Archive for the ‘Teacher POV’ Category
We’ve had some wonderful teachers share their stories with us this year about their experience in the classroom teaching robotics. Read their stories here in our Teacher’s POV blog series.
Here are a few recent posts:
Do you have a story to share about implementing STEM into your classroom, a cool project you did with your students/team, or advice about teaching robotics? If so, send us an email at email@example.com and be a guest blogger for us. We would love to share your stories on our blog!
Branden Hazlet, Director of Technology for Maui Prep, shares with us his team’s experience at the 2015 VEX Worlds Championship in Louisville, KY!
It was a wonderful learning and exploring experience for our Maui students to participate with students from 29 countries in the VEX World robotics championships. Seeing hard working students from so many cultures coming together to cooperate in using intriguing technology was something wonderful. The student teams from across the world clearly felt honored to participate in such a massive gathering of clever young minds, an unparalleled gathering of student intellect in a massive 1.2 million square foot facility. That is roughly 200 football fields worth of great learning happening at the same time. As a culture, we honor the hard work of athletic teams with fanfare regularly, but it is something too rare that we honor our bright young minds in such a way that reflects their importance for leading the future. The Vex World Championships uses an intriguing model sometimes called coop-ertition — meaning that in every event there is a premium put on working with alliance teams. There is little chance of success in these events without a high degree teamwork within your own team, but of equal importance is cooperation across many partnerships with other teams. It is a model that ensures our students’ robotics experience is about more than robots…it is about working with other students. Beyond the coop-ertition of live robotics matches, teams must present an Engineering justification which documents their robotics build through multimedia and writing as well as through an oral presentation of student’s design thinking / structural reasoning. Then there is also an Autonomous robotics element where an emphasis is put on programming skills by doubling point awards for scoring that can be completed entirely by the robot running pre-coded programs with the use of sensors for direction, distance, light color, etc. Through all these elements, balancing the the human interactions with the technical knowledge, a model of education emerges that brings out the whole package of real world skills our students need to thrive in a changing world. And the best part…the students are just having a great time through it all…
Our students spent a great week immersed in dynamic teamwork, creative challenges, technical puzzles, multicultural communication, planning and practicing strategies with alliance teams, rapid-fire as well as big-picture time management, resource management, interpersonal diplomacy, recovery from setbacks, getting right back to work after successes, identifying and depending on each other’s strengths, helping balance each other’s needs, constantly practicing, improvising, analyzing, prototyping, redesigning, finding consensus, stepping back from disagreement, stepping forward together …. Intense learning was going on across so many levels. The atmosphere of competition, total stimulation, constantly shifting team alliances and language challenges for communication all really put the emotional maturity expected of middle school students to the test…and it was satisfying to see we had given our Maui students the skills to rise to those challenges. We had matches with several teams from South America and Asia where the other teams spoke only a few words of English at best, some none at all. Between our students and the international students the teams managed to communicate their robot strengths, assess each other’s abilities then formulate a specific plan for making highly coordinated moves while continually giving each other feedback on positioning and making adjustments to the plan throughout the match. Thinking and communication skills that have been developed in years of parenting and education were called on for our students’ efforts. Thanks to all who have shaped these kids over the years. They have so much potential and such bright futures.
Here is a quote from the Robotics Education and Competition Foundation, which puts on the World Championships: “These students spent countless hours designing, building, programming and testing their robots over the course of the season at more than 1,000 local, state, and regional competitions (with participation from over 12,000 teams worldwide),” said Jason Morrella, President of the REC Foundation. “The truth is that all of these students leave the competition as winners. The teamwork and problem-solving skills they take away from this experience will successfully prepare them for future careers in STEM fields and serve them throughout their lives.”
For middle school students, beyond the STEM skills of technical and strategic optimization for competition, the ‘learning’ certainly extended to self-discipline and maturity dynamics…Staying focused, managing emotions, following through on directions/plans and keeping a positive tone in talking to each other despite stress were things the students became more aware of working on. As a middle school team the juggling of information streams, technical info along with the social processing and attentional demands despite so much stimulation are key parts of their developmental growth. These students certainly stepped their game up and grew through the experience. I think they have come back from this experience with a bit more capacity for directing their attention and managing themselves in a big pond; it is fair to say we have high expectations to push ourselves to new levels.
