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News Release

4-H Youth Program Robots to Promote Healthy Choices

Teams Compete in First of Two Local 4-H Robotics Showcase Events

DOWNERS GROVE, Ill. – Five 4-H robotics team members huddle around their robot, tossing out ideas and agreeing on what adjustments to make. Each young face periodically switches between a smile and a determined look. Their fingers fiddle with gears and pieces, or key in tweaks on the laptop. No judges are watching. No parents or coaches are telling them what to do.

“This is what it’s all about,” said volunteer coach Mark Blumka, as he watched the team. “Kids working together, doing what they love, trying hard to get it right, even when they can’t score points.”

Although done with competition for the day. The group continued to work together to find solutions.

More than 20 4-H teams of middle-school students displayed such technical and teamwork skills during the 4-H Robotics Showcase in Downers Grove last month. Each designed and programmed robots to address the 2017 Health ‘Bot Challenge, which combined robotic tasks with a healthy living theme.

Each January, it all starts with the official challenge announcement from the Illinois 4-H office. 

“It’s really about figuring out how to do the tasks and how to work well with people to get it done,” said Elizabeth Berberich of Trinity Trailblazers, who has been a part of her team for four years. “We learn a lot through the process.”

“Awards or not, these kids develop critical life skills, such as teamwork, organization, communication, and problem solving,” said Donna Nuger, 4-H Youth Development Educator with University of Illinois Extension.  “Plus, we have lots of fun! This year, the youth also learned more about the healthy choices they can make in their own lives.”

The Downers Grove event was the first of two showcases serving DuPage, Kane and Kendall Counties. The second will be April 8 in Elgin.

“The program grew in popularity over the last five years, and this year, we are hosting two events to accommodate the 50 teams,” said Nuger. “Every year, I am impressed with the creativity, programming, design and teamwork from these hard-working youth.”

In Downers Grove on March 18, 4-H’ers showcased Lego Mindstorm or EV3 robots and were evaluated in creativity, table performance, and technical categories. The Health ‘Bot Challenge required teams to design robots and program them to perform tasks related to nutrition, exercise and other healthy choices. For example, a robot may sort nutritious foods into food groups, exercise by moving a ball around, or even climb into a bed to represent a good night’s sleep.

Each successfully completed task earned points in the table event portion of the showcase, and during technical judging, the teams discuss their tasks and how they programmed the robot and built their playing field. Teams also were judged on a separate teamwork task that they were given at the event, and had to work together to solve it in front of judges.

Overall, Trinity Trailblazers of DuPage County earned the Grand Champion honors and the Best Table Performance Award. The team includes Elizabeth Berberich, Moriah Berberich, John Campbell, Justin Gergen, Aidan Groppe, Joseph Kaufman, William Kuehner, Jacob Reitzel, Eliyah Stefanski, Sarah Stefanski and Augustine Villalobos. They are coached by John Groppe.

The Reserve Grand Champion team was Code One of Herrick Middle School of Downers Grove. Members included Madeline Antonio, Carissa Blumka, Hannah Crowe, Aisling Kerr, Saoirse Kerr, Henry Locker, and Kevin Palczynski. The group is coached by Jill Henry, Natalie Henry-Pasano and Mark Blumka.

Additional Health ‘Bot honors went to teams from DuPage and Kane counties:

  • Rookie Award - Simmons Middle School Team 2 of Aurora
  • Team Spirit Award - Tech No Logic, O'Neill Middle School of Downers Grove
  • Teamwork Award - Return of the PolkaBots, O'Neill Middle School
  • Most Creative Award - Nova Lemons, O'Neill Middle School
  • Programming Award - Fried Rice, Herrick Middle School of Downers Grove
  • Engineering Design - Error 404 (team name not found), Herrick Middle School
  • Best Table Performance - Trinity Trailblazers of DuPage County
  • Judges' Choice - Team Apples, Churchville Middle School of Elmhurst

Many teams also have registered for the 9th Annual State 4-H Robotics Competition this May.

“Through our regional events, our local teams have now experienced a competition format and have received helpful feedback from qualified judges,” said Nuger. “The goal is to continue to learn, adjust and move forward. It’s not about how you finished, but where you end up. These experiences will benefit youth throughout life.”

The 4-H regional event in Downers Grove was organized and run by volunteers and members of 4-H Robotics Team STEMper Fi, which competes at the FIRST Tech Challenge level, and it was hosted by Downers Grove School District 58 and O’Neill Middle School with Illinois 4-H and University of Illinois Extension.

“It takes scores of volunteers to make the showcase events happen and a core of dedicated coaches to oversee teams throughout the year,” said Nuger. “We appreciate everyone who gives of their time and talents to make this program a success for hundreds of our local youth. We also extend our appreciation to all the participants, families and special guests. 4-H is truly a community.”

For more information on the 4-H program in your county, visit web.extension.illinois.edu/dkk/.

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University of Illinois Extension provides educational programs and research-based information to help Illinois residents improve their quality of life, develop skills and solve problems. University of Illinois Extension provides equal opportunities in programs and employment.

Source: Donna Nuger, Extension Educator, 4-H Youth Development (Metro Communities), dnuger@illinois.edu