December 05, 2012 - The team's name is "Technical Difficulties," but that's the last thing it experienced as these Oxford Elementary students earned a spot in the FIRST LEGO League (FLL) state championships.
On Saturday, the team placed in the top 10 (out of 35 teams) at a qualifying tournament held in Freeland.
"They did phenomenally well," said Julie Fracker, a team coach and parent. "They went above and beyond our expectations. They're in the youngest age group – 9-and-10-year-olds – and they competed against schools, like Notre Dame Prep, that have robotics programs.
"This is a rookie team. We're all rookie coaches. And we're competing against eighth-graders that have coaches who have been doing this for 15 years."
FLL is a global program created for kids ages 9-14 (fourth through eighth grade) to get them excited about science and technology.
The state tournament is set for Saturday, Dec. 8 at Carman-Ainsworth Middle School in Flint. Technical Difficulties will be among 50 teams vying for top honors.
Comprised of fourth and fifth-graders, Technical Difficulties worked hard to invent an innovative product meant to improve the quality of life for senior citizens by helping them continue to be independent, engaged and connected in their communities.
Their invention was called a Micro Uni-Clip and it's designed to help seniors who are experiencing hearing loss. The device contains a unidirectional microphone that clips to the front of a senior's shirt.
"You can actually point it at the person you're talking to and the unidirectional microphone picks up just the sound of that person you're facing," Fracker explained. "It sends (the sound) through a wireless Blue Tooth application to a hearing aid.
"A lot of the hearing aids out there right now actually have Blue Tooth capabilities, so this would be something that could work wirelessly with them. There are some hearing aids that have a microphone built into them, but you have to turn your head and have your ear pointed at the person you're talking to, which is kind of awkward."
Technical Difficulties came up with the idea after meeting with a senior citizen.
"He said his biggest problem was hearing one person in a crowded room," Fracker said. "He wears hearing aids and they amplify all the sound in a room."
Not only did the OES team face some pretty stiff competition and persevere, Technical Difficulties also won one of three Judges' Awards.
These awards were given to teams that performed above and beyond expectations and embodied a sense of teamwork.
"This cross-section of kids comes from all different backgrounds, but the way they were able to look beyond that and work together as a team is what earned them the Judges' Award," Fracker said. "They're just so kind to one another and found a way to really work together."
This is the second FLL team from OES to advance to the state tournament since 2009.
CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.