published Saturday, October 1st, 2011

Food safety is focus at Whitfield County schools' Lego Summit

Kate Havelin, right, and Hailey Weaver work to line up their Lego robot on the table during a Lego summit at Cedar Ridge Elementary School on Friday morning.
Kate Havelin, right, and Hailey Weaver work to line up their Lego robot on the table during a Lego summit at Cedar Ridge Elementary School on Friday morning.
Photo by Mariann Martin.

DALTON, Ga. -- Nine-year-old Luis Coronado leaned on the edge of the table, his eyes intently following every move of the yellow Lego robot as it zipped across the table, turned a corner and paused to pick up a load of green "pathogens."

"It's fun -- you get to play with Legos," Luis said about learning how to build and program the robots. "You have to get on the computer and choose the right programs to make it work."

Luis, a third-grader at Cedar Ridge Elementary School, was one of 120 students from seven Whitfield County schools who gathered for a Lego Summit on Friday morning. The third-, fourth- and fifth-grade students are divided into 16 teams from Eastside, Antioch, Dug Gap, Cedar Ridge, New Hope, Cohutta and Varnell elementary schools.

The summit, held at Cedar Ridge, was to prepare for the First Lego League Competition, an event the students participate in every year by completing a project and building a Lego robot to perform tasks.

This year's theme is "Food Factor Challenge -- Keeping Food Safe."

The students divided into groups to learn about foodborne pathogens, disease, food contamination, DNA extraction and how to perfect their robots to keep foods safe and clean. Two Whitfield County Health Department employees helped to teach the classes.

"Today is when students learn about food safety and share their ideas with students from other schools and other teams," said Amy Hurlock-Zock, a teacher at Cedar Ridge who helped organize the summit.

The teams only recently have begun to build their robots and choose a project to develop, Zock said. In November, they will participate in a local tournament before moving on to regional competitions in December.

The students must build their robot by themselves and program it with help from experts. On Friday, they did test runs with robots in various stages of being built. During the competition, the students will have 2 1/2 minutes to have their robots perform food safety-related tasks.

The First Lego League Competition emphasizes learning through sharing ideas, which is why the schools come together to exchange ideas, Zock said.

During the DNA extraction process, 10-year-old Rachel Thurman added alcohol to blended split peas, then watched as the strands of DNA separated to the top.

"You get to spend time with your friends and learn about technology," she said.

about Mariann Martin...

Mariann Martin covers healthcare in Chattanooga and the surrounding region. She joined the Times Free Press in February 2011, after covering crime and courts for the Jackson (Tenn.) Sun for two years. Mariann was born in Indiana, but grew up in Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Belize. She graduated from Union University in 2005 with degrees in English and history and has master’s degrees in international relations and history from the University of Toronto. While attending Union, ...

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