HANCOCK -- After months of preparation, the "Hancock Roboteers" will show off their skills Saturday at the county-wide Berkshire Robotics Challenge at Lenox Memorial Middle and High School.
Roughly a dozen students in grades three to six from Hancock Central School have been working since September with the group's advisor, science and technology teacher Brian Keller, on a rather helpful LEGO robot.
On Saturday, the robot and its young programmers will be put to the test. The Hancock students will join 250 students, ages 8 to 14, in 32 teams from all over Berkshire County as they use programmable robots to complete several tasks on a game board at the event hosted by the Berkshire Applied Technology Council.
For this year's theme, "helping the elderly," students programmed an advance LEGO robot to pull objects into a ‘base', push switches simulating knobs on a stove, pick up medicine bottles and push a LEGO dog, all simulating tasks a robot would assist the elderly with.
Keller said all of the programming and design was done by students. He even had to sign a contract saying he wouldn't help them, he said, and added he wasn't even aware of each skill the team has at its disposal for Saturday because of the independence of the group.
Keller said each weekly meeting of the group at Hancock Central begins with team-building activities. The students participate in a group physical activity like basketball, soccer or floor hockey. Keller said that he felt building team spirit was important.
"I want them to be able to work together and stay together," he said.
Students got the chance to work together, practice problem solving and make mistakes along the way.
"We've found that it's easier to do something to learn than to be told," said sixth-grader and team captain Dan Buell.
Each week, students ran through their programming to ensure accuracy and tweaked their setup's design features. All of the practice has paid off -- the students can set up and break down their equipment in seconds, Keller said.
"On the mat we have a box that's our ‘base,' " said fifth-grader Brendon Goss. "That's the only place where we can touch the robot."
The students worked with high school mentor Joshua Leab, Keller said. In addition, fifth-grader Alexis Yarter is working to take video footage and photos of the group at work. The Hancock Central School parent group, NewHope, played a large role in sponsoring the team, Keller said. Students in the club also enjoyed healthy snacks donated by two of the team's sponsors, Ioka Valley Farm in Hancock and Haley Valley Farm in Williamstown, he said.
Brendon Goss said he thinks one of the best parts of being a part of the team is seeing friends.
"And we get to work with LEGOS," Buell added.
To reach Edward Damon, email