Local children and their family members had some fun with plastic building blocks while learning about one of the oldest cities in the world.
Using 70,000 LEGO pieces on a 20-by-20-foot mat, members of Village Chabad in East Setauket created a replica of the Old City of Jerusalem Feb. 3. The LEGO model included many points of interest, such as the gate entrances to the city, the Tower of David, the Temple Mount, the Western Wall and more.
Rabbi Shalom Ber Cohen, from Village Chabad, said the goal of the program was for those involved to leave the event with an admiration for the holy city.
Village Chabad brought in architect Stephen Schwartz of New Jersey-based Building Blocks Workshops to lead the children, parents and grandparents in constructing the model. On the mat were lines to help guide the building efforts. While some sat on the mat constructing walls and towers, others on the sidelines started putting together the buildings, grabbing LEGO pieces from bins.
During the program, Schwartz was constantly engaged with the children and adults, directing them to the proper location if they went astray.
Cohen said Village Chabad had heard about Schwartz’s work from different schools and institutions. The architect has also offered several programs that focus on the historical buildings in Stony Brook for The Ward Melville Heritage Organization.
Schwartz said he has been conducting the LEGO projects for 25 years. It began when his daughter, an elementary school teacher in the Bronx, asked him to show her second-graders how a city is designed.
“When I saw that with LEGO you could teach second-graders about zoning, and they understood it, I saw that this was an amazing teaching tool,” he said.
Schwartz said in the past he has worked with LEGO pieces for different Jewish history programs, including Jerusalem, Masada, the Warsaw Ghetto and the world’s tallest LEGO menorah.
The architect said the projects are usually completed in two hours due to working around a school’s schedule. The Village Chabad program ran from 4:30 to around 6:30. Schwartz said after every program he aims for a 15-minute educational tour.
“I am an architect, so everything is exactly to scale,” Schwartz said. “The program gives people a ‘visual image’ of the shape and location of all the important elements in and around Jerusalem. It is a much more dynamic way to teach than just looking in a book or on a screen.”
Smithtown resident Gail Declue said she had no idea what to expect when she arrived for the build.
“I think it’s great,” she said. “The kids are really involved, and they are going to learn a lot about what Jerusalem looks like without even going.”
Elina Rukhlin, also of Smithtown, said her 10-year-old son was among the children building with LEGO pieces, and the family had traveled to Israel last year.
“My son is actually saying I remember we went to the Tower of David light show,” she said. “So, it’s really cool to be able to look back on our experience and then to see this, because we were actually there.”
Even at 17, Rocky Point High School senior Kyle Markland is a renaissance man.
Markland is a scientist and a musician, an engineer and an artist. This past year, he competed in several regional and national science fairs with his project on improving GPS technologies in autonomous cars. On May, 6 he played double bass for the Metropolitan Youth Orchestra of New York at Carnegie Hall.
“The balance of his technical skills and his creativity — how he’s able to excel in both areas at such a high level is tremendous,” Rocky Point High School Principal Susan Crossan said.
In 2013 Markland took a trip to the First LEGO League World Festival in St. Louis, Missouri. One of the first stops he made was to the Leonardo da Vinci exhibit, where he saw pictures and models of the wondrous inventions of one of the world’s most famous engineers and painters. It inspired something within himself.
“It really took me back how intelligent he was — a lot of his engineering stuff, but also how he was an artist, with all his paintings like the Mona Lisa — he stands out in so many different areas,” Markland said. “It’s something that I want to do for myself — stand out and do the best I can in a lot of different arenas.”
Just like how da Vinci was an inventor and engineer, Markland too has a knack for understanding the way things work, and expressed his engineering skills through LEGO Mindstorms.
Mindstorms is a branch of LEGO where technic blocks are used to program robots that can perform any number of functions. The senior took an interest in robotics when he was in 5th grade, saving up birthday money for several years before buying his first Mindstorms kit.
In 2014 he created the YouTube channel Builderdude35, where he regularly posts tutorials and videos of his LEGO creations. Markland has over 14,000 subscribers, and said he regularly receives questions and requests for help from people all over the world.
“The tutorials were a way of sharing my own experience that I learned through [school] or at home,” Markland said.
In April he published the book “Building Smart LEGO MINDSTORMS EV3 Robots,” in which he highlights six of his unique robotics projects — all of which he built and coded. One of his flagship creations is a quirky interactive robot named “Grunt” that will eat different colored LEGO blocks and react differently to each one. The robot will respond to when waved at, and even stick out a small LEGO claw to shake your hand.
Markland’s mother, Lori, recalled her son marveling at the way things worked even at a young age.
“His passion was cars, building, robotics, machinery,” she said. “When we brought him to a cotton candy machine, he was looking at all the moving parts underneath it.”
