Tag Archives: Elementary

Two-wheeled Bot. My first attempt at model instructions.

7 Sep

Two-wheeled Bot Instructions

This past August 15th and 16th, educators from around Philadelphia came together for two days of free professional development provided by the GRASP Outreach program at U Penn SEAS. Many of the participants in attendance, myself included, will be rookie coaches for this year’s FLL season and the two-day workshop was designed to be a bit like a boot camp to get us up to speed and to impart the tips and tools we will need to have a successful first season.

The first task our trainers charged us with was to build a simple a simple 2-wheeled robot. One of the challenges the group faced in building the robots was that we did not have a blue print or set of instructions in front of us. (I think they were having a difficult time finding them. I’m not sure.) Instead, our trainer talked us through the assembly one part at a time. This, as you can imagine if you have built an NXT robot before, was challenging. Keeping everyone moving at the same pace was nearly impossible.

As we built our bots piece by piece from oral instructions, I started to wonder how in the world I would be able to recreate the robot once I was back at school. So, I backed up a few steps, opened my laptop and started to capture each step with the webcam. Soon, people around me were asking me to post the pictures or send them to them.

Well… I got back to campus and sat down to build the robot using my pictures and the pieces from an NXT kit, and I quickly realized that there were multiple problems.

Firstly, the angle at which I originally shot many of the steps made it pretty difficult to figure out what was going on.

Secondly, while the model was simple enough for teachers to build and it required few parts in general, it required more parts than are available in a single NXT kit. To build this model, a teacher would either need to pull more pieces from additional kits, or have surplus materials available. This assumes teachers have more than one kit to work with, which is often not the case.

“Well… that’s no good” I thought, and so I started to redesign the bot using only parts from a single kit and documenting the process as I went.

So, for those of you have been waiting for the original photos… I apologize for not posting them sooner. Hopefully, you’ll find the new photos are an improvement and that the photos and steps clearer. The robot is very similar to the one we built with just a few swapped parts to ensure it can be built from a single NXT Mindstorms kit.

Let me know what you think of the model instructions I put together. It was my first attempt and I’m curious to see how easy or difficult they are to follow. Please let me know!

Taking Damien Kee’s NXT “Mexican Wave Activity” for a Test Drive

16 Jun

In my last post about the Tufts LEGO Engineering Symposium, I mentioned Damien Kee‘s  presentation and included an embedded  video of his NXT “Mexican Wave” activity.

Yesterday morning, I tried the activity with a group of 21 fifth graders that had never worked with robotics before and it was a blast! It was the perfect activity for introducing the kids to the NXT robots and the NXT-G software.

We met from 9:30-12:15 and took a 15 minute snack break, so all told, we had about 2.5 hours to try to meet the following three objectives:

1) Work collaboratively in small groups to program the NXT Domabot to move from one specified location to another. Time permitting, write a program to turn the robot around and have it return to it’s starting position.

2) Gain a basic understanding of what sensors and thresholds are and find out how they apply to today’s activity.

3)Work collaboratively as a class to program all five NXT Domabots to do a wave and at least one additional choreographed movement.

Students collaborated well and worked hard and met all three objectives by lunch!

After reviewing the objectives, we warmed up with a five minute activity called “Computer Says”. (The activity is similar to Simon Says. I am the computer; students are the robots. Robots should only follow programs that start with “Computer says”) Students made three lines and faced me.

For Round 1, I said, “First we’ll learn use a motor block to run simple programs. Let’s try a few.” I then led them through a few simple commands,  “Computer says take one step forward.”  “Computer says take one step back”.

In Round 2, I said, “Next we’ll learn to use a “wait-for-sensor block and write slightly more complex programs.” I then gave a few commands like these: “Computer says wait until you hear me clap, then take one step forward. Computer says, wait until I shout loudly and then jump”

And finally for Round 3, I said, “For our third objective, we will have to collaborate to write a series of programs to get our robots to work together to create a movement wave. Let’s try to run three programs at once and see what happens. Computer says, Line 1 robots, wait until I clap then put both hands in the air and back down again. Line 2 robots, wait until I clap, then wait one second, then put both hands in the air and back down again.  Line 3 robots, wait until I clap, then wait two seconds, then then put both hands in the air and back down again.” I clapped my hands and watched as the students did a perfect mini-Mexican-wave!

The whole activity took less than 5-minutes, but it helped to build a context for what came next. Being able to refer back to the warm-up came in especially handy when we started thinking about how to program the robots to do a wave.

After our warm-up, students then learned to move their robots using a single motor block. As recommended by Damien in his presentation, I placed two lines of tape on the floor at a random distance from each other and then students worked to program their robots to start with wheels on the first line and stop with wheels on the second line. They set to work trying different motor on durations and very quickly developed an appreciation for the decimal point! If 5 rotations were too many, they tried 4, then 4.5, 4.6, 4.7…

They began to see that trial and error and persistence were important for solving this problem, and they experienced the intrinsic joy that came along with finding an exact solution to a problem.

