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Organizing a Robotics Classroom

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IMG_4201Getting your classroom organized for the beginning of the school year is an arduous task for even the most experienced teacher.  It can be even more demanding for those that teach robotics.  You’ve got the robot kits, you’ve been trained in ROBOTC, but how do you set up your class for the first day of school?  The goal of this article is to help answer the question for both new robotic teachers and teachers that have been teaching robotics for years.

As we all know, a robotics kit is more expensive than a textbook.  Moreover, because robotics kits contain so many small pieces, they can be much more difficult to take care of than a textbook.  As a result, keeping your kits organized is crucial.  If using a Lego Mindstorms or Tetrix robot, one way that I have found that can be very helpful is to name the NXT brick.  Then, give the same name to the kit. Now, assign the kit to the group of students in your class.  If the students know that over-tablethey are responsible for that kit, it goes a long way towards them acting more responsibly with the kit. If using a VEX robot, you won’t have the same ability to name your brick, but you can still able to label your robotics kit.

Which students are assigned to work together is also something that the teacher must put some thought into.  Once again, maintaining the kits is of the utmost importance.  Therefore, I am not going to allow students to work together if I feel that will not take care of the kit.  Some students are more organized and careful with the kits than others.  I always try to have one of those students in a group.  I try to have the kits named and assigned before the first day of school.  If I don’t know the students, then I may have to adjust the groups as we progress throughout the beginning of the school year.

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Once the kits are organized, the teacher can then start to think about how their curriculum items are going to be accessed and utilized.  A math teacher has a plan for when their students have a question about a topic, or when a student is confused about a particular concept.  A robotics teacher has to have the same type of plan in mind.  The beauty of teaching robotics lies in the fact that students are intrinsically motivated to find answers to their problems because they are highly engaged.  Some students will still be conditioned, however, to try to elicit the answer from the teacher instead of reasoning through a problem on their own.  Robotics teachers need to create a plan so the students can work towards being independent and productive problem solvers.

To that end, a good approach to a complex challenge is to examine what needs to be done before the challenge, during the challenge, and after the challenge is complete.  Before the challenge, students should be focusing on create flowcharts to organize their program and writing pseudocode to reflect those flowcharts.  During the challenge, students should focus on commenting their code and debugging techniques.  Afterwards, students should be afforded the opportunity to reflect and respond to what went well, what went not so well, and what they learned throughout the process.

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Giving students a little bit of structure while they engage a challenging task will go a long way towards ensuring that the students’ high level of engagement does not turn into a high level of frustration.  Engagement works both ways in that sense: High engagement leads to students that are focused on their task, but can also lead to high levels of frustration because the students desperately want to finish that task.  To avoid the frustration,teachers should provide a structure that the students can rely on when needed.  Before the school year begins, teachers should spend some time planning students’ work, and then the students can spend time during school working their plan.

The beginning of the school year is always a challenge.  As teachers, we understand that unforeseen difficulties will always arise.  However, going into the school year with as much planned and organized as possible helps us to focus on those unpredictable events that will undoubtedly occur.

Check out how we organize robot parts at the Carnegie Mellon Robotics Academy:


-Jason McKenna

Robotics Back to School Blog Series

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SCHOOL-BUS-DRIVERIt is that time of year again … backpacks on our backs, buses on the streets, and lessons being planned. Yes, we are going back to school! To kick start the school year, we are introducing a six week robotics back to school blog series that highlights the technical and pedagogical side of planning for your robotics classroom. John Watson, from ROBOTC customer support, and Jason McKenna, a K-8 Gifted Support Teacher in the Hopewell Area School District outside of Pittsburgh, PA, will be sharing with you tips, tricks, advice, and recommendations on prepping your robotics classroom and curriculum.

As each blog is posted, the topics below will turn into hyperlinks, so feel free to bookmark this page!

Topics

If you have any questions or would like to start a conversation on any of the topics, feel free to leave us a comment below!

FTC Kickoff 2013 Pittsburgh PA

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FTCicon

Join fellow PA FTC teams at this season’s Pennsylvania FTC Season Kick-off on September 7, 2013 from 11am to 4pm! This season it has expanded to three locations (East/Downingtown, Central/Millersville, West/Pittsburgh), and the three sites will be linked together to form one large virtual Kick-off event. The Pittsburgh event will take place at Carnegie Mellon University’s National Robotics Engineering Center.

