Bill Shaw was a busy man at the First Lego League tournament at the satellite location for the Brandon campus of Hillsborough Community College.
There, at HCC at The Regent in Riverview, on Jan. 7, Shaw was busy working with two of his three teams, anticipating as well the Jan. 8 challenge for junior teams, at the Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI) in Tampa, in which he is the coach for another 11 teams.
The Junior Lego League tournament, including a representative look at the work of older students, through high school, is scheduled for 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. at MOSI.
Shaw runs a computer software business and works with kids from throughout the Greater Brandon area and beyond.
Brandon Patch caught up with Shaw on Jan. 7 and learned more about the robotics craze and challenge opportunities for area youth.
BRANDON PATCH: Why do you spend so much time working with kids and robotics?
- SHAW: I feel like I can make a difference with the kids. I see them in the beginning of the season and they’re so overwhelmed by how much work they have to do and then by the end [of the season] they’re so amazed at how much they’ve accomplished.
BRANDON PATCH: What exactly is the First Lego League, and its annual challenge competition?
- SHAW: First Lego League is the organization. They have programs that go from six-year-old all the way through high school. It's seasonal. Each level has its own season. First Lego League, for ages 9 to 14, starts August 1. Junior Lego League, for ages 6 to 9, runs through the school year. Also, there’s two high school programs, First Tech Challenge and First Robotics Challenge.
BRANDON PATCH: How did you first get involved?
- SHAW: My daughter found a team as a Girl Scout five years ago and so I helped the Girl Scout team. Then, I began coaching at a local elementary school, McFarlane Park IB, and this past summer I started a summer camp program.
BRANDON PATCH: Your motivation?
- SHAW: It helps the kids, number one, become more confident about what they can accomplish and it makes science fun.
BRANDON PATCH: Information about your camp program is available on your Web site, InanimateReason.com. How did you decide upon the name, "Inanimate Reason?"
- SHAW: Robots are machines that, theoretically, think and can be taught to do things, but they’re not living. They’re inanimate until you animate them. On a much more esoteric level, back in the 19th century there was a chess-playing automaton called, “The Turk,” that people believed was able to think independently and actually play chess and somebody wrote a book about it called, “Inanimate Reason.”
BRANDON PATCH: For competition, there's a new topic each year?
- SHAW: The challenge is for the entire season. We work on the same projects the entire season and each year there’s a new theme. This year’s theme is “Food Factor,’ which is about food safety. Next year’s theme is “Senior Solutions,” so it will be about challenges faced by senior citizens.
BRANDON PATCH: Explain the competition part of it.
- SHAW: In the First Lego League, all teams compete against each other on equal footing, whether they’re from elementary or middle school. We have to qualify to go to regional competition in a month, at the University of South Florida. From there you go to state competition, which is in Melbourne. And most years you go from state to world competition.
BRANDON PATCH: Explain the materials used.
- SHAW: We use Lego Mindstorms sets, which are regular Legos with Mindstorm elements, which are the brains, the motors and the sensors. You program on the computer and download it onto the robot, to tell it what to do.