Just do it.

5 Jan

All year, colleagues and friends have told me to just “jump in” and start a robotics club.

“It will evolve on its own” they’d say. I wanted to, but worried I wouldn’t get it right, or that I didn’t have enough of an engineering or science background to lead the club. But with 5 new LEGO NXT kits and a new Dell laptop to go with each, I had no more excuses and today, we just did it. Just like that. As a school, we don’t have everything in place. We don’t know exactly where the program is headed. We don’t have every possible mentor or visiting engineer lined up and ready to go. And still… we just started.

I figure we can work on getting mentors, and funding, and support as we go… for now, at least, we have a room full of students trying something new, taking some risks, collaborating with each other and loving it so far.

I finally got the opportunity to see for myself how powerful of a program this has the potential to be and how anyone who understands how to facilitate a group and foster inquiry can start a robotics club.

I’m totally psyched. (I know that sounds completely juvenile, but what can I say, it’s how I feel.)

For the purpose of documenting our steps here’s a basic overview our first meeting.

Day 1: January 5, 2011

7 students in attendance. All seventh graders. One girl. Six boys.

I showed the kids a driving base model I had constructed using the blueprint in the manual and let them know it would be the first project we’d try together.

I reviewed rules: “Try your best and don’t quit. Follow directions the first time. Be kind; be helpful; share.”

I spoke to them very briefly about the importance of keeping our kits organized and in tact. I also pointed out that we had “scored” the best room on campus, couch and windows and space and all, and that we needed to appreciate how lucky we were to have such a great place to meet.

Next, the kids broke into groups, each with a brand new unopened kit, and then worked together to organize them based on the suggested layouts provided. I gave them some paper plates to sort the pieces on and suggested that they only open one or two bags of pieces at a time. They chatted and worked together, cleaned up and we regrouped. That took about 30 minutes.

Next, I asked them what they knew about blueprints. The general consensus was that they were used at construction sites. After a brief discussion, they agreed that someone designed and planned something and then created a blueprint for someone else so that they could build the design. They used an architect creating a blueprint for a builder as their model.

We then reviewed the layout of the blueprints provided in the kits and I explained that we would start by building models from the blueprints to help us gain some confidence and learn about the various parts and how to program them, before we worked our way up to building models from our own designs.

They again broke into groups and started building their first model, the “driving base”.

When time was up, they put their kits together and sat what they had assembled so far on the top of their kit.

I closed by asking, “What worked? What was fun?” The students all agreed, “Teamwork went well and building was fun.”

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