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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).


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– John Watson

Written by Cara Friez-LeWinter

September 24th, 2013 at 6:59 am

Handling Common Teaching Issues

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TeacherI’ve always been of the opinion that teaching is an art, not a science. Therefore, it’s impossible to devise a scenario that will handle every issue. But, there are some common issues that arise for teachers as they teach robotics and ROBOTC.

Many students come into class familiar with different aspects of technology, but many students will be unfamiliar with some basic things. For example, never assume that students will know how to save a program while using ROBOTC. Secondly, never assume that the students will know where to save their programs. As a teacher, you need to have a plan to cover these things for students. Also, it would be helpful to have a reference for these things for the students. When students return from Christmas Break or a long weekend, sometimes these details escape them.

One things that is very important for teachers who work in classes in which the students are working cooperatively, is for the teachers to identify what is most important and to assess those things. Simply, students get better at things which are measured and assessed. For example, if you want students to use math vocabulary while solving a particular problem involving different wheel sizes, then you need to assess that. If students are working as a group to solve a problem, then each student’s role in that group needs to be defined and assessed.

IMG_2216Additionally, students working cooperatively in groups are always going to be an issue for teachers. The clearer the roles (and how those roles will be assessed) are defined for the students, the better chance you have for success. Still, teachers need to have a plan for those students who just don’t work well in groups. This plan needs to be articulated to the parents and to your administrators at the beginning of the school year.

One of the great things about teaching robotics and ROBOTC is that the first answer is hardly ever correct. This is great because the students are immersed in the problem-solving process. However, some students will become frustrated by this and immediately look to you for the answer. Teachers need to have a plan for these students. How can students work cooperatively to handle these issues? What has been done to prepare for the challenge? Is there a flow chart that the students can review for some ideas? Is there a sample program the students could examine? As teachers gain more experience working through the ROBOTC curriculum, they’ll be able to anticipate these situations more and have an answer for them.

IMG_2276The beginning of class and the end of class oftentimes determine the success, or failure, of a lesson. Teachers should always have a plan for the beginning of class to get the students settled and focused. The more structured this opening activity is, the better. If a routine is developed, the students will respond accordingly. If the students are coming to your class after gym class or lunch, for example, this opening structure will be very important. Examples of class openers could be having the students find errors in code, a review of particular concepts (what is the difference between = and ==), or an Abstraction Bridge.

In much the same way, the closure of the lesson should be used to judge the effectiveness of that day’s lesson. The most popular way to do this is with the use of an exit slip as the students leave the room.

Having a plan allows teachers to work that plan instead of getting frustrated with individual students. Planning your work, and then working your plan will help to allege some of the daily stressors that teachers face.

 
– Jason McKenna

Written by Cara Friez-LeWinter

September 19th, 2013 at 12:17 pm

ROBOTC Curriculum Breakdown

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ROBOTC-BreakdownA curriculum pacing guide is something that teachers have to consider whenever they examine their curriculum. This fact does not escape teachers of <a href=”http://www.robotc.net”>ROBOTC</a>. Whenever I come across teachers who are just starting to use the ROBOTC curriculum, often their first question revolves around how long the curriculum will take. Once again, teachers are used to having some type of pacing guide that delineates how a subject is to be taught. The ROBOTC curriculum is not organized in that fashion. Instead, the curriculum is organized by topic. The topics include basic programming fundamentals, robot movement, robot sensing, etc. The teacher is then free to spend an appropriate amount of time within each topic.

As teachers, this freedom is welcome. It is welcome because the pacing that comes with most textbooks is an impossible guide to follow. In order to create a true pacing guide, student background knowledge would have to be taken into account. Since every classroom is different (sometimes within the same grade, within the same school), it is impossible to gauge how quickly the students are going to master the concepts as they are presented. Screenshot-2013-09-05_15.11.12Additionally, as the teacher becomes more familiar with ROBOTC, they will find that they spend more time on particular concepts then they did the first time they taught the curriculum. For example, when I first taught ROBOTC, I spent 20 minutes discussing Flowcharts and Pseudocode. Experience has now taught me to spend a significant amount of time on these topics. I also spend much more time talking about Errors. Specifically, what should a student do when they get the dreaded compiler errors in their program? Experience has taught me to spend much more time on thinking about the logic of a program before the writing of ROBOTC and on debugging strategies once the code has been written.

Screenshot-2013-08-05_15.01.181Each of the aforementioned sections of the ROBOTC curriculum contains a programming challenge. The programming challenged is designed to showcase the skills that were emphasized in that section. Each section also contains an assortment of “mini challenges”. These challenges can be used at the teacher’s discretion. They all do not have to be completed. However, they can be very useful. For example, after the students have spent a day or two learning a topic, I will begin the following class with one of these mini challenges. They might not know all of the skills needed to complete the section challenge, but the mini challenge is a good assessment of what has been presented so far in that section. This also serves as a good change of pace for the class. Simply, you can’t learn to program without actually programming. In order to really understand the applications of while loops or if/else statements, students need to apply them. The mini challenges found within the ROBOTC curriculum serve as a great opportunity to scaffold skills toward their more challenging applications.

A beginning teacher of ROBOTC could teach the basic ROBOTC curriculum in one semester. By including many of the mini challenges, the curriculum can be stretched easily over a semester. I often tell teachers who are teaching the class for a year to do this, and then to end the year with a larger programming challenge. After the students have made it through the ROBOTC curriculum, I enjoy introducing them to Multi-Robot Communication. The sensor needed (NXTBee) is inexpensive, and there are a lot of great ideas for activities and programming challenges.

 


 

If you have a stronger background in computer science, and maybe you are teaching older students, you may be able to navigate through the curriculum much faster. What then do you do with students if you have them for an entire year? Luckily, there are many great ROBOTC projects on robotc.net. Moreover, the ROBOTC forum is also a wonderful place to look for ideas for projects, in-class competitions, and programming challenges.

Teaching robotics and ROBOTC is a lot of fun. The ability to watch your students apply what they learn in the ROBOTC curriculum in such engaging and open-ended activities is one of the main reasons why.

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!

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-LeWinter

April 25th, 2013 at 6:22 pm