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ROBOTC Graphical Natural Language

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We know that text based languages (such as ROBOTC) have advantages in terms of customizability with functions, complexity with algorithms and calculations, and typically smaller sized programs over graphical languages; however, it is difficult to overcome the simplicity and ease of use that “Drop and Drag” programming languages offer to new users just getting started with programming.

TextBasedNaturalLanguage

A few years ago (with ROBOTC 3.X), we announced our “Natural Language” feature – a simplified library of commands that used “natural” commands to control your robot, such as Forward, Reverse, and LineTrackForTime. The Natural Language feature was designed to help ‘bridge the gap’ between a graphical language and the text-based ROBOTC. Teachers have praised ROBOTC’s Natural Language for making it easier to get their students up and running faster than ever before. Currently, ROBOTC supports Natural Language on the VEX Cortex, VEX IQ, and LEGO MINDSTORMS NXT platforms for both “Real” and “Virtual” robots.

GraphicalProgrammingOverview1

Today we’re proud to give you a sneak peek to a new feature we’re calling “Graphical Natural Language”. This new interface will allow you to program robots from inside ROBOTC with easy-to-use graphical blocks that can be drag-and-dropped to form a program. Each block represents an individual command from the “text-based” ROBOTC and Natural Language.

 


 

Each block is custom designed to fit the needs for that specific function and parameters. Using text boxes and drop-down menus, users can customize each values of each function to solve various challenge and activities using the same commands as ROBOTC’s Text-Based Natural Language.

FunctionsParameters
We have also added some new language extensions to both ROBOTC and Natural Language, such as the simplistic “Repeat” command. Prior to the Repeat command, users would need to copy and paste large sections of code or use a looping structure (like a ‘for’ or ‘while loop) in order to have a set of actions repeat a certain number of times. With the new “Repeat” command, however, users can simply specify how many times they would like for the code to run, with no complex coding required.

RepeatCommand
Another awesome tool that we’ve implemented in ROBOTC 4.0 is the “comment out” feature. You can now comment out an entire line of code just by clicking on the block’s line number. Lines of code that are “commented out” are ignored by the robot when the program is run, which makes this feature very useful when testing or debugging a program. This new tool is unique to Graphical Natural Language.

CommentingOut
Because each Graphical Natural Language block corresponds to a real ROBOTC or Natural Language function, users will be able to graduate from Graphical Natural Language to full text-based Natural Language with the press of a single button. This will allow you to naturally transition from Graphical Natural Language to the text based Natural Language (or ROBOTC), without having to worry about manually converting the code line-by-line!

NaturalLanguageWithCode
We have many other features and enhancements planned for Graphical Natural Language – Be on the lookout for a preview version sometime in January!

Please Note: The screenshots and interface in this post are not the finalized version of the ROBOTC Graphical Natural Language – the names, interface, look and feel of the system may change between now and official release.

A Teacher’s POV: Programming the VEX IQ Robots

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VEX-IS-DS4In the previous entry, I shared some of the features of the VEX IQ robots. Also discussed were some ideas on how to get a classroom organized. Now that we have those things established, we can move on to a discussion of how to begin programming the VEX IQ robots.

ROBOTC for VEX IQ has Natural Language commands that will help beginning programmers of the VEX IQ by supplying a set of commands that use “natural” words. For example, the “forward” command will make your robot move forwards for a specified amount of time or distance. The robot will come to a stop after the movement. Here are some examples of the command:

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Move the robot forward for 2.5 rotations:
• forward(2.5);

Move the robot forward to 180 degrees:
• forward(180, degrees);

Move the robot forward for 1.5 rotations at 30% speed:
• forward(1.5, rotations, 30);

Move the robot forward for 10 seconds:
• forward(10, seconds);
• forward(10000, milliseconds);
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Natural Language also contains other helpful commands; such as, “backward”, “turnLeft”, “turnRight”, and “repeat”. Below is an example of a Natural Language sample program that is located within the Natural Language sample program folder in ROBOTC:
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/*
VEX IQ Natural Language – Port Names and Numbers
leftMotor – Port #1
rightMotor – Port #6
armMotor – Port #10
clawMotor – Port #11
touchLEDSensor – Port #3
gyroSensor – Port #4
distanceSensor – Port #7
bumperSensor – Port #8
colorSensor – Port #9
*/

task main()
{
//Configure the Natural Language to use the VEX IQ Clawbot
setRobotType(VexIQClawbot);