For me, there were some super colleagues and coaches to watch in action and make connections with. Amazing high school and university teams for inspiration….as well as some middle school teams that were setting high water marks that expanded what I thought was possible for 12-14 year olds.
Out of the thousands of teams that competed this season, only 105 teams qualified for the VexIQ World Championship event. Maui Prep’s students worked hard to be among those teams and our iPueo’s final rankings, after a roller coaster of some early nerves, hitting stride mid-competition, then some hard fought last rounds where we earned both our lowest to our highest scores in the final two matches, gave us the following rankings:
Programming Skills / Autonomous – 21st in World Championships
Robotic Operations / Driver Skills – 21st in World Championships
Robot Team Work Skills – 33rd in World Championships
…Our goal was to take Maui Prep into the ranking of the top 30 middle schools in the world, so we hit the mark in two judged competitions, but missed by a small margin in the third category.
Beyond the rankings, our students from this little tropical island gained huge experience in competing at the world level, interacting on a technical and human level with many cultures, and working as a cooperative team with well known classmates as well as strangers. I think it is safe to say these students return to Maui as more mature young people with broader perspectives of than when they left two weeks ago.
I am proud of their effort, proud of their growth, proud of their accomplishment and proud of their potential as we look to take these 6th and 7th graders into next year’s season as 7th and 8th graders. One of the event highlights was the announcement of the new 2016 robotics challenge, along with new hardware and software releases which got the team pumped and creatively talking about next year’s robot design.
To have a little school from the pineapple fields of Maui competing with the world’s best in robotics was a great feeling of genuinely helping our kids prepare for dynamic futures in this changing economy where both intercultural and technical skills are required. Our students and school have definitely grown through this experience of participation in our first World Championship.
My name is Ringo Dingrando and I teach Robotics and Physics at International School Manila in the Philippines. For the past three years, high school students have been inquiring into how to program using ROBOTC and how to use their programming skills to build robots, often with VEX hardware. In the classroom, most of my students learn the basics through some great online tutorial videos and by teaching each other. They can then try their code out on virtual robots by using Robot Virtual Worlds software. This code is then modified and put onto a physical robot that they build themselves.
This has led to quick progress in the classroom, but it is in our after-school Robotics Club where the benefits of this are becoming more visible. Students in the club needed a venue to showcase their creative robots, and so we developed Robolution. This is a daylong event in which ISM students in elementary, middle, and high school are given the opportunity to showcase the creations they have been working on in the previous month.
We recently completed our second annual Robolution and the results were spectacular. Some of the highlights included a life-size robot arm controlled in “Iron Man” style, an air-powered pong game, and a ping-pong launching device. (Check out the video links!) Design Tech students were wowing the audience by demonstrating the capabilities of one of our 3D printers. Students in the middle school robotics program showed off their Lego Mindstorm robots with highlights such as a Rubik’s Cube solver, a spinner factory, and a stair-climber. Elementary school students taught letters and numbers via Bee Bots and showcased their programming prowess through interactive Scratch games.
Robolution was a fantastic learning experience because it promoted programming, design thinking, and creativity. Almost a thousand people in the ISM community were exposed to the awesomeness of robotics. I fully expect that a year from now I’ll be sharing even more amazing results from our 3rd Annual Robolution.
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”.
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
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.
In 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.
Jason McKenna, from the Hopewell Area School District outside of Pittsburgh, PA, writes about his experience in the classroom with the new Robot Virtual World game, VEX IQ Beltway. Check it out below …
The new VEX IQ virtual game Beltway is a great way to challenge your students to apply the basics of ROBOTC programming while also asking them to come up with unique strategies to try to score as many points in the 2 minute game as possible. My students just spent about 3 weeks working on the challenge and trying to score the highest score as possible. The students had an absolute blast and as a teacher, it was great seeing all the different ways the students tried to tackle this completely open-ended challenge.
