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Sterling School Hyperbolics tackle lead dangers with Legos

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Ten students from the Sterling School in Greenville are striving to make a difference in the community and the environment using Legos and robotics to call attention to an environmental hazard.

Called the Hyperbolics, the students are a team of fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders who will compete in a national tournament sponsored by the First Lego League (FLL), after winning the South Carolina event in February.

FLL is an international competition between teams of elementary and middle school students, who must design, build and program a robot using Lego Mindstorms and compete on a tabletop playing field. The program highlights science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) concepts. Teams must research a real-world problem, develop a solution guided by two or more adult coaches and present it to judges.

This year’s teams tackled trash, exploring issues such as trash collection, sorting, smart production and reuse. They must also invent a solution to the problem and create their own Lego Mindstorm robot to accomplish trash-themed “missions” on a playing field, according to FLL.

The Hyperbolics focused their project on getting dangerous lead wheel weights out of cars and the environment. Lead wheel weights are used to balance tires. After significant research and investigation, the team built a robot named Harold and proposed legislation that would ban lead wheel weights in South Carolina. Several other states have similar legislation on the docket. The proposed bill would create an 18-month phase-out for lead wheel weights. The bill has already gained attention by state representatives and members and is on its way to the Senate.

The team also developed an outreach campaign to educate voters about the dangers of lead wheel weights, a logo, and created a website (teamhyperbolics.com/trash-trek) to increase awareness of the issue.

Hyperbolics team head coach Bob Brown said that after he received the coach’s manual, he realized he had “found his tribe.” Brown volunteered as a FLL team coach as his son entered third grade at Charles Townes Center. He is an engineer and mathematician and has been a volunteer science and nature educator in classrooms for several years. As the Hyperbolics coach, he guides the students with this year’s project, but the team does all the work, he said. “I got luckier than I could had ever imagined.”

For more information about the team and their “Get the Lead Out” project, visit saynotolead.com.

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