By Rick Garrick

The Wiikwemkoong Pontiac School FIRST LEGO League (FLL) team enjoyed their first attempt at the FLL qualifying tournament at Dynamic Earth in Sudbury on Dec. 2.

“It was quite the honour to actually be picked for this robotics team,” says Isaiah Manitowabi-Bell, a Grade 8 student at Wiikwemkoong Pontiac School and a member of the school’s FLL team. “And it was fun, basically a way to spend my weekend. But it also had me thinking very deeply about First Nations people and what they are going through.”

This year’s FLL challenge was Hydrodynamics, with the teams asked to find problems and solutions in the human water cycle. The Pontiac FLL team focused their research on the water crisis situation in many First Nation communities.

“Our solution to the crisis was you would have a machine that was hooked up to the water, condenses water and after it gathers a certain amount of water it distills it and boils off some of the common poisons that are in the water,” Manitowabi-Bell says. “After that it’s put into a tower and that tower puts water into trucks and it is distributed among different communities.”

Catherine Harley, Grade 7 teacher at Wiikwemkoong Pontiac School and one of the coaches of the FLL team, says the tournament went “really well.”

“Myself and the other coach, (Grade 8 teacher) Adrian Rampersad, were very impressed with the students and their perseverance,” Harley says. “They didn’t give up. Every round that they participated in, they did better and better every time. And they were just awesome.”

Harley says the team was “very nervous” at the beginning of the tournament, but they just kept on going.

“Eventually the excitement overtook the nervousness,” Manitowabi-Bell says.

All of the teams were tasked with the building of a robot using LEGO Mindstorms to autonomously complete missions on a competition table.

“We had this room called the pit where all the other teams had their own table to work on their robot and their presentation,” Manitowabi-Bell says, noting the presentation portion of the tournament was held first with two judges. “After that you just go to game after game of testing your robot’s abilities against another team. The winner of that ended up being the Bionic Barons.”

Manitowabi-Bell says his team ran into a problem when their robot stopped working.

“We didn’t charge our robot and in one of our games it died,” Manitowabi-Bell says.

The Pontiac team was divided into two groups, with the Grade 8 students working on the presentation and the Grade 7 students working on the robotics.

“It was kind of hard because we only had about 20 minutes for me to do a program to try to make (the robot) work,” says Stella Flamand, one of the Grade 7 students.

Flamand looks forward to competing in the FLL tournament again next year. The FLL tournament is held for youth aged nine to 14 years old.

“I’ll try the program again,” Flamand says. “I’ll do more missions for the robot.”

Teams from the Sudbury FLL qualifying tournament earned the chance for qualification in the West Provincial Championship, which is scheduled for Jan. 28 at the University of Waterloo. Eighteen teams from the West and East Provincial Championships will participate in the FIRST Lego League – Ontario Innovation Celebration on Feb. 25. Three of those teams will be selected by the judges to represent Ontario in the Global Innovation Award competition, where the winner will receive $20,000 to make their innovation a reality.