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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 MINDSTORM NXT, EV3, 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

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 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

FREE Summer of Learning ROBOTC Online Classes Start on Monday!

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Live TrainingStarting Monday, June 17th, our free online classes will begin for the Robotics Summer of Learning. The ROBOTC team will show you the best ways to get started using ROBOTC and answer your questions LIVE! The goals for these classes is to support you, our users, and help you earn a ROBOTC certification!

The classes and Q&A sessions will take place throughout the summer on WebEx at the times listed below. The length of the class will be based on how many questions we need to answer.

 
 

VEX
Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays at 11:00am EDT
 
LEGO
Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays at 12:00pm EDT

**Classes will be recorded and posted online after each session.**

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How to Sign Up:

1. Register for Summer of Learning - Choose one of the following Robotics Summer of Learning Courses and sign up!

LEGO Icon 3VEX Icon 3 copy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2. Choose a WebEx Course - Join your choice of WebEx courses 30 minutes before scheduled course begins:

VEX
Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays at 11:00am EDT

LEGO
Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays at 12:00pm EDT

If you would like to ask questions during the live class, make sure to have a USB headset. You can also submit your questions before and during each class through the ROBOTC forum or our social media sites.

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Official RSOL Prizes Announced! 

Robotics Prize
Don’t forget, you can win some great prizes if you compete in one of our ROBOTC Robot Virtual Worlds Challenges! We will be giving away VEX IQ and NXT Kits; ROBOTC and Robot Virtual Worlds licenses; and two $1000 scholarships.
Sign-up Today!

Prizes for the Robotics Summer of Learning Announced!

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Robotics PrizeWe are very happy to announce the official prizes for the Robotics Summer of Learning competitions! We will be giving away VEX IQ and NXT Kits; ROBOTC and Robot Virtual Worlds licenses; and two $1000 scholarships. There will be three competitions eligible for prizes: CS2N VEX Toss Up Challenge, CS2N FTC “Ring It Up!” Challenge, and Robot Virtual Worlds Beacons and Barriers.

Each competition will be broken up into three divisions. Each player is eligible for only one prize per competition. The official rules are listed on the official Robotics Summer of Learning page.

Competitions are open now, so sign up today!
 

 

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

VEX Prizes FTC PrizesLevel Builder Prizes

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

Start programming today for your chance at these awesome prizes!
 

Robot designed by Drew Ellis from The Noun Project and the Trophy is from The Noun Project.

 

TETRIX Curiosity Rover Programmed with ROBOTC

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IMG_1712We ran into Paul Utley from Pitsco at the 2013 FIRST Championship who designed a model of the Curiosity Rover with TETRIX parts, NXT brick, and programmed in ROBOTC! We were lucky enough to get a short interview with him about it. Check it out here …
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 


 
If you are at the 2013 FIRST Championship in St. Louis, MO., make sure to stop by and check it out in person. For more information on Tetrix go to http://www.tetrixrobotics.com
 

Written by Cara Friez

April 25th, 2013 at 6:22 pm

NXT ‘Coltar’ Blends Art, Science

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In years past, the science and art fields were generally considered to be diametrically opposed; if something was scientific it usually didn’t have artistic value, and if it was a work of art it probably didn’t do much for the scientific community. Recently, though, the line between art and science has been blurred and blended in some very unique and interesting ways.

A prime example of this is a color-sensing “Coltar” made by Youtube user PhilippLens. By mixing imagination with ingenuity, PhilippLens created the hybrid guitar using a LEGO Mindstorms NXT brick with a color sensor and two touch sensors (one on the Coltar itself, the other on the ‘pick’). Using the touch sensors to control chords and the color sensor to control which notes are being ‘strummed’ allows the Coltar to emit a surprisingly large range of notes.


YouTube Direct Link 

For more information on this cool project, check out Philipp’s Reddit post. You can also download the code here.

Written by John Watson

August 20th, 2012 at 12:19 pm