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Moosebots gear up for another year of robotics

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Moose Pass student Gabrielle Bond operates a robot.

The 19 students and one teacher at the Moose Pass School — one of the smallest on the Kenai Peninsula — aren’t the only ones roving around the school’s three classrooms. ‘

There are also robots.

Nine-year-old Maddy Aigeldinger holds a small Lego robot that sits no taller than three inches atop a pair of tiny blue wheels. She said each of their names: there's Ottie, the favorite, and then L5 and Bob the Destroyer, their testing robots.

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A robot named Bob the Destroyer.

Aigeldinger is one of the Moosebots — the Moose Pass School’s Lego robotics team. The Moosebots design and build robots that they put to the test in annual competitions against schools across Alaska.

Although the Moose Pass school is tiny, its team still brings home trophies year after year. In 2021, Aigeldinger and her fellow Moosebots won the coveted Robot Design Challenge at the state-level competition. In the past, they’ve competed internationally in the FIRST Lego League Challenge — a global robotics and design competition for elementary and middle schoolers.

On the first day of robotics this year, students buzzed with excitement about getting back to work on their robots.

Wendy Bryden brought Lego robotics to the Moose Pass School eight years ago when her two sons, both passionate about robotics, were students.

Bryden didn’t have any experience with robotics then.

“I knew Legos, but I didn’t know much about programming. I’m a mom, I’m not an engineer,” she said.

But Bryden learned along with the kids. Today, she organizes Lego robotics competitions for the entire state of Alaska. And although her sons have since graduated, she still works with students in Moose Pass every week to design robots and build the Lego bridges and obstacles they interact with.

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Wendy Bryden has been volunteering her time to teach Lego robotics at the Moose Pass School since her sons, now high school and college age, were students there.

For the statewide competition last year, held remotely due to the pandemic, the Moosebots designed a device to stop boxes from getting damaged at the post office by dividing them by size. They even presented the device to the local postmaster.

Sometimes, Bryden said, the teams go on to get their designs patented

The theme for this year’s statewide competition is energy. Students are working on designing a water wheel, modeled after a historic Moose Pass landmark. Bryden said they’re also thinking about the Grant Lake hydroelectric project while they work with the theme.

She said local impact is one of the core values the FIRST Lego League highlights in its mission. It’s a set of values the students know well.

“Teamwork, inclusion, impact, fun, discovery, innovation,” Ruby Boyle, one of the Moosebots, read off.

Sandra Barron, the teacher at Moose Pass, said an important part of life at Moose Pass is that every student is involved in everything.

She said when there’s a school play, everyone’s in it. And when there’s a robotics competition, everyone is involved. Boyle said that’s a key part of their success.

“It’s really important, because you’ve gotta work together to make things,” she said.

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Ruby Boyle (left) and Gabriella Bond (right) work together to build a Lego structure.

With fewer than 20 students from kindergarten to eighth grade, the Moose Pass School has always been a place where students across age groups work together on the same projects.

Bryden said grade level isn’t important to students, which she’s found to be a really great model for education. That’s been true during their robotics lessons, when she often has an older group of students mentoring younger ones.

“I think that’s such a huge part of this program, that the kids teach each other what they know,” she said.

Bryden also hopes the program helps students improve their problem solving skills — and that it maybe even kickstarts lifelong passions for engineering.

She said that was the case for her sons.

“I think part of this definitely inspired both of my kids to think like engineers, and to potentially want to pursue that as a career,” Bryden said.

It’s true for some current Moosebots, as well — but not all of them. While Ruby Boyle said engineering might be in her future, Maddy Aigeldinger said she’s staying committed to her life-long dream of owning a donut shop.

The Moosebots will compete in the annual statewide FIRST Lego League competition this winter.

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The collection of Lego robotics trophies won by the Moosebots over the the years.

Riley Board is a Report For America reporter covering rural communities on the central Kenai Peninsula for KDLL.
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