//Move the robot forward for 1.5 rotations (rotations are the default unit) at 50% speed (default speed)
forward(1.5);

//Turn the robot right for 1.25 rotations at 50% speed (default speed)
turnRight(180, degrees);

//Move the robot backwards for 720 degrees at 25% speed.
backward(720, degrees, 25);

//Turn the robot left for 2.5 rotations at 50% speed (default speed)
turnLeft(2.5, rotations);
}
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As you can see, there are a couple things that we have to do in order to use the Natural Language functionality. To enable Natural Language, go to “Robot Menu -> Platform Type -> Natural Language”.

The easiest way to get started programming is to open a sample program or to use a template. To open a sample program in ROBOTC, go to File Menu -> Open Sample Program.

To use a Natural Language template in ROBOTC, go to File Menu -> New… -> Natural Language Template.

To make programming easier, Natural Language makes assumptions about the type of robot you are using. To configure your Natural Language program to use our VEX IQ Clawbot, use the following line of code:
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setRobotType(VexIQClawbot);
More robot models will be supported in future releases.
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VEX-IQ-DSFinally, you will notice in the sample program that port names and numbers are given specific names and ports. Make sure that your VEX IQ Clawbot’s motors and sensors are configured this way in order to work with the Natural Language commands.

Ok. We are ready to go with programming! What should we do? My suggestion would be to start with the Labyrinth Challenge.

The Labyrinth challenge gives the students an opportunity to engage with the VEX IQ robots and ROBOTC. The students are immediately engaged because they can see and test their robot’s movement as it makes its way through the course. Since this may be the first program that some students write, there are a couple of things worth remembering. First, makes sure the students create a flowchart before they begin programming. For more information on flowcharts, you can look here: VEX Teacher – Engineering.

VEX-IQ-DS2Second, it is important that the students describe what is going on in their programs with comments. For more information on how to utilize comments, please see here: http://www.robotc.net/vex_full/reference/hp_comment.pdf

Now you are ready to go! Good luck and have fun! Remember, if you have any questions as you are working, please visit the ROBOTC forums.

- Jason McKenna

 
 

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Written by Cara Friez

December 13th, 2013 at 6:41 am

A Teacher’s POV: Getting Started with the VEX IQ

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VEX-IQ-Carly-and-KarriThe VEX IQ robot is a great, new option for middle and high school robotics teachers. With anything new in the classroom, it’s important to have some ideas on how to best implement the new tools in the classroom.

There are some features of the VEX IQ system that teachers will notice initially. The VEX IQ brain has 12 identical ports. This means that any device (either a sensor or a motor) can be plugged into one of the ports. Also, the VEX IQ motors are smart motors; therefore, the motors can hold a position and resist external movements. Some of the sensors for the VEX IQ include a Bumper sensor, a Touch LED sensor, a Gyro Sensor, a Color sensor, and a Sonar sensor. One nice asset of the motors and sensors is the fact that they each have their own upgradeable firmware. As a result, if new features are added, the firmware for the device can be upgraded, as opposed to buying a new sensor and/or motor.

With the VEX IQ Starter Kit, there are over 850 structural and motion components. That many parts allow teachers and students lots of flexibility when it comes to building a robot. But, that’s only if they can find the parts they need. One of the first things that teachers need to do is get their kits organized. The Starter Kit comes with a storage bin and tray that help, but the amount of parts means that different pieces will need to be stored together in the storage bin. If the students know what pieces are located in each section of the storage bin, it will make the building process much easier.

VEX-IQ-JacobThe base robot for the VEX IQ is the Clawbot. The Clawbot include a gripper and a lifter arm. These features immediately grab the attention of most students; they love the idea of being able to lift and grab an object. For teachers, it is a good idea to build the Clawbot before allowing the students the opportunity to do the same. This gives teachers an idea of what problems the students may have as they begin building, and it also allows the teachers to help those students that run into problems. You can’t start anything until all the students have their robot built. Having some groups finish their robot, while other groups lag behind can be an issue. Building a robot first, puts the teacher in the best position to get everyone started off on the right foot.