The objective in Beltway is the same as VEX IQ Highrise: program your VEX IQ robot to autonomously score as many cubes as possible during a 2 minute period. With Beltway, a conveyor belt has been added around the perimeter of the game field in order to assist with game play. Additionally, the virtual environment utilizes “magic stacking” meaning that the cubes automatically jump onto the stack when they are placed onto of the stacking cube regardless of the apparent size of the robot. The conveyor belt reduces the accumulation of error, where, for example, a robot’s slight error in one turn becomes a larger error when the robot repeats that same turn 4 or 5 times. Any time students attempt a long program with many different elements they will at some point become frustrated with the accumulation of error that occurs. Magic stacking and the large margin of error that enables easy pickup of cubes eliminates any frustration that the students may encounter as try to pick up cubes and then stack them. These elements of gameplay in Beltway allow students to focus on their strategy, and it also allows them to try to experiment with many different scoring methods because they are not spending a lot of time programming perfect 90 degree turns and aligning their robots perfectly to pick up a cube. You can click here for a more extensive list of rules and information about gameplay!
Beltway comes with a variety of sample programs that students can use to help them get started or as a reference as they adjust their strategies. For example, if students decided that they wanted to control the conveyer belt manually, they could refer to a sample program to see how that is done. I did that many times while monitoring the students. After a few days, the students aren’t repeatedly raising their hands; instead, they just refer to the sample programs for guidance.
The game also served as a great tool to teach beginning programmers the utility of comments. Oftentimes, beginners don’t make programs quite as long as the ones they will make for Beltway. Students quickly saw the need to point out what was going on in their code with comments so they could go back to those sections and make whatever adjustments they wanted as they progressed with their gameplay.
As I stated earlier, my students had a lot of fun while playing Beltway. It is not easy to keep students’ interest level high in an activity that takes 3 weeks. The students maintained their level of interest and they consistently asked to stay after school to work on their programs some more. We had an in-class competition where the students ran their final programs. The winning team scored the winning points as the timer, literally, went to zero. It was pandemonium in my room. Kids were high-fiving each other, cheering, and remarking at how awesome the competition turned out. Students were also talking about the different strategies that the other teams used and how they could change their programs based upon what they had just seen.
So now, of course, the students want to play some more. This is great because now I can use that as an opportunity to show students how they can take some of the code that they used over and over again (for example, picking up cubes) and show them how they can use full ROBOTC to turn those behaviors into functions. Beltway has proven to be both a great teaching and learning tool in my classroom.
- Jason McKenna
This is my third year teaching, but my first time working with Project Lead The Way (PLTW) and a robotics course. After accepting this assignment, I was extremely nervous. I did not study robotics in college, and I had never, ever pictured myself in this role. But I am so very happy to have taken on this challenge.
My favorite part about teaching this class is the atmosphere and expectations that I set up with this class and my students. From the first day of school, I was completely honest with the kids. I broke down the walls of the normal teacher-student relationship where the teacher is looked at as the bearer of all knowledge and all knowledge is passed down from the teacher to the students. I created a culture where students and their knowledge are equally valued and as important as the teacher’s. This led to a culture of mutual respect and collaboration. I, as the teacher, was not viewed as the bearer of all knowledge, but as a helpful resource to rely on when problems arose. The most important part of creating this culture is setting up those expectations from the beginning of school.
The major theme from this class was “Problem-Solving”. I would present students with a variety of real-world scenarios and they would have to think of a design to solve that problem. They would work in groups of 2 to 4 students to create, construct, and program these robots to solve the problems I presented to them. This allowed for A LOT of different interpretations and ways to solve these problems, which was awesome!
Several key strategies that I incorporated into the class that proved to be successful were: purposeful grouping, incorporating student choice, and using students in a teacher’s role to help other students who needed more assistance. I incorporated a “Menus” style of teaching and learning. Students would be purposefully grouped into groups of 2-4 and then they would be presented with 3 different levels of activities: Appetizer, Main Meal, and Dessert. Within each level, students would have to choose 1 task out of 3 or 4 different options. As a group, students would choose which task to complete. Once decided, students would work as a group to design, build, and program the robot to complete the task. I would watch the robot perform the task, sign off on their paper, and they would move on to the next part of the menu. The activities got progressively more difficult as students moved from the Appetizer to the Main Meal to the Dessert level, with the Dessert level activities being the most difficult.
As we get ready to begin with the second semester, I cannot help but think about how much I have learned and how better of a teacher that I have become because of teaching this class. Some future ideas I have are the creation of a “Girls in STEM Club”. The purpose of this being opening girls’ eyes to future careers and possibilities associated with this class and the STEM ideals. Also, possibly creating a VEX Competition Robotics club where students would meet after school to construct robots to participate in VEX Robotics competitions. One thing that I realized early on in my teaching career is how much teachers learn from their students. Teaching this class has been one of the best learning experiences of my life.
