By Melanie Petrucci, Senior Community Reporter
Shrewsbury – When five middle school students learned last summer, at their Shrewsbury Robotics Summer Program, that there wouldn’t be a FIRST Lego League (FLL) program in the fall at Sherwood or Oak Middle Schools because the program lacked a coordinator, they joined forces and formed their own team – The Thunderbots.
Most of them had been on an FLL team while they were fifth- and sixth-graders at Sherwood Middle School and were keen to have the same opportunity at Oak Middle School.
Now in seventh grade, the all-girl team includes Amal Nadaf, Gretchen Telford, Kasey Foote, Anna Wang and Aleena Shaikh, all of whom have a strong interest in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics).
FLL is a competition program for middle school students who work in small teams, usually mentored by high school robotics team members to build a robot using Lego bricks to complete a challenge.
The 2019 season’s challenge was dubbed “City Shaper.” Teams choose and attempt to solve a real-world problem by building, testing and programming an autonomous Lego robot.
The team convened in August; they met twice a week to strategize, learn aspects of coding and programming while building their robot.
To say that their first season was a success would be an understatement. On Dec. 8, the team competed at the UMass Dartmouth College of Engineering & NUWC FLL Qualifier and took home the Mechanical Design Award. This qualified them to advance to the 2019 MA East Championship at Newton North High School Dec. 14 where they won the first place Research Award.
“They practiced running their programs at a scrimmage at Algonquin Regional High School … and were able to make adjustments afterwards to their robot design and code based on how they performed,” stated the team’s lead coach SHS senior Zoe Rudnick.
With support from assistant coaches, sophomore Jordan Cooksey and freshmen Melinda Telford and Smita Bhogle – all SHS Robotics team members – the Thunderbots were able to use some of the high school team’s Legos and motors.
“They built everything from scratch except for the motors and wires,” Zoe said.
Aleena explained and demonstrated how parts of their robot fit together.
“It’s a box robot and it has sensors,” she said.
While there wasn’t a weight limit, the height of the robot couldn’t exceed 12 inches and it had to fit within a designated space on the playing field.
The team is already planning for next year’s season.
Kasey said that this year was about becoming familiar with programming but their goal for next year is to “pick up the pace.”