Martinsville Middle School’s Lego League one of 20 Teams in World Competition

middle_school_robotics Front: William Morrison (left), Tyler Carr. Back: Reagan Wright (left), Captain Tim Jamison, Ruby Flores, Tyra Valentine, Kassidy Dodson, Natalie LaPrade, Nayti Patel, Karlee Shively, Firefighter Billy Akers.

A team of students at Martinsville Middle School will be one of 20 semi-finalists competing next month in a global robotics tournament.

The team’s invention, however, is already a winner with Martinsville Fire & EMS and Henry County Public Safety.

“Martinsville Fire & EMS is honored to be able to not only play a role in helping with the idea, but more importantly to be a part of seeing these great students represent our City with such enthusiasm and professionalism,” said Martinsville FIRE and EMS Lt. Todd Owens. “We are very proud to watch them grow. Thank you for asking us to be a part of this great accomplishment! Go Bulldogs!”

Absolute Zero, a Division 2 FIRST ® LEGO® League team comprised of 10 Martinsville Middle School students ranging in age from 12-14, won regional and state competitions to advance to the world tournament.

Team members include William Morrison, Reagan Wright, Natalie LaPrade, Tyler Carr, Tyra Valentine, Nayti Patel, Olivia Keller, Karlee Shively, Kassidy Dodson, and Ruby Flores. The team is coached by Martinsville City Public Schools STEM and Career Coordinator Lizzy Fulcher, Patrick Henry Elementary School STEM Teacher Liz Lynch, and Clearview Early Childhood Center VPI Preschool Teacher Emily Harrell.

“Hard work pays off in the end,” said team member Tyra Valentine. “For example, we spent a lot of time during school, after school, and even on the weekends. If it wasn’t for all of the hard work, dedication, and time that we all put in, we wouldn’t be where we are now.”

The FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Lego League is an annual, multi-stage competition attracting more than 60,000 teams from around the world. Competitors develop projects based on a theme and are judged on four components: robot game, robot design, project innovation, and core values.

On the basis of its performances in previous competitions, Martinsville was nominated by its region for a Global Innovation Award, where they could win a $20,000 grant to make their innovative solution to the annual challenge theme’s problem a reality. Submissions were reviewed by a panel of judges consisting of experts from engineering and industrial fields as well as experts in the challenge theme for that year. Teams were judged on problem identification, innovation, implementation, and effective use of STEM principles.

From all of the teams nominated by every FIRST LEGO League region, Martinsville was one of 20 teams selected as semi-finalists and invited to attend the Global Innovation Award Celebration. At this event, the teams will present to a panel of judges, and the first place and other finalist teams winning cash prizes are announced.

Semifinalists normally compete at Disney World in Orlando, Florida, but due to COVID-19, this year’s global tournament will shift to a virtual platform. The world competition will take place June 24-27.

This season’s theme was “City Shapers,” and team members were tasked with identifying a problem in their community and creating a realistic solution. Absolute Zero worked hand-in-hand with Lieutenant Todd Owen of Martinsville Fire & EMS on a taxing and dangerous problem EMS responders face: maneuvering a traditional stretcher through snow on the ground.

Absolute Zero then partnered with Henry County Public Safety, who graciously allowed the team to borrow a stretcher to help them design and create their innovative solution, the Wheel2Ski: a ski-like adaptation that EMS workers can quickly attach to a traditional stretcher, transforming it into a life-saving device that can glide across the snow for faster patient rescue. The team is applying for a provisional patent for their innovation.

“We went through many different variants of the design until we realized that we needed something to grip the stretcher itself and a braking system to hold the skis in place after talking with Lt. Todd Owen,” said team member William Morrison.

“Our innovation is important,” added team member Nayti Patel, “because during the winter when there is snow, people may get into a medical emergency where a stretcher is needed. With our innovation it will be easier to get the patient on the stretcher and to the hospital as fast as possible without any problems that may occur dealing with the stretcher in the snow.”

Absolute Zero competed against 16 teams, both Division 1 and 2, in the Regional FIRST Lego League Tournament at Martinsville Middle School on November 16, 2019. The team excelled in all categories, winning the Champion’s Award for the tournament which advanced them to the state competition Dec. 7-8 in Harrisonburg, Virginia.

Prior to the state competition, Absolute Zero entered Patrick Henry Community College’s Big Idea Challenge to refine their innovation and to obtain guidance, mentorship, and the use of technical equipment. Throughout this 30-day competition, team members met weekly with professionals in the community to help them gain a better understanding of what it takes to be an entrepreneur. Team members William Morrison and Nayti Patel pitched the team’s Wheel2Ski to a panel of judges. Once again, Absolute Zero was successful and won Patrick Henry’s Big Idea Challenge.

With much preparation and practice, Absolute Zero headed to the FIRST Lego League state competition. The two-day event consisted of multiple competitions from over 100 Division 1 and Division 2 teams from all over Virginia. Due to the rigor of the state tournament, Absolute Zero focused on the project innovation and core values categories. The team was awarded first place for project innovation for Division 2 and were also honored with the Global Innovation nomination for the state of Virginia.

“I feel like it’s a great accomplishment and experience for our team” said team member Reagan Wright. “It’s very exciting, and I’m so proud of all of our team for making it so far together.”

The students also were full of praise for their coaches. “I’ve done robotics throughout my whole life and I have gone through a lot of coaches, but the coaches I had this year are different,” team member Olivia Keller said. “They inspired me to break out of my shell a lot more and to never give up, even if things get hard. I love my coaches so much and they have taught me so much this past year.”

Absolute Zero has been supported by the community throughout this season, and team members thanked their numerous community partners: Martinsville City Public Schools, Martinsville Fire & EMS, Henry County Public Safety, Absolute Zero Parents, Patrick Henry Community College’s FAB LAB, Di’lishi Frozen Yogurt Bar, Jones & Deshon Orthodontics, Berry Elliott – Julian Mei, S & K Office Supply, Gym 24, El Parral Mexican Restaurant, Larry and Alley Furniture, Inc., Connection Market, and Mr. Phillip Murphy.

“I know that personally I cannot be grateful enough for the donations and support that we have received from our sponsors and members from our community,” said team member Natalie LaPrade. “They not only helped us afford certain equipment that we needed along our journey, but also listened when we needed information or took time out of their day to take a look into our project.”

Team member Karlee Shively said that being on Absolute Zero is more than just being on a robotics team. “It has been a great learning opportunity,” she noted, “but it has also given me a second family and built great friendships.”

Team member Ruby Flores said the experience has taught her that anything is possible, and people can accomplish anything they set their mind to.

“Being on Absolute Zero has meant everything to me,” Flores said, “because looking a few years back when my sister was on Absolute Zero, I always wanted to be a part of that team. It has been an amazing learning experience where I have met amazing team members and mentors. It has been a dream come true!”

FIRST was founded in 1989 to inspire young people’s interest and participation in science and technology. Based in Manchester, NH, the 501(c)(3) not-for-profit public charity designs accessible, innovative programs that motivate young people to pursue education and career opportunities in science, technology, engineering, and math, while building self-confidence, knowledge, and life skills.