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A Teacher’s POV: Palisades Middle School Robotics Initiative

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Training at Carnegie Robotics Academy

After last summer’s on-site training at Carnegie Mellon Robotics Academy, Palisades Middle School’s technology and computer teachers initiated semester STEM units featuring the VEX Cortex Clawbot, Robot Virtual Worlds software, and ROBOTC programming. 8th grade students now experience how to build and program a robot through collaborative teamwork.

In technology class groups of students learn about robotic systems and mechanics by building and remotely controlling a VEX Clawbot. In computer class students program the VEX Cortex Clawbot in a virtual, immersive environment using Robot Virtual Worlds software and through coursework provided by Carnegie Mellon Robotics Academy’s CS2N Moodle-based learning management system. By combining their knowledge and skills in groups, students will ultimately compete using autonomous and remote-control programming in a class competition called, “Tic Tech Toe”.

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Julia, 8th grade middle school student

I attend Palisades Middle School and am in the 8th grade. I love how both our computer and technology class are combined. Being brand new to the whole experience of robotics, finding new ways to use technology educationally is something that really intrigues me. Currently I am in computer class and cannot compare it to anything else. Overall, the atmosphere and supportive people make this experience fun and worthwhile. It has introduced me to concepts that I didn’t even know were possible and are very educational. For example, I have recently learned to use a very cool program called ROBOTC. Basically, ROBOTC is a program which allows you to give your robot “tasks”. In my computer class we have been doing this quite a bit and I just love everything about it. Its a new and educational way for students to learn programming. My learning this at a young age really builds success for the future.

Lydia, 8th grade middle school student

Student-Created Simulated Field  Created in RVW Level Builder

Student-Created Simulated Field
Created in RVW Level Builder

Our technology and computer classes joined together while working on robotics. I really enjoyed being able to create and program robots. In our tech class each student was assigned a partner to build a robot and race it in a competition against fellow classmates. Our computer class involved robotic programming.We learned how to compile and download programs to a virtual robot and complete different challenges. This program was so much fun and I really enjoyed how we got to experience both “hands-on” and “hands-off” learning.

Making Robotics Real for Students

There is a real advantage in learning how to program in a virtual environment. Most programming courses offer 2-dimensional “Hello World” feedback. Robot Virtual Worlds gives students immediate 3-D feedback and opens their eyes to real-world programming applications. We have been pleasantly surprised with how students respond with interest to learning how to program when it’s presented in this context.

Robot Virtual Worlds also offers an engaging method of project-oriented learning involving challenges. Students don’t just program the robot to move, they learn what it would be like to manipulate a robot through various simulated environments. These environments called “worlds” could be a space mission, tropical island, or could even be student-designed obstacle field. These worlds have been effective in stimulating interest and maintaining learner engagement.

Palisades4In addition to the classroom experience, our first semester students also visited a local robotics company and learned first-hand how their robotics experiences have real-world relevance. Students were given the opportunity to see actual robots in development and other related technologies. This visit got the student’s attention, providing them with a better understanding of potential opportunities in engineering and programming.

We are anxious to continue this collaborative program. There was an initial investment in training, software, and hardware, but we feel that the return for the students is well worth it. In sharing our classes and resources, students are learning about information and machine technology in a unique way. We hope that this transfers over into their continuing studies and even future careers.

Written by Cara Friez-LeWinter

April 6th, 2015 at 6:35 am