The “Misfit Mechanical Mages!", a team of 5th and 6th graders from Ottawa Hills Elementary School, are heading to Japan after receiving a top award at a state robotics tournament this month.
The team earned the invitation by receiving the “Engineering Excellence Award” at the FIRST LEGO League Ohio Championship. They are one of only seven FIRST LEGO League teams in the United States to advance. Even more remarkable, they are doing so despite competing against older teams (the league is for students in grades 4-8) and having only two members with prior robotics experience.
“They competed against 60 teams that were the best-of-the-best of 480 across Ohio,” said Crystal Burnworth, executive director of the Sylvania STEM Center, which is where the Misfits are based. “This is an incredible honor and accomplishment as this is the first time Ohio has been invited to Japan's invitational.”
The students are Jasper Allred (6), Maya Choksey (5), Quinn Culler (5), Kaed Egan (6), Mary Lathrop (5), Thomas Lathrop (5), Joe Mayer-Heckathorn (6), and Sahil Parikh (6). Coaches are Dr. Dhaval Parikh and George Lathrop.
The team advanced to the Ohio championships, held Feb. 1-2 at Wright State University, by performing well throughout the year and winning district and regional events. In Japan, the opening ceremonies of the FIRST LEGO League Japan Open International are May 7; competition takes place over the next three days, and concludes with a May 10 closing ceremony. Eighty teams from 50 countries are competing.
“Getting any kind of award at states is a pretty big accomplishment,” said Dr. Parikh, who has coached teams at the STEM Center for five years. “The team was really good this year and I thought going into states that we had a chance to maybe get a medal, but was very surprised we advanced.”
“This is a chance of a lifetime and the kids are really excited about it,” he added. “And we’re so happy that every family is making the commitment to attend.”
The “Engineering Excellence Award” goes to the team with the highest cumulative score from the categories of core values, robot game design, robot game competition, and project. (In the game competition, their robot placed 10th, the best-ever performance by a team at states from the Sylvania STEM Center.)
For their project, the Misfits presented the idea for incorporating ghost pepper into the insulation of electrical wiring to act as a deterrent to mice and other rodents and animals that chew on the material.
“Not only do you have to design the concept, but you have to pitch the idea, do market research, develop a prototype and talk to other experts,” Dr. Parikh said. “It’s the whole development of a product. The more you do with that project, the better you are going to score.”
In evaluating a team’s ability to work together (or core values), judges look for more than just team cohesion at events. For example, the Misfits raised $350 at a game-night fundraiser at the Sylvania STEM Center; the money created a scholarship for a student unable to pay the team-entry fees. “That all plays into it and that’s why they won the Engineering Excellence Award,” Dr. Parikh said. “They were a very balanced team.”
FIRST Ohio has agreed to pay the team’s entry fee to the Japan tournament, but families and students have to cover the costs of their own travel as well as shipping their robotics equipment. The team is expected to ask for corporate sponsorships and organize fundraisers to defray those costs.
In Japan like at states, the Misfits will face more experienced teams. “We’ll be going against older kids but we’re up for it,” Dr. Parikh said. "International teams can include up to 10th graders. The kids are looking forward to the challenge!"