The senior does all this with an incredibly busy schedule. He spends most of his time travelling, whether for scientific research, music or robotics, and still finds the time for schoolwork. To Markland, music is his most calming influence. It helps to settle his mind. He said the music is also not only just for him.
“I want to feel like I’m using my time for something bigger than myself,” Markland said. “I want to feel accomplished. The channel is a way to teach people, the book is a way to teach people; my music is something that makes people happy.”
Markland will graduate salutatorian of his class. He was accepted into Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford University and California Institute of Technology, and chose MIT not just because he sees it as the most prestigious, but because the admissions officer personally called to congratulate him.
“[It’s] crazy, because they don’t really do that,” Markland said.
Next week Markland will be travelling to participate at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where he will face off against 1,800 students from over 75 different countries.
“From the get-go Kyle has been very self-motivated,” Markland’s science teacher and mentor at Nancy Hunter said. “I don’t think I’ve ever had a student who matches his ability define a problem, figure out how he’s going to go about solving a problem, and does it all.”
While the science fair sounds daunting, the student has been methodical in his preparation. In times of stress, he said he thinks of something his cousin, a soldier in the U.S Marines, told him: “He told me, ‘there’s nothing more powerful than one who plans his work and works his plan.’”
At Rocky Point Middle School, LEGO-building is serious business.
The school’s two robotics teams — Radical Robotix and Robo Eagles — will compete in the 14th annual FIRST LEGO League Long Island championship tournament in Longwood this March after taking home a total of three awards in the qualifying tournament Jan. 20.
“Both teams have worked very hard from the beginning of the school year and to be recognized for these efforts is outstanding,” club adviser Mark Moorman said. “I was thrilled that both teams qualified.”
During the high-stakes competition, held at Great Hollow Middle School in Nesconset, the Rocky Point students — grades 6 through 8 — squared off against 23 other robotics teams from across the region with programmable LEGO Mindstorm robots they started building in October.
Under this year’s theme of hydrodynamics, the students applied math, science and technology skills to build robots with the ability to complete water-related tasks, such as replacing water pipes and connecting water pumps, on a table-top playing field.
The teams had to present research projects identifying a problem and finding a solution related to the theme. During the tournament, judges evaluated the students based on teamwork and technical skills, as well as “gracious professionalism,” according to Moorman.
As the results show, Rocky Point certainly made a splash.
The Robo Eagles received the Alliance Award for scoring the highest point total on the robot table and the Judges Award for “unique efforts, performance or dynamics.” The Radical Robotix took home a project research award for its desalination aviation life vest.
For the project, Radical Robotix determined that while each seat on an airplane is equipped with a life vest in case of emergency water landing, once a passenger is in the water, specifically seawater, he or she is left on their own to survive while waiting for rescue. The students developed a water bottle, attached to the vest, that would filter the salt and bacteria out of seawater and turn it into drinking water.
“We were so excited to win the project research award and qualify for the next tournament,” said Radical Robotix member seventh-grader Eve Hald. “It was fun getting to see our robot compete and to compete in the tasks that judges gave us.”
Moorman said the two teams had a balanced mix of veteran robotics members and “newbies” — Radical Robotix has six members, Robo Eagles has seven. While he said members of the robotics club meet twice a week every other week and knew what to expect, it didn’t make the tournament any less chaotic.
“It seemed like when we were done with one aspect, like the Robot round, we had to move straight to another aspect, like the project presentation,” he said. “It was all happening very fast.”
Back at the middle school, Principal Scott O’Brien expressed his pride in the club’s performance.
“The students and advisers of the Rocky Point Middle School robotics teams work tirelessly throughout the year to compete in tournaments,” O’Brien said in a statement. “We are so proud of the robotics teams for qualifying for the championship tournament this March. Best of luck to both teams and their advisers.”
After building a robot for six weeks, all the GearHeadz wanted to do was sleep.
The Rocky Point-based robotics team had finished building its first machine used to compete in the FIRST Robotics Competition, and the teammates admit moving up from the FIRST Tech Challenge league was more work than even they imagined, but the team is ready for competition.
“Looking at the FTC robots we built compared to the FRC robot, it’s not even close to being the same,” said programmer Jade Pinkenburg, a junior at Rocky Point High School. “The only similarity is the aluminum plate base. Everything else we had to learn ourselves. It was complicated, but really enjoyable learning all the new elements.”
“It’s really professional-grade robotics. The control modules and modems — it’s not toys anymore.”
His father, Chris Pinkenburg, the team’s coach, said he’s thrilled to compete at Hofstra University March 31 after 42 days of hard work learning and building from 6 to 8 p.m. on weekdays and 3 to 7 p.m. on weekends — especially because the league change has been six years in the making.
“It’s been an interesting road so far,” he said. “We were a small team with a lot to do. It was six long weeks, but I’m really proud of the kids. They really pulled their weight and everybody contributed. It was a great experience, and the kids learned a lot.”