When it comes time to start building, students can work on different parts of the VEX IQ Clawbot. You can divide the Clawbot into these sections: the Base, the Claw, the Tower, and the Ball Holder. One suggestion to organize a class would be to have two students work on the Base, while one student each works on the Claw, the Tower and the Ball Holder. Or, you could have one student work on each section. It’s important to note that however the class is organized for the building of the Clawbot, there should be a uniform way that the students attach the motors and sensors.

 


 

The battery for the VEX IQ robot brain comes charged, so a teacher does not need to worry about doing that preliminarily. So, once the Clawbot is built, the next thing that needs to be done is install the ROBOTC firmware and update the VEX IQ brain, motors, and any sensors that may be on the robot. Click here for directions on how to install the ROBOTC Firmware.

To update the VEX IQ brain, motors, and sensors, the VEX IQ Firmware Update Utility needs to be downloaded to your computer. The Firmware Update Utility and directions on how to utilize it can be found here.

With the next installment, we will take a look at how to set up your first programming lesson. In the meantime, teachers can take advantage of a few readily available resources at Carnegie Mellon’s Robotics Academy VEX Teacher Site and the ROBOTC Wiki to help with questions concerning programming the VEX IQ with ROBOTC.

-Jason McKenna

 
 

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Written by Cara Friez

December 5th, 2013 at 4:43 pm

Expedition Atlantis Beta 3 Now Available!

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We’re happy to announce a big update to the Expedition Atlantis game. Thank you to everyone who provided feedback for the previous versions – keep it coming!

One new feature that we think you’ll appreciate is the ability to create a certificate of the badges that you’ve earned, if you’ve been playing with a CS2N or Local account. It’s a great way to share the progress you’ve made in the game!

Atlantis Certificate

Here are some of the other major features and fixes we’ve made based on your feedback:

  • Fixed a bug where sometimes the game would freeze after upgrading to Helios II in Poseidon’s Courtyard
  • Improved the visibility of the distance and angle values throughout the game, especially in the Heart of Atlantis
  • Fixed a bug where the game could crash in VR Training Mode
  • Fixed a bug that could cause the game to freeze in the Underwater Base when playing in Custom Difficulty
  • Addressed possible issues when switching between difficulty levels while playing the Heart of Atlantis

To catch up on all of the latest Expedition Atlantis information, including the game unveiling and a Google Hangout with the development team, check out our Expedition Atlantis page.

Download the latest version of Expedition Atlantis at RobotVirtualWorlds.com.

Update for Expedition Atlantis Virtual World!

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We’re excited to announce a huge update to our brand new Expedition Atlantis Virtual World. The update includes nearly 100 fixes and improvements to the deep sea game. For a full overview of the game, check out the original announcement here. And the best news is, Expedition Atlantis is completely free through the end of the year!

Atlantis Beta 2

Download the latest version of Expedition Atlantis by clicking here.

If you downloaded and tried out Expedition Atlantis, please take 2-3 minutes and give us your feedback in this survey.

Written by Jesse Flot

October 22nd, 2013 at 5:07 pm

New Robot Virtual World: Expedition Atlantis

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The Robot Virtual World team has just released a beta version of it’s latest game, Expedition Atlantis! It’s the year 2023 and Atlantis has been discovered deep in the ocean, off of the coast of Africa. A team of elite scientists and engineers have been sent to investigate the underwater ruins, and you’re one of them! Use your skills to to maneuver the teams underwater vehicles in this expedition to Atlantis!

Proportional problems are embedded everywhere. Expedition Atlantis provides students with the big ideas needed to become proficient proportional thinkers. Check out this video to see how:

The game begins with your submarine being deployed from a large mothership, beginning your expedition to Atlantis. A large underwater storm throws the submarine off course and into a cliff side!

Hyperion Deployed

Fortunately, the submarine was equipped with an escape pod! The underwater storm is still acting up, so you’ll need to move the robot to areas with cover between outbursts. The mothership will transmit how far away the next safe zone is; you’ll need to calculate how many wheel rotations it will take to get there. Be careful not to move too far or too little or you’ll be blown around the ocean floor!

Chapter 1

A special training mode is available to help you learn how proportional relationships work, like how turning a number of wheel rotations translates into moving forward a certain distance.

VR

Expedition Atlantis can be played with four different difficulty levels: Cadet (Easy), Explorer (Medium), Admiral (hard), and Custom. With custom mode, you can set how many problems you need to solve in each level of the game, and how hard the problems are. You’ll also notice that there are 4 main levels to the game.

