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Bricks in Black uses Lego robotics to aid Alzheimer’s patients

It all started with a Lego. Add six middle school-aged boys, refined philosophies of teamwork, a robot and more Legos, and you’ve got the Bricks in Black, a local chapter of the Lego League that is taking the vibrant building bricks to a whole new level.

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The Bricks in Black team includes Ben Champion, 13; Dylan Russell, 13; Luke Plaisted, 13; Joshua Fisher, 14; Noah Valentine, 11; and Zachary Fisher, 13, clockwise from left.

The team of six home-schooled boys — Ben Champion, 13; Dylan Russell, 13; Luke Plaisted, 13; Joshua Fisher, 14; Noah Valentine, 11; and Zachary Fisher, 13 — has been meeting twice a week at the Fishers’ home in East Brainerd since August. Their goal? To construct an obstacle course for their Lego robot to complete as well as to research material for a presentation given in competition at this year’s First Lego League Challenge, held Dec. 8 at Tennessee Tech in Cookeville, Tenn.

The team won second place overall at the competition.

“When I first heard about the Lego League, I found it to be very interesting. I thought it was just something where you go and build with Legos, but there’s a lot you put into it,” said Joshua, who has been a part of the team for four years now. “We have progressed every year and get better and better.”

This year’s challenge was called “Senior Solutions” and involved “improving the quality of life for seniors by helping them continue to be independent, engaged and connected in their communities,” according to the First Lego League website.

During their research, the Bricks in Black team members visited assisted living homes such as Morning Pointe of Chattanooga to interact with the seniors in residence. After spending time with certain residents, the boys decided to focus on Alzheimer’s disease for their group presentation, which they gave in front of judges at the competition.

Together, the boys researched what had already been done to aid those with Alzheimer’s disease, an irreversible degeneration of the brain that usually occurs in senior citizens, and tried to come up with a solution of their own. Using QR Code technology, the team developed a program that would allow seniors with Alzheimer’s to easily access interactive online screens with step by step instructions to remind the seniors how to complete certain tasks. After coming up with this solution, the team discussed it with experts in the assisted living field to perfect the idea.

Other than the research that went into their presentation, the boys, coached by mom Jackie Fisher, worked tirelessly to program their small Lego robot to complete an obstacle course, with each task successfully completed earning them a certain amount of points in the competition. The tasks the small Lego robot had to complete were senior citizen-themed and involved such things as turning a Lego oven off, planting a garden and quilting with Lego tiles.

The robot was programmed to do each of these tasks autonomously, something that required the team to utilize math, science and technology skills to perfect the robot’s intricate motions.

“I think it’s really beneficial for them in the area of math, science and technology and in STEM education. I’ve even learned a lot through it,” said Jackie Fisher. “They learn a lot about teamwork. It’s been a great growing and learning experience. It’s also a lot of fun for them.”

For more information on the Bricks in Black visit www.bricksinblack.com. For more information on the First Lego League visit http://firstlegoleague.org.

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