Upon receiving the kit with materials weeks ago from FIRST, or For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology, an international robotics competition sanctioning body, the head coach said it was like Christmas, looking at all of the new material they were to use for their machine. But the team quickly realized that a lot of ingenuity and creativity was going to be needed to build a robot from all of the foreign parts it began to categorize.
The three challenges this year, with the theme of steamworks, are to collect fuel represented by green balls and use pressure to propel them to a target, retrieve and deliver gears to a rotor, and climb a rope.
The team prioritized their focus based on difficulty and point value.
“At first we thought we knew what we were doing, but it turns out we had no idea what we were doing,” Jade Pinkenburg said laughing. He explained how he and his teammates had to put in a lot of time teaching themselves a new code language and how to use the parts to design the robot to do what they wanted it to. “It was six weeks of day after day designing, building and coding, plus homework, so it was a lot of work, but we prioritized to get it done. I’m proud of what we’ve done as a team.”
He said he was also inspired by the challenges brought on by the new league.
“There’s more stuff to do and things that are interesting and applicable to the real world,” he said. “It builds on concepts we learn in school in physics and seeing how it works in the real world is interesting.”
Scoring a 1570 out of 1600 on the SATs and a perfect 36 on the ACTs, it’s no wonder he was able to combat the problems the team continued to face. But to the student, it’s all about staying interested and motivated.
“My quick learning helped, but it’s more about the motivation,” Pinkenburg said. “If you want to be successful, you can be.”
His teammate Jen Bradley, a sophomore, said the six weeks to build the 120-pound robot were intense, but a great experience.
“I think it’s good to have a general knowledge of simple machines, basic physics and mathematics and programming because in this day and age everything is becoming modernized,” she said. “Having this knowledge will help up, but it’s also just interesting and it’s fun for us.”
The GearHeadz continued to solve problem after problem. First, Rocky Point sophomore Alek Zahradka and junior Travis Ferrie got to work building the robot and its attachments. Unlike in the FIRST LEGO league, FLL, another league the team took part in last year, where you can only use parts made by Lego, in FRC you can use any part that’s available to the public as long as it’s not dangerous, which Bradley said made the process more exciting.
The team used rubber surgical tubes to sling around an axel and pull balls into the shooter. Two wheels accelerate the balls toward the target. It will be 10 feet high, and although Chris Pinkenburg said it is unclear if they can reach the mark, building the robot in a space in Yaphank and testing it inside the basement of the North Shore Public Library, he’s confident in his team’s capabilities.
“We can hit the ceiling in the library in the meantime,” he said, laughing.
“I say it’s the hardest fun you’ll ever have…We’re not engineers, but we built something.”
Rocky Point freshman Julius Condemi then worked on getting the gears moving. With 1 minute, 45 seconds to complete the tasks, Pinkenburg said he was impressed seeing his team member placing five or six gears on the peg.
“Julius must play a lot of video games, which helps,” he said. “He’s a great driver, and the robot is very agile. In the end we managed to hang the gears and climb the rope.”
The robot is now sealed in a bag inside Pinkenburg’s living room, but the GearHeadz are allowed to continue working on the attachments. The coach said it couldn’t have been made possible without the support of the community. Most team meetings were held at the North Shore Youth Council but also the Rocky Point VFW, Rocky Point Civic Association and local residents offered assistance. He said with the help and his team’s dedication, the rookie robot is comparable to many others in the league — even with eight members, compared to other teams like Longwood, that has 60 kids on the team. Rocky Point senior Clayton Mackay and freshmen Rex Alex and Julia Jacobellis round out the roster.
“The kids really focused, worked well under pressure and got the job done,” the coach said. “It’s really professional-grade robotics. The control modules and modems — it’s not toys anymore. This stuff is used in the industry to build robots. It’s on another level.”
His son said he can’t wait to show off what the GearHeadz have produced at the competition.
“It’s been an incredible experience unlike anything I’ve ever done before,” he said. “I say it’s the hardest fun you’ll ever have, and it’ll be cool to show what we’ve done in front of such a large audience. It’s crazy to see a bunch of teenagers with free time on the weekends building an inspiring and massive robot. We’re not engineers, but we built something.”
North Atlantic Industries in Bohemia and a Rookie grant from the Argosy Foundation made the team’s competition this season possible. For more information about the team, to join or to donate, visit the team’s website at www.rockypointroboticsclub.com.
What started with a small group of kids in a Long Island basement ended with cheers when the Rocky Point-area GearHeadz robotics team ran down the isle at Legoland in California to collect a national trophy.