Chapter Selection

After completing Level 1, the Minoan Megaliths, you’ll reach Level 2, the Pillars of Hercules. Underwater platforms appear to allow your escape pod to cross the chasm. You’ll need to calculate how much the robot needs to turn to line itself up with the next platform, before the robots thrusters engage. Be careful or your robot will thrust itself right to the bottom of the chasm!

Chapter 2

Once you cross the chasm, you’ll reach the Atlantis Base and be equipped with a robot capable of catching cargo from the mothership. The storm is still acting up and throwing the cargo off course, so you’ll need to calculate how much the robot needs to turn and move forward to catch the cargo in Poseidons Courtyard.

Chapter 3 A

The cargo you catch contains upgrades for your robot, which will be crucial for the final part of your mission. Take the cargo back to base to equip the upgrades!

Chapter 3 B

In the underwater base, you’ll be able to equip all of the upgrades that you caught in Poseidons Courtyard. Upgrades range from different wheels, different robot bodies (chassis), powerful attachments, and even paint colors.

Base

With your upgraded robot, you’ll be ready to explore the Heart of Atlantis. You’ll be completely in charge of marking where your robot needs to go, performing the calculations to get it there. Be careful! Ancient Atlantis was highly advanced technologically – it has a reactor core and portal network which is still operational today, but sensor readings indicate that they are unstable. Your robots radiation shield will protect it from the radiation, but will also slowly drain its batteries.

Chapter 4

As you make progress in Atlantis, you’ll be rewarded with achievements. These achievements will also show up on your “My Achievements” page on CS2N, if you logged into the game with your CS2N username!

Badges

Why Use Expedition Atlantis?

  1. Proportional problems are embedded everywhere
    1. Widely applicable
    2. Students with math IEPs especially need proportional reasoning skills
  2. Expedition Atlantis provides students with the big ideas needed to become proficient proportional thinkers
    1. High student engagement through underwater robotics game
    2. Research-driven
      1. Mechanistic approach
      2. Proportional thinking, not just proportional methods
      3. Repeated, contextualized practice
      4. Unified approach
    3. Aligns with the Common Core Standards
    4. Immediate teacher and student feedback
    5. Differentiation for high- and low-performing students (manual and automatic)

Expedition Atlantis is designed to be a fun, educational tool to teach and reinforce proportional relationships. When complete, it will be accompanied with a full Teacher’s Guide that provides information on its use in the classroom, ties into mathematical standards, and other valuable information. It’s also available completely for free during our Beta and Feedback period, so download it today!

We appreciate any feedback you have about Expedition Atlantis. Feel free to share it at the ROBOTC.net Forums.

ROBOTC Assessment and Extension Activities

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AssessmentThe ROBOTC Curriculum contains quizzes to help assess what students have learned, or for that matter, what they haven’t learned. However, as we discussed in a previous blog post, one of the great things about teaching ROBOTC is the ability to differentiate instruction to your students. This can present some issues when it comes to assessment. If a student is progressing quickly through the curriculum, he/she cannot have more assessments than another student. Students all have to be assessed equally. This then begs the question of how you can have the students move through the curriculum at different rates while still assessing them equally.

One of the ways I’ve been able to address this is through the use of rubrics, like the one below:

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Programming Rubric

The programmer uses Pseudocode within the comments to display a logical plan to solve the Mission.

Unsatisfactory - No Pseudocode included.

Satisfactory - Pseudocode is included but it does not display a logical plan to solve the mission.

Good - Pseudocode is included and it displays some logical thinking and something of a plan to solve the mission.

Exemplary – Pseudocode displays a logical plan to solve the mission. The plan is well thought out and clear.

The programmer is able to solve the Mission efficiently and repeatedly.

Unsatisfactory - Less than 70% of the mission is completed.

Satisfactory - Between 70 and 80% of the mission is completed.

Good - Between 80-90% of the mission is completed.

Exemplary - All of the mission is completed, and is able to be completed repeatedly.

Readability

Unsatisfactory - Code is hard to read and understand.

Satisfactory - Code is readable but is difficult to understand completely.

Good - Code is readable and understandable, but unclear is certain places.

Exemplary - The code is tabbed well and takes good advantage of white space in order to make it very easy to read.

