Kids have robots flush toilets, fix pipes at JHS 278 robotics tournament

Robotic movements: Kids made robots move around, fix pipes, and more at the robotics tournament at JHS 278 in Marine Park on Feb. 10.
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They learned the nuts and bolts of teamwork!

Students from across the borough together commanded robots to run around, repair pipes, and flush toilets, at the robotics tournament at Junior High School 278 in Marine Park on Feb. 10, and excited parents said the process of building robots with other students helps build the people skills children need.

“Robotics really enforces good teamwork and social building,” said Cindy Heit, whose son, Gavin Smiler, a seventh-grader at JHS 278, participated.

The tournament was a regional qualifier for the city tournament on March 11 held by First Lego League — an international organization that holds robotics tournaments.

This year’s competition’s theme was how humans interact with water, hence the robots — many of the which were built with Lego blocks, flushing toilets.

The competition extended beyond robots doing things and into research, however. JHS 278’s own Water Wires team won best research presentation for its work on how trout can be used to monitor drinking water. The students raised trout from the time they were eggs for six months, and then released them into part of the city’s watershed of drinking water in Westchester. Trout are a fragile fish, and so their population helps indicate if a body of water is safe to drink from. The students kept them alive in a tank, using aquarium testing kits to monitor the water and ensure they survived the transition, according to school science and robotics teacher Bruce Gamsey. They used a chiller to keep the water temperature in their tank, and tested the acidity and other indicators there daily to make sure it matched the area where they were later released, he said.

The students impressed with their presentation because of their commitment to science, according to Gamsey.

“It takes dedicated kids to meet at 7:15 every morning,” he said. “They’re self-motivated.”

Nine teams of the 24 moved on to the city tournament, according to Gamsey.

Heit said the competitive atmosphere is part of why she supports her son’s interest in robotics and science. Smiler was part of the winning Water Wires team.

“It’s good not having all the kids getting trophies because it’s a real life lesson,” she said. “Not everyone wins, and if you don’t, you need to learn where to go from there and pick yourself up.”

Reach reporter Adam Lucente at or by calling (718) 260–2511. Follow him on Twitter @Adam_Lucente.
Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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