Pilot story and photos by Joseph Fredrichs

After Tyler Frazee ejected the small disc from his hard drive, he gently inserted it into the robot.

Frazee took the car-like figure to a large map and placed it near a model fish net with a dolphin inside.

andquot;All right, we're trying to release the dolphin from here and set it free,andquot; he said. andquot;I think it might work this time.andquot;

A group of students at Azalea Middle School are out to save the ocean.

And they plan to do through the world of LEGO.

For the first time ever Azalea is offering a robotics class that will correspond with the LEGO League Challenge, a worldwide program that works to educate children about environmental issues. This year's theme focuses on the health and life of the ocean. The course is being taught at Azalea by Alain Chirinian.

andquot;The students come in every day ready to go,andquot; Chirinian said. andquot;A lot of them say it's their favorite class. And when they're having fun, I'm having fun.andquot;

There are 22 boys and girls enrolled in the class this year. On Dec. 3 they will all enter into regional competition in Klamath Falls. Five teams from Azalea will take part in that event. There are expected to be 20 or 30 teams total.

Chirinian said it is very unique for a school the size of Azalea to offer a class of this nature. What is even more unique is that the school is sending five teams to the competition.

andquot;The norm for most schools is to send one team, if they send any at all,andquot; he said.

Greg Christensen, a student in the class, said he is very excited about the upcoming competition.

andquot;I think we should place in the top five,andquot; he said. andquot;We're making some progress every day.andquot;

At the Klamath Falls LEGO League Challenge, the students will be judged on four categories: the group's robot performance, teamwork, oral presentation and innovative construction.

All five of the groups have been working each school day since Sept. 6 to master these four fields. The class began by doing research on robot programming and then moved to building the robots from LEGO pieces.

andquot;I think they're right on schedule,andquot; Chirinian said.

Each robot's performance will be based on eight missions it must complete on a standard ocean map. Every group competing in this year's challenge will be using the same map.

The missions range from releasing the dolphin by having the robot hit a release switch, to deploying a submarine from a research vessel. Each mission must be completed in two and a half minutes.

There are no remote controls involved during the process. Each robot is programmed to take a command from the group and then move on its own to execute it. This is a very technical and difficult challenge, Chirinian said.

andquot;These students have been able to learn some very valuable, computer-based skills in the class,andquot; he said.

The top three teams at the competition on Dec. 3 will advance to the LEGO League Challenge State Finals in Portland. This state tournament will be held several weeks after the district preliminaries.

andquot;I expect the students will perform very well,andquot; Chirinian said. andquot;But you never know what a robot is going to do.andquot;