– Ross Hartley
If you’re a teacher or robotics coach and would like to write a blog about your experiences teaching, send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org!
We came across a wonderful blog post, written by a faculty member at Allendale Columbia School in Rochester, NY, that talks about their transition to ROBOTC in their elementary classes.
While our 5th grade S.T.E.M. students at Allendale Columbia School were initially perplexed by some very new terminology, concepts, and programming requirements, it didn’t take long to see that our elementary grade students were up to the challenge of learning an industry-standard, text-based programming language typically taught at the high school and college levels: ROBOTC.
Just a couple of weeks before the start of school, we became inspired to teach ROBOTC programming after several local teachers and robotics coaches shared their concerns with us about the need for students to learn high level and industry-standard programming well before their high school years. Pondering this notion, it occurred to us that we could provide our young students the “familiar and scaffolded context” of reconstructing NXT robotic, challenging them to ultimately solve for the same exact missions our students originally and proficiently programmed in NXT in their fourth grade year, re-programming in ROBOTC, in the beginning of their fifth grade year.
As it turns out, our young students exceeded all expectations, easily grasping the new programing concepts, skills, and requirements for successfully completing the PBL (project-based learning) tasks and challenges they were able to solve for…
To read more from this blog, visit their blog here – Programming in RobotC – Starting in the Lower School Grades
Anna Lynn Martino attended one of our Professional Development classes recently and wrote a wonderful blog about her experience. Check it out below …
Reblogged – “Robots Oh My!” from (link temporarily unavailable)
Last week I attended another teacher training at CMU’s Robotics Academy. My goals this year was to be more comfortable working with ROBOTC, which is the programming language that my FTC robotics team uses. Also, I am teaching/mentoring/moderating our robotics class in the fall. As a middle school with a programming class, I thought my students would be better served by teaching them robotC but also I thought it would be great to have them also prepped for the team if they are interested in becoming part of the team.
Above is a collage showing the ROBOTC graphical interface, some “regular” ROBOTC, and a Tetrix bot.
Again, it was a really great workshop and I learned a lot! It is crazy. I have been teaching Scratch and this summer I introduced kids to Python and some basic programming in Arduino and I was struggling with explaining variables and functions. I got the basics but I had a hard time explaining it because I do not have a Comp Sci background but this time, I totally understood how variables and functions operating within a programming language. Tim Friez, our instructor, was really amazing and his style of teaching was perfect. I think, that his style is what a lot of teachers are starting to go for – in the parlance of our field – student-driven/centered.
We also had a teacher, who works on curriculum development at the center, come in and give us tips and hints about teaching robotics. It was practical advice and just giving us tips on what to be aware of. Also, in order to have a class, there is a fair amount of start-up costs.
What you need:
- The Robot kits (you might want different types)
- Fields (for kids to do their challenges on)
- license for the programming language
- license for the curriculum
- remote controls
- wifi/bluetooth adapters
- challenge elements (blocks, balls, cut pvc pipes, folders or books for walls
- colored electrical tape
- expansion kits if you have advanced students (which you will probably have)
I also met some really amazing people and it was great hearing what their challenges are and how they dealt with them. Most of us were just “regular teachers” which also made the prospect of having a robotics class less daunting.
I am again super excited about it but I also realize that I need to recharge. I am taking the next few weeks to do that before orientation week. I worked all of June and July. I do not want to go back feeling like I did not have this time to process all that I did this summer and last year.
If anyone is thinking about teaching robotics, I would highly highly recommend the CMU Robotics Academy. They offer online and campus workshops in the summer. They are going to have webinar soon about EV3 and ROBOTC.
Follow them on Twitter @ROBOTC or subscribe to their blog
Thank you, Anna for the great blog post! To read more from here blog, visit her at (link temporarily unavailable)!
Programming your robot to make precise turns can be a source of frustration for some students as they begin to learn ROBOTC. Oftentimes, when students are just learning programming, all of the movements of their robots are based on timing. When programming a robot to move forward or backwards, a small error or a small amount of inconsistency can usually be overcome. With turning, however, inconsistencies and small errors can lead to larger errors and the frustration I mentioned earlier.
