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LEGO Robotics Class visits the University of Washington's 3D Printing Labs to research and share their Tiny Houses solution

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The Woodland Middle School LEGO Robotics Class toured the University of Washington's three-dimensional printer research laboratories in early January, continuing their research project into how combining advanced recycling techniques with 3D printing could result in Tiny Houses made through Additive Manufacturing resulting in absolutely no waste byproducts of any kind.

The Woodland Middle School LEGO Robotics Class toured the University of Washington's 3D Printing Labs to learn more about 3D printers and the use of recycled materials
The Woodland Middle School LEGO Robotics Class toured the University of Washington's 3D Printing Labs to learn more about 3D printers and the use of recycled materials

Each year, the LEGO Robotics League introduces a concept to challenge teams in the United States and throughout the world. Finding innovative ways to reduce trash was the Project Theme for 2015. Each annual competition features three different challenges – the Robot Game, the Project, and the Core Values. Teams of up to ten students with at least one adult coach (in this case, Tim Brown and his wife, Sharlene) participate in the challenge by programming a robot to score points on a themed playing field (the Robot Game) and developing a solution to a problem they have identified (the Project), all while being guided by the LEGO League's Core Values which focus on teamwork and innovative problem-solving techniques.

Middle school students are invited to join the LEGO Robotics Class and the team. "Since there are a variety of different roles needed to complete all of the challenges, it's important to have a well-rounded team with students who enjoy different elements of teamwork," explained Brown. "We have students who love to program the robot while others prefer to perform the research and present the project part of the competition."

Each year, the LEGO League features three different challenges - the Robot Game where students program a LEGO robot to run tasks, the Project where students research a solution on a theme, and Core Values
Each year, the LEGO League features three different challenges - the Robot Game where students program a LEGO robot to run tasks, the Project where students research a solution on a theme, and Core Values

Students in Brown's LEGO Robotics Class incorporated the concept of 3D printers into their solution for this year's problem theme of reducing trash. The Project Team researched concepts, discovering that disposable diapers could be recycled into roof shingles. After additional research, the team discovered that houses in Amsterdam were being made completely from plastic while a recent movement toward Tiny Houses (houses built on RV trailers ranging in size from 117-180 square feet) in the United States had also been gaining popularity. The team developed a solution where Tiny Houses could be made through a process of Additive Manufacturing using repurposed plastic from landfills resulting in the creation of small homes with completely recycled material and no leftover scrap. To round out the project, the team added a composting toilet to their design so even human waste would be recycled into fertilizer. "Once we found out about the shingles, we looked into recycling more and found that a team of students at the University of Washington built a 3D printer called 'Big Red' which melts down used plastic to repurpose it," explained Casey Logan, a sixth grader on the team. "We started with shingles and put together a plan to make small houses using trash in landfills combined that with Additive Manufacturing to build houses made completely from trash with no leftover materials."

Additive Manufacturing refers to the process of creating products by adding material instead of subtracting it, resulting in a final product with no unused materials left over. Creating a sculpture is an example of Subtractive Manufacturing, the opposite of Additive Manufacturing, where parts of the material are cut away leaving scrap at the end of the process.

The team won the Teamwork Award at the Washington State competition, demonstrating their dedication to the Core Values of the program and working together. "We all found it funny that we won the Teamwork Award at state because we all joke around with one another so much," said Ashley Burney, a seventh grader. "However, that joking around is probably part of what makes us work so well together as a team."

Students on the Project Team came up with a solution to use trash to create Tiny Houses from recycled materials with no waste of any kind
Students on the Project Team came up with a solution to use trash to create Tiny Houses from recycled materials with no waste of any kind

On January 6, the LEGO Robotics Class traveled to Seattle on a class field trip to visit the University of Washington's 3D printing laboratory to see 'Big Red' in person. 'Big Red' uses plastic from old milk cartons, melts it down, and creates large-scale projects including boats and other large items. While they were there, the students shared their experiences in this year's competition including their Tiny House solution to reduce trash. The middle school students also toured the Makers' Space where mechanical engineering students create a variety of different projects using 3D printers of various sizes. "It's fascinating to learn what other people know," said Logan. "I really enjoy performing research; sitting at a computer and discovering what people say and how their ideas contrast and differ."

Tim Brown has been teaching for more than 35 years, first discovering his love of teaching while working as a Teaching Assistant during graduate school at Oregon State University. "My students inspire me to keep going year-after-year and develop new ideas for my classes," said Brown. Brown has taught for more than 30 years at Woodland Public Schools - his entire public teaching career - and credits the Woodland community for his continued dedication to teaching. "The Woodland community raised the funding to send of our LEGO teams to LEGOLAND for five days," said Brown. "You don't see communities who are as supportive of their schools as Woodland is."