 
 
 

Schedule of Events:

11:00 Registration
11:15 Local Info Sessions / Tours (see below)
12:15 Lunch
1:00 Welcome and Opening Remarks
1:10 Pennsylvania FTC 2013-2014 Season
1:30 Judging / Engineering Notebook Update
2:00 ROBOTC / Robot Virtual Worlds Update
2:30 TETRIX and Matrix Update
2:45 Break
3:00 2013-2014 FTC Game Reveal!
3:15 Local Game Discussion
4:00 Event Complete

Tour Information – Teams visiting the West/Pittsburgh region will have a chance to tour the National Robotics Engineering Center – a research hub of Carnegie Mellon University’s Robotics Institute. Teams will learn about how state of the art robotic concepts are being utilized in commercial, agriculture and military applications. Teams will also get to see the research and development labs for Carnegie Mellon’s Tartan Rescue, creators of CHIMP for the newest DARPA Robotics Challenge. Learn more by visiting http://www.rec.ri.cmu.edu.

Written by Cara Friez

August 14th, 2013 at 5:50 pm

ROBOTC Student – Kristen McKellar

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Kristen-McKellarWe had the chance to interview the lead programmer for FTC Team 5037, Kristen McKellar. She is an impressive programmer with a bright future ahead. Check out her story on how her knowledge of ROBOTC helped her win the National 4-H Engineering Challenge …
 
 
 
 
 
 


 
Are you a ROBOTC student who wants to share your story with us? If so, send us an email at socialmedia@robotc.net!

Written by Cara Friez

August 2nd, 2013 at 3:36 pm

New RVW Level Build Tutorial at CS2N

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Create-Own-Level-BuilderWe are happy to announce a new course on CS2N, Create Your Own Level with RVW Level Builder. In this new course, you will go through the steps of making your own custom level inRobot Virtual Worlds‘ Level Builder!

The class is structured on a 5-phase version of the engineering process (Concept, Design, Production, Testing, Release). In each phase, you will take a further step towards completing your level, either through planning, creating, or testing your level.

 
 
 
 


 
 

Beacons-and-BarriersLevel Builder enables users to easily create levels and challenges for others to solve. Teachers can create custom challenges for their classrooms or generate unique challenges for each student. Multiple real and fantasy themed robots and objects are available for use. You can also import your own objects with the 3D Model Importer. Your level plays like any other virtual world. You can access all of the motors and sensors on the virtual robot to solve the challenge using ROBOTC code.

Sign up for CS2N and this FREE course today - Create Your Own Level with RVW Level Builder. And don’t forget we have a Level Builder competition going on until August 31, 2013, Beacons and Barriers, with a chance to win some great prizes!!
 
 
 

A Teacher’s POV: My Child Wrote Code?

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Zany Animals Camp 2013

Originally posted on Grow a Generation Blog

by Dr. Ellen Cavanaugh

I took Grow a Generation to a recent Zumbathon fundraiser for the Yellow Ribbon Girls.  Several kids meandered over to the table while the moms were working out. I invited them to play around with the Scratch programming window that was opened on the computer.  One girl, I think about 10 or 11, became enamored with Scratch, asking how to make the cat she choose as a sprite move around the screen.  I showed her a few command codes and encouraged her to experiment.  Intent, she focused as hard on that screen as the 200+ moms focused on their workout. When the workout was over, her mom, exhausted and drenched, came to grab her hand and walk off. It took several attempts by me to convince the mom to actually look, and several more attempts to explain the daughter had not been playing a game, rather programming a new one. She had programmed her cat to dance a Zumba workout.  Even then, the mom didn’t seem to understand and finally looked closer to let her child explain the code she had put in place.  The mom was incredulous, “You mean my daughter actually programmed this?”