At this point, students learn that sensors can be used to improve the movement of their robots. With the VEX IQ, a Gyro Sensor is provided that eliminates any guesswork when it comes to programming your robot to turn.
The Gyro Sensor measures the rotational angle of the robot. If you look at the Gyro Sensor, you will see an arrow that points in a counter-clockwise direction. That is the default positive direction. Therefore, as long as the sensor is mounted flat on the robot it picks up the parallel angle to the ground. The sensor then registers the current position as a zero point. If the robot turns counter-clockwise, it registers as a positive value. If it turns clockwise, the sensor registers a negative value. We can see this applied with the following illustration:
We can program the Gyro Sensor using Natural Language or full ROBOTC. To use Natural Language, you just need to make sure that the Gyro Sensor is plugged into port 4. Let’s take a look at some ways to program the Gyro Sensor with Natural Language.
With this program, getGyroDegrees returns the current rotational value of the sensor in units of degrees. When making gyro-based turns, it is best to reset the gyro sensor before each turn, so the resetGyro command is utilized. With the example, we want the robot to turn until the getGyroDegrees command returns a value (from the Gyro Sensor) of 90 degrees. Therefore, we use the repeatUntil command. When we run this program, our robot should make a 90 degree left turn. Note that the robot may turn more than 90 degrees due to drift, which is caused by momentum. If this occurs, just slow down the speed of the motors. That should eliminate the drift.
We can apply the same commands to program our robot to make a right turn.
What I did when first showing the students the Gyro Sensor was to have them see the sensor work with the debugger screen. I used a sample program utilizing full ROBOTC with this activity. The sample program we used was in the Gyro Sensor Folder, and it is called Gyro Display Values. The students compiled and downloaded the program. They kept the USB cables plugged into their robots so they could see the values of the Gyro Sensor on the debugger screen. To access the debugger windows, go to the Robot menu, click on Debugger Windows, and then select Sensors.
The students can now run their program, physically move their robot, and see how the values of the Gyro Sensor change via the debugger screen.
The VEX IQ Gyro Sensor is extremely useful and easy to program, and the students have a lot of fun using this sensor.
– Jason McKenna
Whether they are in elementary school, middle school, or high school, students really enjoy programming their robots with remote controls. Luckily, the VEX IQ wireless controller allows you to do just that. ROBOTC allows you to create your own remote control programs to customize each joystick axis and button controls. Moreover, you can use both Natural Language and full ROBOTC with the remote controls.
Both the VEX IQ brain and the remote control require a radio controller for communication. The radio controller has to be in each in order to use the remote control. Additionally, a battery needs to be placed into the remote control for the wireless communication. Just like the battery for the VEX IQ brain, the battery for the remote control is rechargeable.
In order for the VEX IQ brain and the controller to communicate, they must be paired together. With both devices turned off, connect the two devices together with the tether cable that is included with the VEX IQ Starter Kit with Controller. The tether cable is just a standard Ethernet cable. Turn on the VEX IQ brain by pressing the check button. The controller will automatically link and pair with the VEX IQ brain.
Once your connection has been established, the green light will blink on both the remote control and the VEX IQ brain. You will not have to link the tether cable with the remote control the next time you turn on the VEX IQ brain or the remote control. In the classroom, you can assign each robot to a remote control by giving each a number. That way, you never have to link the remote control with the VEX IQ brain. Or, you can just have the students do a quick set up at the beginning of class. Either way will work.
ROBOTC can access all of the data from the VEX IQ remote control by referencing the button and axes by their described names. Joystick buttons return values of..
• 1 – Pressed
• 0 – Not Pressed/Released
Joystick Axis return values of…
• -100 to +100 (0 when centered)
When using the VEX IQ remote control, make sure you switch to your “Controller Mode” to Tele-Op.
Alright, now you can begin programming (either in Natural Language or full ROBOTC) and have some fun.
As teachers, we all know to expect the unexpected. I recently had the students on a Friday, with a long weekend in front of them. Therefore, I did not want to start a new concept, for I would have to re-teach it after the long weekend. So, I decided to set up a quick in-class competition with the VEX IQ Challenge Field and some Bucky Balls and rings.
I allowed the students to make up the parameters for the game, gave them some time to devise some strategy, downloaded some sample programs to run the remote controls, and let the fun begin. The students had a great time and the activity will serve as a springboard for future investigation into how to customize the remote control programs.
– Jason McKenna