Comments

Unsatisfactory - No Comments included.

Satisfactory - Basic Comments are included but some important parts of the code are not explained.

Good - All of the code is commented but explanations could be more complete.

Exemplary - All of the code is commented and the comments are thorough and comprehensive.

————————————————

The nice thing about this rubric is that the student does not have to complete the programming challenge in order to be assessed. Just like in any other class, students might not learn a concept to mastery on its initial presentation. You never want a student to reach their frustration level, so this gives the teacher an opportunity to clear up misconceptions while still assessing the student.

Another thing that a teacher can do is utilize Exit Slips. Once again, if students are working at different instructional paces, then the Exit Slips can general. You can ask questions like, “What part(s) of the programming challenge were you able to finish today?” This type of metacognition is valuable for students as they complete projects that last several days. Or, the exit slip can be a review of previously learned concepts. Either way, Exit Slips can play an important role in both teaching and assessing.

Fortunately for teachers, robotc.net contains a wealth of information for extension activities. The ROBOTC blog contains a section entitled “Cool ROBOTC Projects.” Here, there is a wealth of ideas that teachers can look at in order to create an interesting activity.

Moreover, the ROBOTC forum contains a section dedicated to projects. This can also be researched in order to find ideas or interesting projects for your class. Also, the forum can be used to ask questions as you begin to plan and implement a project. Here, you really get the best of both worlds: A wealth of ideas and choose from and a dedicated community willing to help you with those ideas.

Have a great school year!

Advanced ROBOTC and Robotics in the Classroom

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robotc-code-2-copySo your class has gone through the ROBOTC Video Trainer Curriculum (VEX or LEGO), are comfortable programming in ROBOTC, and the robots are starting to zip across the room: however, some students are absorbing the programming knowledge quickly, while others are taking a little longer to grasp the core concepts. Where should a teacher look to if a student (or classroom) advances beyond the pace of the class? In this post, we will take a look at some of the many advanced programming resources available for ROBOTC.

Because ROBOTC is a C-based programming language, there are many C programming features that students can lean about and implement in their code. The first resource to investigate is the ‘Programming Tips and Tricks’ section of the ROBOTC wiki. This special subsection contains samples of some of the more advanced C-based operations that can be executed using ROBOTC and are pulled from a variety of sources. Topics include structs, switch statements, tertiary operators, and more. Because all of the information is available for free online, students can research and test the topics at their own pace and gain a deeper understanding of the subjects.

An example of an advanced program using a while loop as a counter

An example of an advanced program using a while loop as a counter

Next, you may want to take a look at tutorials on the ROBOTC wiki for implementing advanced programming concepts with different sensors. Also be sure to check out ROBOTC’s Sample Programs (via the ‘File -> Open Sample Programs’) as many of the programming concepts have pieces of advanced code that can help the students understand exactly how they are applied in real-world scenarios. There are also several multi-robot projects (for the NXT) that can be found on ROBOTC’s Multi-Robot wiki and a thread dedicated to advanced ROBOTC programming with VEX which will both offer unique challenges for students to conquer, as well as a wealth of community created projects showcased on the ‘Projects Discussion‘ section of the ROBOTC forums.

Once the students have sufficiently expanded their knowledge of advanced ROBOTC programming, they will be ready to tackle more complex robotics projects. This is a perfect opportunity to encourage creativity and inventiveness with preexisting challenges (and is a perfect example of where differentiated instructions can positively impact a classroom). By utilizing differentiated instruction in the classroom, you will be able to not only challenge the newer programmers with the basic programming examples, but will also be able to engage the more advanced students with complex programming options, such as making their robots perform a challenge quicker, more efficiently, or more accurately (or a mix of all three).


YouTube Direct Link 

- John Watson

Written by Cara Friez

September 24th, 2013 at 6:59 am

Troubleshooting Common Issues in ROBOTC

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TroubleshootingEventually your classroom may run into issues with either the ROBOTC software, the robots, or both. The most important question that arises when this happens is ‘Where do I go for help?’ Fortunately, ROBOTC has you covered with an expansive support system designed to help all ROBOTC users get back on their programming feet as quickly and easily as possible. This blog post will take a look at some of the more common issues that you may run into and how to quickly resolve them.

