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N. Merrick girls head to L.I. Legos championship

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Most weekends for the last 4 1/2 months, a group of fifth- and sixth-grade girls from Fayette and Old Mill Road elementary schools in North Merrick have gotten together to work on two projects: building a robot and designing a technology that they say could restore sight to the blind.

Maggie Caroddo, Abby Dā€™Antonio, Christa Dressler, Celestial Hakim, Jadyn Hakim, Kerri Keener and Julia Oladipo are competing this spring in FIRST Lego League, a worldwide tournament that challenges teams of 9- to 14-year-old children to demonstrate their engineering and technology skills, as well as their teamwork and creative problem-solving. The competition involves a robot-building contest and projects focused on a different themes each year. This yearā€™s theme deals with improving the lives of seniors.

These North Merrick girls ā€” collectively, the ā€œRobotic Cookie Monstersā€ ā€” will showcase their work at a Long Island-wide FLL Championship Tournament on March 3 at Longwood High School in Middle Island. The Robotic Cookie Monsters already made it through a qualifying tournament on Feb. 2 at Central Islip Senior High School, where they placed second out of the 50 teams, according to team coaches Rich Caroddo and Chris Dressler.

Judges scored teams on their robotsā€™ performances at a number of assigned tasks, such as throwing a ball, raising a flag, picking up objects and moving, turning and stopping on cue. They also judged the robots on their mechanical designs and programming, the ā€œSenior Solutions Challengeā€ projects on their research, presentation and innovation, and the teams on their collaboration and professionalism.

The seven girls of Robotic Cookie Monsters, who know one another through Girl Scouts, built a robot using Lego Mindstorm construction toys and programmed it with the computer software that accompanies the Mindstorm kit. They also researched and put together a detailed proposal for a technology they say could restore vision to people who have been rendered blind or severely visually impaired by diseases such as macular degeneration, glaucoma and retina pigmentosa.

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