The road from Legos to engineering starts here

Published Nov. 14, 2013

PORT RICHEY — When Christos Speros was a little boy, Legos were his favorite toy.

"I loved the way that you can build something from your imagination," said Christos, 15.

As a student at Bayonet Point Middle School, Christos, who wants to become a military engineer, learned that a robotics club was being founded at the school, and that the club would compete in a tournament that involved robots built with Lego parts.

"I said, 'Thank you God,' " he said.

Christos joined the Bayonet Point Middle robotics club, which last year won two honors at the first annual Robots At Rushe FLL (First LEGO League) Qualifying Tournament. In the Project Category, the Bayonet Point team Patriot Robots took first place and got the Rising Star Award.

Now a 10th-grader at River Ridge High School, Christos has returned to the school to mentor two new teams that stand among 16 competing in the tournament, which will take place Saturday at Charles S. Rushe Middle School in Land O'Lakes.

Hosted by Brick Buddies, a nonprofit STEM organization for local students, the tournament will include Lego league students ages 9-14, grades 4-8. Using the theme Nature's Fury, these pupils will be challenged to research, build and program a Lego NXT Mindstorms robot to complete up to 22 Robot Missions. Winners will advance to regional and state tournaments.

"Brick Buddies is something I started in Pasco … when my own student, JD, was interested in robotics and none of the schools were offering such a program," said Brick Buddies founder and tournament director Shelley Kappeler. "We started an FLL team in our living room and have continued to help and support Pasco County schools starting competitive FLL programs."

The tournament will feature Pasco-based teams from Bayonet Point, Crews Lake, Rushe, Chasco middle and Academy at the Lakes.

In a recent work session, Bayonet Point team members programmed a Lego robot via a computer to perform tasks pertaining to emergency management in natural disasters, like moving miniature emergency vehicles, delivering supplies, and driving over obstacles.

"Just about every profession involves technology and engineering, from medicine to agriculture, computers to police work," said Bill Hamrick, technology teacher at Bayonet Point Middle. "They're learning the math, science and teamwork skills that will help them get these jobs."

Robotics club member Kira Babiarz, 13, a Bayonet Point eighth-grader, plans to become a pediatrician.

"I like technology, and I love working with little kids," she said.

Shon Woods, an 11-year-old sixth-grader, wants to be a mechanic.

"I used to take things apart and see how they work," he said. "Now I like to put things together."

And eighth-grader Jimmy Newman, 14, hopes to become a robotics engineer.

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"Robotics is taking over the world," he said.

Also returning to the tournament are the two Lego league teams from Chasco Middle School — the Robotic Generation team and the Gigabotz team, which won the FLL Core Values Award last year.

Steven Burnley, director of technology at Academy at the Lakes, says the school will send two award-winning teams to the tournament this year in addition to hosting two high school STEM Club teams.

"Whether a kid's interest lies in engineering, construction or anything in between, they can find something to like about robotics," he said. "They can't learn these things in a textbook."