Program. They said both Tate and Wilson said the solution shows promise. According to Nottingham, judges encouraged the team to enter the global competition on the strength of the solution. (The team did not advance to State following regionals in Abingdon in 2016 and finished as runners up.)
“They (FLL) have extended the season by allowing products to go on. This is something FLL does. Something that can go into mass production. At the end of this there will be one team globally that wins $20,000 to produce their product. Everybody on the team will get a free robot, which is an exciting part for everyone. Second and third places get $5,000 towards the production of their product,” Nottingham said.
Nottingham said the team made its deadline (last week) for submitting its video and application. The students said another part of the reason they wanted to continue is they had fun solving problems and presenting their solutions. Stewart said participating had helped her to overcome a shyness of speaking in public. He praised the support of the School District’s Gifted Program Specialist Shanda Sinnett for FLL competition.
David Broyles may be reached at 276-779-4013 or on Twitter@CarrollNewsDave.