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A Teacher’s POV: Robotics in a STEM Classroom

I’d like to welcome a new section to our blog called Teacher’s POV (Point of View) that will allow guest bloggers who are teachers, mentors, and coaches to share some of the lessons they have learned while teaching robotics. Our first guest blogger is a good friend to the ROBOTC family, Jason McKenna, a K-8 Gifted Support Teacher in the Hopewell Area School District outside of Pittsburgh, PA. He has been kind enough to put together some blogs about his experiences teaching robotics.

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As teachers, we are constantly looking for ways to make the subjects that we are teaching relevant. Students are always asking when they will ever use a particular concept, or how what they are learning applies to a real life scenario. Admittedly, teachers sometimes have a hard time answering those questions.

Thankfully, teaching Robotics and computer programming puts those questions to rest. Because technology is so ubiquitous in students’ lives, students will immediately see the benefits of learning how to program. Moreover, Robotics is the perfect platform to show the application of math and science concepts to everyday scenarios.

In addition to all of that stuff that we educators like to talk about, students just have fun programming a robot to do something. Add in the allure of some competition, and you have yourself a pretty engaged classroom.

With that in mind, I decided to have my 8th grade students participate in a line following car race. Students were to program their robots to follow a line as fast as possible. Of course, the trick is the robot has to stay on the line. While following a black line, the robot has to decide (using a light sensor) if it is on the black line or on the white part of the mat. For the competition, the students added some PID concepts to their line following. As many of you already know, PID is used in many control systems, from your car, to your homes, to large scale factories. The students and I discussed how PID is basically a control system that tries to calculate an error and make adjustments to a control system based upon that error. The robot calculates an error (how far it is off the black line) and then makes adjustments to the motor speed based upon the error. That is what makes it proportional: the movement is based upon the error. Large error equals a large correction whereas a smaller error creates a smaller correction.

The students were able to apply some of the concepts they are currently learning in Algebra to their program. For example, they are utilizing the slope intercept formula (y=mx+b) to find their turn. Y is the turn distance, x is the light sensor reading (the error), and m is the change in y (maximum and minimum turning power) divided by the change in x (maximum and minimum light sensor reading). Students get to apply an important math concept to a fun and engaging scenario that has real-world applications.

The students then decided that they wanted to see what would happen with two light sensors. The students adjusted their code, conducted some iterative testing, and surveyed their results.

In conclusion, one really sees how Robotics and ROBOTC meld perfectly with the goals of a STEM classroom. Really, the only limitation is a teacher’s (and students’) imagination.

– Jason McKenna

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Thank you Jason! If you are a teacher who would like to share your experiences on our blog, send us an email to socialmedia@cs2n.org.

Top Images – Code designed by Brennan Novak, Teacher designed by Juan Pablo Bravo, and Robot designed by Simon Child all from The Noun Project.

Written by Cara Friez-LeWinter

May 16th, 2013 at 6:18 pm