Catholic school robotics teams in championship competition

St. Peter’s Cosmic Magikarps Robotics team, fifth, sixth and seventh graders Kai and Zayan Barnes,  Seamus Hellings, Leo Gajewski, Matthew Ong and Jack Swanson point out features of their project to redesign education.  (Marty Denzer/Key photo)

St. Peter’s Cosmic Magikarps Robotics team, fifth, sixth and seventh graders Kai and Zayan Barnes, Seamus Hellings, Leo Gajewski, Matthew Ong and Jack Swanson point out features of their project to redesign education. (Marty Denzer/Key photo)

By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Reporter

KANSAS CITY — Students today have unlimited information literally at their fingertips. But how do they learn to understand and use that information effectively? Enter Legos.

For more than six decades, children and adults have played with, built houses, castles, railroads and even scale models of spacecraft with Legos, developed and produced by a Danish toy company. In 1998 the First Lego League Robotics Competition was established. Beginning with robots built from Legos that students ages 9 – 14 were challenged to program to complete a “mission,” to the challenge of 2014-15, robotics plus a project to engage more than 267,000 children from 80 countries in the redesigning of knowledge and skill gathering; teaching adults the ways kids want and need to learn in the world of the 21st Century.

In the Kansas City area, about 160 teams from public and non-public elementary and middle schools accepted the challenge by First Lego League (FLL) and its partner, KCSTEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) Alliance way back at the beginning of the 2014-15 academic year. Three diocesan Catholic elementary schools, Nativity of Mary in Independence, St. Peter’s in Kansas City and Our Lady of the Presentation in Lee’s Summit put together a total of 5 teams, all of which qualified for the Championship, held Jan. 17 at Union Station.

St. Peter’s team, the Cosmic Magikarps was comprised of six boys in the fifth, sixth and seventh grades.  Kai and Zayan Barnes, Leo Gajewski, Seamus Hellings, Matthew Ong and Jack Swanson named their team after their favorite Pokemon game character.

Focusing on the Core Values of the project established by FLL — Teamwork; Working with guidance from coaches and mentors; Friendly competition; Inspiration; Sharing; Displaying “Generous Professionalism” and “Coopertition” (cooperation in the face of competition), and Having fun — they developed a video game to help students memorize math formulas, language arts rules and more. Based on the popular Lego Minecraft game, the team, working with coach Elizabeth Ong and some other parents, said their game could be tweaked so that “it would work for every type of memorization.”

The team also built a robot out of Legos, and learned the coding and programming to get its “brain” to work and carry out its mission, involving opening and closing a door constructed of Legos, following a specific route around the table set up for the Robotic missions, and following the commands coded in to the brain by the team.

Nativity of Mary’s Team, the Nighthawks (See Legos are paired with learning for Nativity kids with special needs, Catholic Key, Nov. 24), tweaked their project, using Legos and Duplos to construct learning aids for students at Nativity School who benefit from the school’s partnering with FIRE Foundation. Trevor Beck, Nick Leete, John Murphy, Tommy Araujo, Kylie Aiken, Colin Murphy, Quinton Wilson, John Hollo, Jacob and Alek Smitka, working with coaches Stephanie Hollo and Bev Araujo, enhanced some of their Core Values display with new information discovered since the Nov. 15 regional competition.

The fifth, sixth and eighth grade teams at Our Lady of the Presentation all qualified for the championship.

The fifth grade team, comprised of Joe McNamara, Henry Meiners, Will Merit and Jack Wheeler, wanted to teach children and adults about Asthma. They designed the game Asthma-Nopoly, a board game with information, trivia and tips on asthma care, based on the Milton Bradley game Monopoly.

The sixth grade team, Vinny Campo, Obi Oligbo, Clare Scheier, Will Waris and Eric Warnecke, with coaching by Sharon Campo and Mark Warnecke, designed, in theory, glasses based on Google Glasses, that could help both children and adults make better nutritional choices. The glasses, christened Joggles, would make any meal choice containing more than 30 percent fat appear unappetizing. They would also search a database and project the foods’ nutritional information, how long and how much exercise would be necessary to burn off the calories and an alternative, healthier choice, all onto the lens.

The eighth grade team the Crazy 8s, finalized their project, Missouri’s Impact on the Civil War, for the championship. Working with coach George Merit and mentor Janet Scheier, the display boards were embellished with photographs of the five Missouri battlefields — Wilson’s Creek, Pea Ridge, Lone Jack, Island Mound and Westport. The video made of the battlefield tours by Christopher Pouncil, Danielle Rotert, Theresa Scheier, Jacob Sellinger and Kelsey Wilcoxson is now available online to the public.

The three teams all built robots out of Legos and learned how to code commands so that the robots would fulfill their specific mission.

Our Lady of Presentation Eighth grader Christopher Pouncil adjusts his team’s LEGO robot during an official practice round. (Marty Denzer/Key photo)

Our Lady of Presentation Eighth grader Christopher Pouncil adjusts his team’s LEGO robot during an official practice round. (Marty Denzer/Key photo)

The Grand Hall in Union Station was filled with more than 400 children, coaches, volunteers, families and friends gathering to cheer on their teams.

The morning was crowded with the opening ceremony and team parades, team practicing, scored practice rounds, and judging. Judging, which was closed to the public, was on the presentations of each team’s FLL project. The robots were judged in the afternoon.

After all the projects, teams and robots were judged, some teams were awarded trophies, while most went home determined to do better next year.

Elizabeth Ong emailed The Catholic Key later with the results for St. Peter’s team. “The team had a fun and successful day but did not win any awards. They finished 17th out of 40 teams, with a personal best high score of 175 in the robot games. Not bad for our second year!”

Janet Scheier wrote in her email that the Crazy 8s Robotics team bright home an award for Core Values — Inspiration. “This award celebrates a team that is empowered by their FLL experience and displays extraordinary enthusiasm and spirit,” she wrote. “The trophy is even made of Legos! All the teams had a great day. It was a celebration of all they’ve accomplished this season.”

Stephanie Hollo, teacher and Robotics coach at Nativity of Mary School said she was so proud of the Nighthawks team. They scored high on the robotics judging, but did not bring home an award. Hollo said, “Our award is bringing our games back to Nativity to use in our classrooms. They will be learning tools for Nativity students with special needs. And a lot of visitors stopped by our pit (where the project was displayed) and said ‘We want to use this idea in our classrooms.’ That is our award. And there’s always next year!”

She said the team was interviewed on Fox-4 and did “an amazing job of representing our school!”

Elizabeth Ong also wrote, “Going forward, there is talk among the other Catholic schools in attendance to collaborate a bit to share ideas on what we all can do to sustain and improve the (First Lego League) programs.”

The five teams from the Kansas City-St. Joseph diocesan grade schools and a team from John Paul II School in the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas, together made up 12 percent of the teams present at the championship. The coaches from Presentation, Nativity and St. Peter’s were pretty proud of that. This was the fourth year for robotics at Presentation, the third for Nativity and second for St. Peter’s.

For more information of First Lego League, and KCStem Alliance, visit


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December 02, 2020
The Diocese of Kansas City ~ St. Joseph