AliceI spent this week working with some brilliant young people as they were introduced to Alice 2, a free drag and drop educational programming language that allows students to create computer animations using 3D models. Our theme was Zany Animals and each student was tasked with inventing a creature and animating it with special qualities. J.K. Rowlings inventive imagination supplied fuel for our creativity while we looked at the etymology and origins of some great Harry Potter creatures (Basilisk, Phoenix, Hippogriff, Boggart, and Thestrals). The Discovery channel demonstrated some very real incredible animals and provided a template for our short nature documentaries. We discussed the ethics of animal experimentation and watch some videos of the current status on cloning, using animal to create pharmaceuticals and synthetic proteins, and grafting technology onto animals.

One of the uncles (a young man in his late twenties) stopped mid-week and looked around at the fun we were having.  He shared his remembrances of computer science class in high school, a black screen with detailed code he could not make work.  He had walked away from high school convinced Programming was something he could not learn.

His comments, alongside the mom’s at the Zumbathon, have me wondering about marketing.  Only five students enrolled in the camp.  While other factors played a part, how do I advertise to a generation who cannot conceive a child can begin to write code (and have fun doing it)?  How can we work to allow not just the technology teacher and the media lab director, but also the classroom teacher encourage computer programming and the creation of digital artifacts in the creative expression of their students.

I have had to journey my own learning curve this summer.  I am taking the CS2N Summer of Learning class in ROBOTC.  The Alice 2 tutorials I did in class were adapted from the CS2N Introduction to Alice class that is available free on their website. I learned alongside the kids and eagerly accepted the wonderful help of two area middle school STEM heroes who run their own programming classes in the homeschool network – Fiona and Joseph Chaney.

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The camp was such fun.  The kids learned to select an environment and create an establishing shot for their animals habitat.  They then created their creature by selecting the object of an animal and changing colors, textures, ear size, nose size, arm length, etc. They started animating their animal to demonstrate its incredible abilities and changing camera angles to tell a story. Finally, they added sound and narration to their animation.  All of this was done while learning basic computer care, where to save and recover files, and how to deal with constant messaging of “Alice thinks you made an error” and carry on through frustration.  The kids will be using the animations they created to enter the CS2N Nature Doc-u-mentary competition.

Two learning leap moments stood out.  The first was a child who had originally placed two dragons into the scene and they create a ‘method’ called fight.  He dragged the method into the editor box and couldn’t figure out why they weren’t fighting.  He had not yet connected the need to write the script for each movement of each dragon to create the method.  The rest of his week was spent focused on getting a dragon to flap his wings. It tied in beautifully with a video on the last day about how computer animation team created the Thestral flight scene in the Harry Potter Order of the Phoenix movie. This boy was breaking down the abstract concepts of ‘fight’ and ‘fly’ and beginning to think in terms of modeling, algorithms, and sequence.

Another moment came when a student wanted to have a turtle disappear into his shell. I found a brief tutorial online (the Alice tutorials are out there, but they are not as easy to find as the Scratch tutorials) and he was able to follow it.  When I checked back in to examine his code, I was so impressed how he could walk me through the control structures he put in place for sequence, conditions, and parallel execution!

High points included sitting outside on a gorgeous rain free day in the shade under the tree at a picnic table at Baden Academy as students typed away on their netbooks creating their animals, inspired by the new surroundings and summer breeze.  Another was the look of such pride as parents and grandparents applauded to see the student creations on the screen in the lab at the end of the week.

Embarrassment of the week – despite a Ph.D., I could not visualize the need to invert the image on the iron on for the shirts – so if you see a smiling child wearing a shirt with a picture of their Zany Animal and all the text is backwards, know that you are looking yet another erratum of Dr. Ellen.

I close with a recent Facebook post from a mom: “John made this video in his computer class this past week. It is short but he has never done anything like this in the past. Wish the class was longer than five days. He loved it.”

Enjoy the kids work – and don’t forget to add your comments!

Bob Bobson

Crackfire

FireBall the Devious Hamster Crook

Moon Dragon

Turtle Chase

 

Written by Cara Friez

July 31st, 2013 at 5:40 pm

Cool Project: Monster Ball Sorting Factory

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Ray McNamara is relatively new to ROBOTC, having only really started to seriously use it within the past year, but already he’s come up with some interesting projects that caught our eye. The “Monster Ball Sorting Factory”, which he shared with us on the forum, is definitely a cool project we had to share.
 


