Photo courtesy of Kathleen Remson
Students from the Owl BOTS of P.S. 71 in Ridgewood work on their project after school to prepare for Saturday's competition.

Students from P.S. 71 in Ridgewood are competing in an international Lego robotics competition on Saturday, but their ultimate goal is to have a local impact on the quality of water at their school.

The Owl BOTS, the robotics team of fourth- and fifth-grade students led by teachers Janna Carbone and Kathleen Remson, are competing in the FIRST Lego League Challenge, an annual competition based on a real-world scientific topic.

This year’s topic is hydrodynamics, and part of the challenge requires the students to develop a solution to a real water problem in their community. According to Carbone, the students have chosen to research the cost and process of installing water filters on the school’s water fountains due to the rising concerns about the age and cleanliness of the water pipes.

The competition doesn’t require the project to actually be completed, but the Owl BOTS want to see their research come to life, Carbone said.

“We are hoping to come up with a business plan so that NYC public school students can have clean drinking water with replacing or updating plumbing,” Carbone said in a statement.

As a result of lead testing done on the water fountains at P.S. 71, two of the fountains were marked undrinkable including a large fountain in the cafeteria, Carbone said.

As part of their research, the Owl BOTS connected with a company called Quality Water Group, which is helping the team come up with an appropriate filter for school water fountains, as well as providing them with cost, visuals and explanations of how the process would work. The team’s business plan includes the cost and timeline for the installation of approximately 14 water filters. Carbone said the team plans to present the plan to the Department of Education in hopes that it will decide to contract the project.

The fun part of the challenge is the robot game, which takes place at the FIRST Lego League Tournament on Saturday, Jan. 13, at Renaissance Middle School in St. Albans at 12:30 p.m. The students have to build robots from specific sets of Lego Mindstorms provided for the event. The goal is for the robots to complete a series of tasks on a table-top playing field that are simulations of real-world water problems.

The robotics teams will be judged on their project, their performance in the robot game and the core values of the FIRST Lego League. There is a scoring system for the robot performance, but that is the only part of the competition based on points. The judges deliberate about the awards for the research project and core values.

Carbone said that about 60 teams in Queens are competing over the course of two days in the qualifier round. If the Owl BOTS win, they can move on to the regional competition held at the Nat Holman gym at CUNY CCNY.

Last year, a team from P.S. 94 in Little Neck took home second place in the regional round. If they continue to win, the Owl BOTS of P.S. 71 will have a chance to compete in the national and international competitions as well. There are nearly 80 countries competing this year.

When asked about the students’ level of excitement for the contest, Carbone put the call on speaker-phone and let the students answer for themselves.

“We are excited and nervous,” said one of the students. “We built a complicated robot, but it’s worth it because it really means something to us.”


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