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LEGO League Conserves Water at Shambhala School

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FIRST LEGO League is a global youth challenge in over 88 countries, with 32,000 competing teams and over 255,000 participants. Teams are challenged to research a problem on an assigned theme and develop a solution. Annual themes are real-world issues like food safety, recycling, or energy. The theme for 2017-18 is hydrodynamics. LEGO League is a fun way for students to learn STEM concepts and develop skills like problem-solving, critical thinking, and teamwork.

There are three components in the LEGO League competition: the Robotics Game, the Project, and Core Values. For the robotics game, teams must design, build, and program an autonomous robot using LEGO MINDSTORM technology which they then use to score points on a table-top playing field. For the project, teams must develop a solution to a problem they have identified within the annual theme. Core Values is a component to consider how the team works together to achieve their goals.

Teams take their robots and design projects to official competitions and may progress from local to global competitions. The Shambhala School in Halifax had two teams enter the FIRST LEGO League: the Shambhala Strikers and the Shambhala Shadow-Sparks. Both created innovative projects that support their community and address water access issues. Students volunteer their evenings, weekends, and holidays to create projects and design their robots. Their enthusiasm is palpable!

The Core Values component is held in the highest regard by these Shambhala School teams and that is evident in the way they support and encourage each other. This was noted by the judges at the competitions, and the Shambhala Strikers received the Core Values award at the NSCC Regional Qualifier! Congratulations! At the same Regional Qualifier, the Shambhala Shadow-Sparks received the Project Award and the Champion’s Award. They proceeded to the Championship Competition held at Acadia University where they won First Place in Project Research.

The Shambhala Strikers team members are Bronwen, Kylee, Claire, Quinn and Gemma, who focused on the problem of single-use plastic bottles. They learned that only 23% of plastic bottles are recycled and decided to design a solution. First, these students researched how plastic bottles are produced. They called plastics companies to ask what materials are used in the creation of plastic bottles. They also contacted local farms to ask for donations of compostable by-products for their project. They even received free corn husks, and created compostable water bottles that they named the “Husky Bottle”!

To create compostable bottles, the Shambhala Strikers boiled corn husks with soda ash for two hours. Then they rinsed the husks and pureed them in a blender to make a paste. Once drained, the husk paste was pressed with a stack of books to dry out the husks. In the first design, the husks were then wrapped around a glass bottle and then coated with beeswax. The team then experimented with different prototypes. One small design used only beeswax and no corn husk paper. They tried filling balloons with sand and coated the balloons with beeswax. It took seven layers, which took 13.9 grams of beeswax and cost a total of 29 cents. Once the beeswax was dry, the students wrapped the bottle in cornhusks and pressed leaves into the side to make a pattern. They then put hot water into the balloon to loosen it to remove it. The final step was doing a pH test of the water, and the results were neutral- the right result!

The students have future hopes for their compostable bottle project. They have talked to a local restaurant, Mothers Pizza, where staff liked the idea of this design for take-out containers. One of the coaches of the team, Natalia, is in touch with a professor of chemistry at Cape Breton University who works with natural polymers. The students are going to write a letter to ask for further support.

The Shambhala Shadow-Sparks, made up of Lauren, Avery, Jaeger, Momiji, and Raven, were inspired by Irene Oberman, the coordinator of the North End Community Circle Garden. This community garden has no running water. Twice a week, it takes two hours to water the garden and volunteers like Irene must move hoses up and down the hill at the garden. The objective for students was to build a water collection system that increases the efficiency of watering the garden.

Their first rain barrel prototype was a small bucket with an upside-down umbrella on top to collect water and clay to assist with condensation. There was a spigot with pool noodles and tubes to distribute water from the bucket to the garden beds when the spigot was opened. The system needed to collect water efficiently, while also being weather-proof and portable. The Shadow-Sparks continued to develop the initial design to include a large plastic drum that could hold 55 gallons of water. This drum was donated to the project by a mechanic. First, power tools were used to cut off the top. A flying saucer-style sled was secured to the top of the drum. The shape of the sled allows rain to drain into the barrel through the saucer where holes have been drilled. The sled can then catch and filter debris such as leaves. The students also inserted a spigot on the side of the barrel which has a hose to distribute the rainwater to the garden beds.

While the initial design is going to be used this season in the community garden, Irene also wrote a proposal for a grant to make more. The team hopes to make one rain barrel for each garden bed. The students also hope their design can be used at other local gardens such as Common Roots Urban Farm.

A big thank you must be given to the coaches of these teams, Allison, Natalia, Jason, and Alec (not pictured). The students on the LEGO Robotics team at Shambhala have demonstrated innovation and passion in their projects. Congratulations to these teams on all of their success and we look forward to following your accomplishments in the future. It’s amazing what you can do when you work together!

~Amber McMunn
Engagement Officer, HRM

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