In this day and age of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) curriculum being a focus for teacher and students, Jericho’s RoboFalcons continue to make waves in the First Lego League (FLL). Going into its fourth year, the RoboFalcons are made up of six Jericho Middle School students. Coached and founded by parent Rohit Bhatia (whose son is part of the team), this robotics squad has made its mark over the past few years, racking up a number of FLL awards while learning skills that go beyond learning how to put together robots. It’s something Bhatia is very cognizant of.
“I think the most important aspect they’ve learned from the point of view of being a parent and a coach are the core values based on teamwork and team building. It’s not always about winning. Learning is a journey and not a destination and they also wind up making new friends as well,” Bhatia explained. “The boys have been together for a few years, so now they’ve become best friends. It’s a great thing as a parent. We know that they’ve been watching out for each other in school and that’s a big deal in this world we live in. So they learn that and the aspect of how important friendship is and the core values of team building are. It’s very heart-warming when you think about it. When you have an 8- or 9-year-old say their core value is gracious professionalism…that’s a big English word and while they may not know how to spell it, they know what it is.”
While the hours of hard work and research may seem daunting, the RoboFalcons have earned enough accolades and achieved enough success that a junior team called the TechnoQueens was created. Consisting of six girls who attend Jackson Elementary School and Cantiague Elementary School, the seed for the TechnoQueens was planted when Bhatia’s younger daughter saw how much fun her older brother was having.
“Friends and family have been around and they’ve seen what the boys do and the value of what they are learning and being exposed to, so I was asked to put together a team for the girls [that became the TechnoQueens],” he said. “It’s a stepping stone for the girls where they have a basic use of engineering and science. They use Legos to build things, learn about a project and form a committee for team building. They don’t end up in competitions like FLL has, but they end up being exposed to showing their results in competitions. If they do well, they get awards and can go onto the next level of not only being showcased alongside teams in the rest of the country, but the rest of the world as well.”
Topics for the RoboFalcons (and now the TechnoQueens) vary from year to year. Last year’s project centered around animals while the year prior found the kids learning about trash and recycling. This year’s topic is water—from basic facts and conservation to its various uses. And as has been the case in the past, the children wind up meeting with professionals from different organizations as part of their research. This year found them attending presentations given by representatives of the Suffolk County Water Association, the Jericho Water District and the U.S. Department of Geologic Survey. The main thrust for the RoboFalcons is called Autonomous Water Quality Detection using under-water robots and sensors in homes while the TechnoQueens are grappling with the Ideal Village Water Community, where in they explore various resources for clean water in village communities. And while actual implementation isn’t the final goal given how young these participants are, Bhatia explained the main goals are to get the children using problem-solving skills while also heightening their awareness about what’s going on outside of their own communities.
“The children have to identify a problem—the boys have to make a full-fledged project out of it in terms of doing research, going to places and talking to people who understand water. They have to find a problem and then put together their thoughts on how they might fix the problem,” he said. “They don’t have to really do it, but they should partner with either a private or government organization, so they can be heard to see if what they’re proposing is feasible or not.”
There’s no doubt that the social consciousness of the RoboFalcons and now the TechnoQueens ends up being raised significantly while participating in these robotics activities. As has been the case in the past, where a GoFundMe page raised more than $1,000 for the North Shore Animal League and Pandas International, the children have raised roughly $2,000 to bring clean water to a small school in Nicaragua. There have also been other projects held at the middle and elementary schools that have raised awareness about the dearth of clean water in other parts of the world that include a bucket challenge that finds participants walking around the school track with a bucket of water on their head that represents how children in other parts of the world have to walk miles to access potable water sources. For Bhatia, he’s seen the impact it’s had on his kids to find this out and how it’s changing them for the good as people.
“The children became friendly with this 10-year-old boy in Nicaragua who wants to become a doctor, but he doesn’t even have water to drink. It’s very touching,” he said. “There has to be an element of doing good for the world and with activities like robotics, I think there’s an element in there which allows them to grow up to become better human beings.”
The RoboFalcons will be taking part in the SBPLI First Lego League Qualifier #2A at Great Hollow Middle School in Nesconet on Jan. 21 from 8 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. The TechnoQueens will be participating in the First Lego League Jr. Expo on March 3 at Mineola High School.