 

The Factory is a cooperation between two robots Ray’s designed. One is an NXT Forklift truck, which uses a special non-standard part: a pair of Omni Wheels in the back to replace the standard single rotating wheel, which makes the Forklift’s turns a lot more reliable.

The other is a long, conveyor belt and claw arm robot that sorts balls piled onto a conveyor belt based on their color. It then puts them into containers, which the Forklift periodically takes and places in a slot so that the robot can dump it into a bigger bin. This robot is a combination of an earlier project, the “Bin Emptying Machine,” that takes the balls out of their container with a rail mounted crane that does the sorting.

We asked Ray about the project and his motivation for doing it and he replied:

“My Monster Sorter is still a work in progress, much to my wife’s annoyance due to the amount of real-estate it has been taking up in the lounge room since early December 2012.  I hope to have it all running on a single NXT (excluding the Forklift), by means of 2x Mindsensors Motor Multiplexers and 1x Mindsensors Sensor Multiplexer. If my calculations are right, the single NXT Brick will control 8x Motors and 10x Sensors.

My motivation was the challenge to learn how far I take the standard Colour Sorter model. It really started back in 2010, when I convinced Rotacaster Australia‘s GM to turn his industrial rollers into Omni-wheels for my LEGO Models and robots. After almost exhausting the possibilities of Holonomic Platforms, I looked into other uses for the Rotacaster Wheels, resulting in my Forklift Truck.

Once I had my Forklift Truck, I needed to put it to work. The Ball Sorting Factory was what evolved over a few days. Since then I have been fine tuning the hardware and the ROBOTC code used to control it. In the process, I have also been Beta Testing some Mindsensors Sensors and Multiplexers with it.

I always try to include a detailed description, photos, video, code and CAD files for my robots when they are published to my blog. Although it takes a lot of time to put my blog posts together, I feel it is worth it. I get a lot questions and praise from many people who use my resources. I especially enjoy helping out students with their queries.”

To download the code to this project, click here – ROBOTC Code for Factory and ROBOTC Code for Forklift.

Thanks to Ray for taking the time to respond to our questions! Visit Ray’s website at www.rjmcnamara.com to see more projects, pictures, codes, videos, and much more.

Do you have a cool project or video you want to share with us? If so, send us an email at socialmedia@robotc.net.

Written by Cara Friez

July 31st, 2013 at 3:55 pm

ROBOTC Mentors – Kjersti and Violet

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robotMag_2We interviewed Kjersti Chippindale and Violet Replicon, who are the mentors for the FIRST Tech Team 6002 – The Basilisks, and asked them to tell us about their FTC robotics experience. They used to be members of FTC Team Antipodes, but decided that they’d rather spend their Senior year mentoring two brand new teams in hopes to keep the robotics tradition alive at their school.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Are you a robotics student, mentor, coach, or teacher who wants to share your story with us? If so, send us an email at socialmedia@cs2n.org!
 

Written by Cara Friez

July 25th, 2013 at 5:42 pm

Summer of Learning Leaderboards are Live

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Robotics-LeaderboardWe are happy to announce that the leaderboards for the Robotics Summer of Learning competitions are live! Each leaderboard shows the overall scores as well as the leaders in each division. The results are real-time, so check back often to see where you stand. The competitions run until August 31, 2013.

Leaderboards

VEX Toss Up

FTC Ring it Up!

 

 

Divisions

  • Middle School Division - 6th to 8th Grade (for the 2013-2014 School Year)
  • High School Division - 9th to 12th Grade (for the 2013-2014 School Year)
  • Open Division - Teachers, Mentors, Coaches, Educators, Hobbyists, Everyone!

Prizes

FTC-Prizes

VEX-Prizes

The official rules are listed on the official Robotics Summer of Learning page.

Written by Cara Friez

July 24th, 2013 at 3:48 pm

ROBOTC Student – Jacob Mason

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Jacob MasonAs we mentioned before, every year at Worlds, we get to meet some amazingly talented students. Jacob Mason was one of those students. He is the lead programmer for FTC Team 3486 the Techno Warriors Advanced.  Check out his story in this interview:
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
Are you a ROBOTC student who wants to share your story with us? If so, send us an email at socialmedia@cs2n.org!

Written by Cara Friez

July 8th, 2013 at 6:00 pm