“I am having trouble installing ROBOTC, and do not know why it will not install properly.”
ROBOTC installs like most other programs, but even so you may run into installation issues (depending on your classroom computers’ specific setup).  If you run into installation troubles, take a look through our ‘Getting Started’ guide on the ROBOTC wiki as it covers many of the common installation issues that classrooms in particular run into.

“I have installed ROBOTC but am running into issues activating my license.”
First, make sure your license has activations remaining by logging into the ROBOTC customer service page using your license ID and password. Next, check to see if your school’s IT department has recently reimaged the computers; if they have, the license information may have been deployed incorrectly and they will have to contact ROBOTC technical support (below).

“ROBOTC is installed and activated, but my computer will not connect to my robot/won’t load Virtual Worlds!”
There are a variety of reasons this could be occurring (depending on the computer’s set up and the specific robot platform being used), but normally these issue is solved by following the appropriate setup guide on the ROBOTC wiki (LEGO MINDSTORMS NXT, VEX IQ, and VEX Cortex). For the Robot Virtual Worlds software, double check to make sure the computer’s hardware meets or exceeds the minimum requirements as well.

RVW-Specs

“I have a different question or would like more information on these particular issues.”
There are several resources that can be used when troubleshooting a ROBOTC installation or physical robot issue.

  • Coding Problems and Questions – All coding questions should be forwarded to the ROBOTC forums, where the entire support staff may see and answer them.
  • Specific Commands, Functions, etc – The ROBOTC wiki is full of useful information including setup guides, programming tips, breakdowns of commands and functions, and more.
  • Technical Issues and Bug Reports – For any and all bugs and glitches you may run into, the ROBOTC support line (support@robotc.net) will be the best mode to contact the ROBOTC support team directly.

Written by John Watson

September 17th, 2013 at 2:22 pm

Differentiating Instruction in the Robotics Classroom

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Main-DifferentiatedThe challenge for teachers in today’s educational environment is to teach student at their instructional level. Instead of creating an artificial level to instruct the entire class, teachers have to assess each student’s current level and create a plan to ensure that the student has academic growth from that beginning baseline. It’s best to think about this with an example. A sixth grade student has a reading comprehension at a 9th grade level at the beginning of the school year. The student takes assessments during the spring of that school year. When those assessments are scored, it shows that the student is reading at a 9th grade comprehension level. In the past, teachers and parents would be happy with that information, but the recent push towards differentiated instruction has forced educators to look at this information in a new light. What implications does this have for a robotics teacher?

IMG_1083Luckily, teaching robotics seamlessly fits into the demands of differentiated instruction. First, students are encouraged to come up with different solutions to problems. Whether it is a building challenge or a programming exercise, different students are going to come up with different solutions. Students are encouraged to do this in other disciplines also, but robotics is unique because it is so open-ended. There are only so many ways you can solve a math problem, but there is a myriad of different ways to program your robot to accomplish a task.

Secondly, students who are learning robotics are not forced to conform to an artificial ceiling. In another classroom, a teacher has to keep a student’s learning somewhat in line with the rest of the class. When teachers try to differentiate instruction, they create projects or assignments that are open-ended so students can explore those items as much as they can. However, when that assignment/project is completed, students are all brought back to the same point within the curriculum. Teaching robotics revolves around problem-based learning. IMG_2211Therefore, as the students learn how to solve a programming challenge with more sophisticated ROBOTC code, they are accelerating their knowledge both within that project and within the larger curriculum. While some students are mastering the fundamentals of programming their robot to move, other students can be incorporating more complex programming tools, like functions, into their programs. Robotics teachers can point students in the right direction so they can explore different and more intriguing programming concepts to apply to their challenges. It is not necessary that students memorize all of the different programming/building techniques, but that they know how to access the information when they need it. In this way, students are given the tools to create some ownership with their learning. That ownership, combined with the engagement of robotics helps to provide the true key to differentiation: high student interest.

Simply, if students are not interested in what they are doing, they will never develop the intrinsic motivation needed to push their learning. Students will work towards the minimum unless they are engaged and challenged. Teaching robotics provides the perfect platform to accomplish this goal and create a learning environment in which students are receiving individual acceleration and enrichment. Robotics is the perfect means to achieve the end of differentiated instruction.

- Jason McKenna

Written by Cara Friez

September 12th, 2013 at 2:30 pm