“It was the greatest feeling ever,” GearHeadz coach Chris Pinkenburg said of how well his team produced on such a grand stage, to receive a fifth-place robot game and second-place programming award. “I’m extremely proud of them. They’re a very independent, unselfish team that can figure out a lot of problems on their own.”
The team competed in the FIRST LEGO League Long Island championship tournament back in February and was crowned second-place champion. From there, it competed on the national stage against 74 teams, including regional and state champions from the United States and Canada, as well as international guests from Germany and South Korea.
Each year, For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology, which was founded in 1989, presents a theme under which teams solve real-world problems and build and program a robot to compete in missions.
The theme this time around was Trash Trek, so students had to present a project that could be the solution to an environmental hazard. The GearHeadz tried over 20 times and eventually came up with the right recipe for biodegradable bags that would limit the mass death of sea turtles and other marine life from accidental ingestion of plastic.
“We’ve worked together well as a team,” said Pinkenburg’s 14-year-old son Jade. “We’ve solved a lot of problems and succeeded on the Long Island and national stage.”
Speaking of problems, his team ran into a big one at nationals.
“The first two rounds went really, really bad,” Chris Pinkenburg said. “We got back from the second round and sat down together to try to figure out what’s wrong with our robot. It behaved very differently from previous times.”
Recently turned 14-year-old Jen Bradley discovered a bad cable, when she started wiggling it and noticed that the sensor reading was changing. Thankfully it’s only your best round that counts, and the team had spent so much time fixing its robot that it had minutes to get ready to perform for the third time.
“Everything depended on that last round,” Pinkenburg said.
The robot performed well, which earned the team fifth place.
“We have a lot of smart people here that work really hard,” 14-year-old Rex Alex said. “We put in the time and effort and we get results. It was a big stage, a new experience for me, and we had the pressure on us, but we rose to the occasion.”
Bradley and the Pinkenburg bunch had been there before but had never garnered a national award.
“We’re finally one of the best teams in the country. That’s nice,” Pinkenburg said, laughing. “Hard work does pay off. It’s a total team win.”
It was the culmination of five years of hard work while learning and striving to improve.
For 13-year-old Julius Condemi, it was interesting to meet and compete against so many different types of teams.
“It was really cool to see everyone’s methods of finishing the missions to get high scores,” he said. “The competitions are energetic and it’s busy, but it’s a lot of fun.”
The GearHeadz group even works with other teams to help, something Pinkenburg said makes the program unique.
“It’s competing against technical problems, not other teams,” he said. “The kids show gracious professionalism when helping other teams. The camaraderie is good and I can see the progress. It’s an amazing gift to watch that and to help them on their way.”
As the kids are nearing the end of the age limit to compete in the FLL, the team is working to raise a minimum of $15,000 to compete in the FIRST Robotics Challenge, in which they will design, build, program and operate 120-pound robots to compete in floor games.
To be a part of this league is why Pinkenburg first created a team. A perk to being a part of this league is that it offers scholarships.
“Boeing, Grumman, Intel, they hire you afterward,” he said. “They see it as a means to attract talent and make them known to talent.”
Clayton Mackay, also 14 years old, mainly builds attachments for the base of the robot, which could involve adding pieces that compress air or use springs, to complete the different missions. He was a friend to a lot of the teammates, like Julius and Rex, before joining the team, which he said has helped them be able to work together to be able to compete at a higher level. It also wouldn’t have been possible without their coach, who has been a huge source of knowledge.
“He’s a really nice guy who knows so much,” Mackay said. “He’s a great coach. I’ve really enjoyed being a part of this team.”
Jade has learned a lot from and about his father during the process, and Pinkenburg has seen his son mature during the process.
“It’s brought out the best in him,” he said. “The social skills, dealing with the other teams, he’s really progressed tremendously. They all learned a lot about engineering and I see the personal development as the kids grow and evolve.”
Bradley said being on the team has been the highlight of grade school.
“It’s always been a big part of my life,” she said of robotics. “It’s really incredible. I’ve learned a lot about perseverance, about teamwork. I’ve made a lot of friendships while learning a lot.”
For more information about the team or to help donate to help them reach the next stage of the competition, visit the team’s website at www.rockpointroboticsclub.com.
Comsewogue’s John F. Kennedy Middle School robotics team captured the Long Island Championship in the FIRST LEGO Robotics Competition at Longwood High School on Feb. 28, competing against about 150 other teams. They will be moving on to nationals in Missouri in April.
The board of education honored the team for its achievement at the board’s meeting on Monday.
“I think it’s fantastic,” Superintendent Joe Rella said in an interview. “They’ve been working on this project for a while, and that’s great that they have that interest.”
The Robotic Raccoons team, coached by Steven Nielsen and Jennifer Caltagirone, is collecting bottles and cans as a means of fundraising for their trip to Missouri. Anyone who would like to help should bring their recyclables to the middle school’s main entrance lobby.
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