Soon all groups had mastered the line-to-line challenge and were on to trying to figure out how to turn the robot around and bring it home. Despite my having mentioned that changing the “degree” parameter of the motor block to 180° would not turn their robot around, all the groups tried that strategy first, which led to a series of great teachable moments surrounding what “rotation” meant in the motor block. After some experimentation with the remaining parameters in the motor block, groups soon started to catch on that the steering parameter in combination with the duration setting was the ticket to that 180° turn. At least two of the five groups got the turn close to an exact 180° turn, and the remaining groups were well on their way before I cut them off and moved on to objective 2.

Once the kids had a general sense of how to move their robots and turn them, we regrouped and I introduced them to the sound sensor and to the threshold parameter.

As I usually do when explaining threshold to kids, I said, “I bet you already know what threshold means. Let me show you. Listen to my voice and when I reach your threshold between soft and loud, clap.”

I then talk very quietly and get progressively louder until they clap. I repeat and set the threshold for “really loud”. I do a few more examples of simple thresholds they understand. For example, their threshold for drinking hot liquids. I quickly made the correlation to the threshold parameter on the  sensor block. Students seemed confident they understood the wait-for-sound block and so we moved directly on to discuss how to create a wave.

To plan the wave, we created a chart on the wall that sketched what each group needed to do and then parted. We met back up about five minutes later.

On the kids’ first try, the robots took off and executed a perfect little wave. Wow! We had thirty minutes left to add a choreographed movement of our choice. We lined up 5 students to represent the five robots and planned our dance move. Groups ran off in all directions to program. Shortly after we met back up, pushed run, waited for the signal and yelled “Go” What came next was…

Terrible. Our little robots were all over the place. And so we began to learn about collaborative trouble-shooting. We came back to the line over and over again, each time it got better, but something wouldn’t be quite right.

With one minute left and groups scrambling to download their last attempts, I called them back to the line. The room was quiet. Thumbs went up to signal all programs were running. Their classroom teacher quietly counted “1-2-3” and then the kids yelled “Go!” one last time. You can see for yourself the fruits of their efforts in our video. The simple sequence of movements won’t blow your mind… but the kids’ cheers and screams of enthusiasm may brighten your day. 

Thoughts on the LEGO Engineering Symposium

27 May

I’m sitting here on the floor at Boston’s Logan Airport, waiting to fly back to Philadelphia after spending 2.5 days at the LEGO Engineering Symposium at Tufts University in Boston, MA. It feels like a perfect time to get back to blogging. (I took a little break from blogging to focus on my wedding this past Saturday.) 

We covered so much and discussed so many topics over the course of the past two days, it’s hard to where to start or what to share so I’ll focus on the topics that were most relevant to the work I’ve been doing at the elementary level.

ELEMENTARY ROBOTICS AND STEM: The symposium provided a perfect venue for educators and researchers who are developing and implementing K-6 STEM lessons and curriculum to connect to share, and to gather and exchange ideas. Below is a quick review of a few of the topics we explored.

  • Listen Attentively: David Hammer and Kristin Wendell led a terrific workshop titled “Seeing the Science and Engineering in Children’s Thinking” during which they encouraged us as educators to be mindful and attentive when listening to children who are expressing ideas and communicating  thoughts about science and engineering. Instead of getting lost listening for the “right answers” or for content buzzwords, we need to listen for expressions of  authentic ideas and for evidence of scientific or engineering-oriented thinking, and then, in those moments, we need to validate and acknowledge the expression of the idea. David Hammer and Emily van Zee have published on the topic in their book “Seeing the Science in Children’s Thinking”. 
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  • Connect to Literature: In the workshop, “Engineering & Literacy”, we were introduced the idea that the books that teachers and students are currently reading in their classroom can drive the exploration of engineering problems. As characters encounter problems in the literature, students can be encouraged to engineer solutions to the problems. During the workshop, we worked together to construct a device to keep Peter’s turtle safe from Fudge (Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing), and another to get Ralf S. Mouseand his motorcycle out of the garbage can.

    I love the  idea of having students track character problems as they read and later decide which problems to solve. By engineering solutions to character problems students are given an additional entry point for exploring and re-contextualizing what is happening in the books they are reading. Once a solution is engineered, the options for tying back to literacy are numerous. Students can design a poster to advertise their solution using persuasive and descriptive language; they can re-write the ending of the chapter or story based on the solution they designed; they can create a how-to guide for the character or for their peers explaining how to construct their solution..

