Astro Day West Hawaii gives kids chance to compete in robotics world today

  • Kids check out activities at a previous AstroDay. (Courtesy photo/Carolyn Kaichi, UH)
  • Keiki learn about pressure waves during AstroDay at Prince Kuhio Plaza in Hilo in 2017. (Tribune-Herald file photo)

KAILUA-KONA — Some things are better together, like robotics and astronomy.

The two fields of study will collide today when AstroDay West Hawaii and the ninth annual Hawaii Island Robotics Expo and Showcase join together for the first time for a day of activities and education centered around science.

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The event runs from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Kealakehe High School, and is free.

Justin Brown, CTE and robotics coordinator and math teacher at Kealakehe, said the hybrid day is beneficial to all the children and students who will be attending.

“It just seemed like a really good fit,” Brown said. “It will free up some of our hands so that we can make sure we’re giving enough attention to the elementary school kids and then the elementary school kids have other opportunities when they’re not competing during the day to participate in some other stuff.”

The Hawaii Island Robotics Expo and Showcase, sponsored by FIRST Robotics, showcases students’ skills in robotics in the form of a competition. Groups compete in the FIRST Lego League or the FIRST Lego League Jr. for students in kindergarten to fourth grade.

Brown said 20 FLL Jr. teams and nine FLL teams will be competing today. Three winning teams from the competition will advance to the state championship in December. One team from the state will then qualify for the international competition in April.

This year’s competition focuses on architecture and sustainable design.

Brown said part of the magic of the Robotics Expo and Showcase is the excitement from the students participating, regardless of their age or grade level.

“We have a lot of opportunities for that intergenerational connection,” Brown said. “We have industry pros interacting with older students and then older students having the opportunity to mentor and give some aloha and inspiration to the younger kids.”

Brown said Kealakehe normally runs a STEM carnival for students that is run by the students and faculty of the school, so having AstroDay Hawaii be a part of this year’s Robotics Expo and Showcase is a no-brainer.

“The kids who attend the expo are interested in the same type of things as AstroDay,” Brown said. “And the kids will get some more free time to learn.”

In its third year, AstroDay West Hawaii is put together by Mauna Kea Astronomy Outreach Committee. MKAOC members include Canada-French-Hawaii Telescope and Gemini Observatories, who together will bring Starlab, a portable planetarium, to the event.

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An AstroDay in Hilo is also held every year in May. AstroDay was created with the idea of both amateur and professional astronomers to learn about and share astronomy with each other and the community. Solar viewings with experienced astronomers and hands-on activities are also a part of AstroDay West Hawaii.

“Think about how many people come to things like soccer games on Saturday and Sundays. These are the other ways that kids can build teamwork and resiliency and also some technical skills to make the community more sustainable,” Brown said. “I think it’s a really exciting time for people who have kids and don’t to come out and celebrate these teams and the work that they have done this semester.”

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