Ask 14-year-old Tylesha Smith what younger students should learn from her recent experience as a member of an all-female robotics team, and she doesn’t hesitate.

“They can do anything they want,” says the seventh grader at Robinson Elementary.

Tylesha’s confidence stems from being a member of the Robinson FeMale Robotics team that won the presentation trophy at a FIRST Lego League competition at Toledo Technology Academy in December and was one of 18 teams -- the only all-female team and the only TPS team -- that competed at a regional competition at Bowling Green State University later that month.

“It was a shocking moment when we won the trophy,” said eighth grader Destinee Ferrell, 13. Teammate Ashani Smith, a sixth grader new to the team this year, admits to crying when the team was announced as a winner of a trophy.

The team, made up of six students in 6th through 8th grades, is guided by Cynthia Madanski, the science support teacher for grades K-8 at Robinson.

Mrs. Madanski attended a summer camp a couple of years ago at TTA to learn about having a robotics team at Robinson and last year, oversaw the all-female team and a co-ed one.

The FeMale Robotics team (named for the symbol for iron and another word for man) this year was sponsored by the Women in Engineering program at The Ohio State University.

“They sponsored our registration, our t-shirts and our robot,” said Mrs. Madanski.

The Women in Engineering program at OSU was established in 1979 in order to increase the participation of women within the engineering profession.

In partnership with corporations, faculty, students and alumni, educational and community organizations, the program’s mission is “to work as a change agent to increase the number of women pursuing engineering degrees and entering the workforce as engineering professionals.”

The current members of the FeMale team had to write an essay, explaining why they wanted to be part of the team and show they were committed to staying on the team throughout the competition season.

Tylesha admits that when she first heard about the team, she signed up simply ‘because it sounded like fun.’ Now, two years in, her favorite part is ‘that we all get to work together as a team.’

Each year, the FIRST LEGO League releases a challenge, based on a real-world scientific topic, and which has three parts: The Robot Game, the Project and the Core Values. Teams made up of up to 10 children, with at least one adult coach, participate in the challenge by programming an autonomous robot to score points on a themed playing field (The Robot Game), developing a solution to a problem they have identified (Project) and learn to practice the FIRST Lego League Core Values of Gracious Professionalism and Coopertition, which essentially means competing always, but assisting and enabling others when you can.

In the 2015 FIRST Lego League Trash Trek Challenge, more than 233,000 students ages 9 to 16, from more than 80 countries, explored the world of trash. This year’s project consisted of finding a unique solution to better dispose of something being thrown out in the trash.

The FeMale team hit upon nail polish and learned a great deal about the right – and the wrong ways – of disposing of a bottle.

Ask them their findings, and they rattle off that they found nail polish is harmful to plants and can poison drinking water so old bottles should be disposed of at a hazardous waste recycling center. If that can’t be done, explains Tylesha, the bottle should be taken outside, the top should be removed, and the polish should be allowed to dry out so the bottle can then be tossed.

Once the girls did their research, they had to figure out a way to deliver their information to a panel of judges. That’s when their personalities and style came into play. The girls wrote and performed a rap, set to the theme song from The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, while wearing red tutus.

That added a little ‘pizazz,’ Mrs. Madanski says.

That pizazz helped the girls win the presentation trophy at the FIRST Lego League Competition at Toledo Technology Academy in December. The team was one of 8 out of 24 that moved on to the regional competition at BGSU earlier this month. Eighteen teams competed there and while the FeMale team did not advance, they learned a great deal from the experience.

Seventh grader My-Yanna Braff, 13, admits she at first thought all of the teams were from Toledo.

“I learned they were from all over [northwest Ohio],” she says.

Ask each FeMale team member which part they like best about competition, and they all come up with different answers.

Destinee, who has applied to TTA and likes the idea of being an engineer, says she likes doing investigations and constructing the robot; Tylesha likes figuring out “the problem that we have to solve and … communicating our answers.”

Tylesha’s twin, Rytresha, says she likes learning about the Core Values best.

Lego League is now over for the school year, but the FeMale team members are already thinking ahead to next season.

“You learn that if you don’t line everything up correctly, it won’t work. And that can be frustrating and irritating, but you learn to never quit,” says sixth grader Caitlin Warts, 12. “Some teams we saw this year had sensors, so that’s going to be our goal for next year.”

To learn more about the FIRST Lego League, go to: http://www.firstlegoleague.org/

Posted on January 22, 2016