  • Design Challenges: John Heffernan gave a presentation on some of the cool work he’s been doing with his students in K-6 using the LEGO WeDo kits. I especially like that he develops robotics curriculum around specific “design challenges” and themes. (i.e. each student pair creates a carnival ride to build an amusement park.)
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  • Allow for Diverse Representations of Ideas: There was significant discussion regarding the importance of providing elementary students multiple opportunities and a variety of means to represent their ideas and knowledge which stemmed from a presentation by Brian Gravel titled “Diverse Trajectories: Students’ Multiple Representations and Varying Ways of Developing Understandings”. A student who struggles to articulate a scientific or engineering-based thought with words, may be able to use gestures, drawings, models, demonstrations, images or video to represent his or her idea.  One of the development labs at the symposium taught teachers how to use a simple Stop-action movie software developed at Tufts CEEO called SAM (Stop Action Movies) to provide students opportunities to represent their ideas using stop motion films. The SAM software is extremely user-friendly and affordable. More information on SAM and a free trial is available on their site.
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  • Get All Kids Involved: The topic of whether or not robotics curriculum and LEGO kits needed to be designed to appeal specifically to girls came up during a few different presentations. Opinions were mixed. A few seemed insistent that making LEGO robotics kits and STEM activities more “girly” or “more appealing to girls” was the best way to increase female interest in STEM curriculum and robotics. Others, myself included, felt it was less important what the kits and materials looked like, and more important that students are exposed to female role models who are knowledgeable and excited about technology, engineering and science. In a side conversation, a few of us later discussed the fact that girls might be more inclined to get involves in STEM activities if they grow up with a family member who works in a STEM field.
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    Liz Gundersen & Sandy Jones presented some of the work they have been doing with girls in an after school “Girl-Tech” program”. As a woman who was never much of a “girly girl” as a kid, I did not necessarily appreciate a few of their blanket statements regarding what is and is not appealing to girls when it comes to STEM. I did, however, absolutely appreciate the way they combined creative arts and literature with robotics and technology. One of the projects they shared featured representations of mythological characters automated by electronic and robotic components. As far as I could tell, all of the projects I saw them present would be great for boys and girls alike! Very cool stuff.
  • Don’t Be Afraid to Jump In: In his presentation titled “It’s not Rocket Science”, Damien Kee  demonstrated a variety of activities teachers can do in their classrooms using only the “move” block in NXT-G along with a few assembled NXT driving bases. One of the videos he shared showed a series of NXT bases all programmed by the kids to do a synchronized wave.
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    Vodpod videos no longer available.<br>

    He made the point that even with minimal experience and long before developing any type of serious expertise, teachers can begin using and experiencing the benefits of LEGO robotics in their classroom. His  message reminded me a little of one I’ve been sharing in posts like “Let go…you don’t need to know everything” and “Just do it.” We can’t expect to know it all before we give it a shot. I mean, I’m sure we’d all love to go back to school to get those mechanical engineering degrees we forgot to get, but who has the time or money? 😉 I guess we’ll just have to do our best and count on each other to get to where we’re going.
Overall, an amazing experience! I’m already excited for next year.

We aren’t likely to forget our first competition…

28 Apr

We climbed the steps of the Drexel Daskalakis Recreation Center buzzing over the ease with which we had just passed through our first vehicle compliance checkpoint. It was our first time participating in a competition like this and none of us truly knew what to expect. As we made our way to the pool, students pulled their new SeaPerch T-shirts over their heads and high-fived and thumbs-upped with optimism. 

Once we found the pool and settled into a section of the bleachers, it was time for compliance checkpoint 2; the pool test. Two of the sixth graders gathered up  our SeaPerch (Steve), our control box, and our battery and we headed down to the pool deck to find a judge.  The kids placed the ROV in the water, and the judge asked them to demonstrate a right turn, left turn, forward movement, and backward movement. They did. Then he asked them to demonstrate whether the ROV could dive and resurface… it did, but then, almost immediately, it didn’t. We watched as our top propeller and shaft floated to the surface of the pool.

Checkpoint 2… the pool test… first attempt… FAIL.

Within 10 minutes, the kids had cleaned and sanded the motor shaft and re-epoxied the propeller shaft. Next… the waiting game. Although epoxy sets fairly quickly, directions recommend that it set for at least an hour before getting wet. We had twenty-five minutes. It would have to do.

Meanwhile, opening ceremonies were about to begin. We filed up to the auditorium and found our seats. Since our first pool slot was scheduled at 10 AM, three of us snuck out a few minutes before the ceremony was over to retest and pass compliance. We found the judge and told him we were ready to try again. Our SeaPerch dove. It resurfaced. It went forward and backward. It turned left. It, it, it… it suddenly had a dead left motor.

Checkpoint 2… the pool test… second attempt… FAIL.

I’m not going to lie… for a moment my heart completely sank. The day before everything worked fine; now we were due to compete in less than 10 minutes and we had failed compliance twice. Weeks of work,  help from volunteers, time coordinating schedules, trouble organizing buses, permission slips and contacting parents, finding lifeguards… all this excitement and effort, and now? What would I tell the kids? Or the parents who had shown up to support the team? Or the administrators who were counting on me to get students hooked on STEM activities?

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