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Setting Up Robots – LEGO Edition

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SettingUpLEGONow that the physical robot kits are in the classroom and ROBOTC is installed and activated, you should be ready to build the physical robots for your classroom. One of the best features of a LEGO Mindstorms educational robotics kit is that they allow students to create a nearly limitless range of robots; the downside of this, however, is maintaining student-created robots in a classroom. To help with this, ROBOTC and their related Video Trainer Curriculum support several standard models to help keep a baseline in the classroom.

cutout_rem_gripper_T_300The first of such robots we will look at is the NXT REMbot (which stands for ‘Robotics Education Model), the standard NXT that is used in the ROBOTC Curriculum for TETRIX and LEGO MINDSTORMS. The REMbot utilizes three NXT motors (two for driving, one for the (optional) arm), a Light Sensor mounted below the robot, a Touch Sensor mounted in the front, a Sonar Sensor positioned above the robot, and a Sound Sensor on the side of the REMBot. This model allows for a variety of tasks to be completed and is designed to work with all of the challenges in the ROBOTC Curriculum.

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If your classroom will be utilizing the TETRIX kit, the Mantis Robot standard model would be the build of choice. The Mantis Robot utilizes the TETRIX kit to add two TETRIX DC motors (for driving) and a TETRIX Servo (for the arm), as well as the respective motor and servo controllers; all of which are fully programmable in ROBOTC. Sensors can be added using any of the remaining sensor ports (one of which is used by the HiTechnic Motor/Servo controller chain).

Users of the MATRIX kits are not left in the dark however! MATRIX also has several options to use in the classroom, but the Quick Start Rover stands out from the pack. Combined with The Little Gripper, the MATRIX kits can be quickly and effectively set up for a standard robotics classroom. Like the TETRIX bots, the Quick Start Rover can be outfitted with NXT sensors on any of the remaining sensor ports for added versatility. It uses two MATRIX motors for movement and a MATRIX servo for The Little Gripper (all controlled through one MATRIX controller), all of which is fully programmable in ROBOTC.

Visit CMU’s Robotics Academy LEGO site for more information on the different kits available and to find build instructions.

 
 

Robomatter Blog Ad LEGO

 

Written by John Watson

September 10th, 2013 at 2:33 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.

Setting up ROBOTC and RVW for the Classroom

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Setting-Up-ClassroomOnce the physical hardware (robotics kits) are secured for a classroom, the next step is to install the software (ROBOTC and Robot Virtual Worlds). It would be nearly impossible to cover every single specific setup that could be encountered on a classroom’s computers, but this blog post will cover the basic installation steps and some of the more common installation issues that educators may run into when installing ROBOTC in a classroom.

The first thing you will need to do is install ROBOTC on the computers in your classroom. To do this, always make sure to grab the latest version of ROBOTC that your license supports from the correct ROBOTC download page. If the wrong version is downloaded and installed, or if there is already a different up-to-date version of ROBOTC installed on the computers, you will not need to uninstall and reinstall the program; instead, you will simply need to activate your license in ROBOTC (more on this later). During the download process, ROBOTC will also attempt to install the necessary drivers for communications with physical robots. Depending on the level of security on the computers, you may need to get your IT department involved in order to ensure that the drivers are installed properly.

Activating_ManageOnce ROBOTC and the appropriate drivers have been installed, you will need to activate ROBOTC on each computer manually. The license activation ‘unlocks’ the ability to download code to either a physical robot or a Virtual World, depending on which license is used.  When ROBOTC is installed on a computer, all versions of ROBOTC (including different robotics platforms, such as the VEX and LEGO platforms, and different compiler options, such as Virtual Worlds compiler options) are installed at the same time. Instead of installing additional copies of the software  on the same computer (or opening a new program every time you would like to change the compiler target), the additional platforms and compiler options are ‘unlocked’ by activating their respective keys.

Before we move on to the next blog (Setting up the Robots), here a couple more tips that may come in handy when setting up ROBOTC in a classroom:

  • Depending on the programs, policies, and restrictions in place on the machines, your school’s IT department may need to be present for the installation or activation of ROBOTC, Virtual Worlds, or the installation of any drivers for the physical robots.
  • If your school’s IT department images and deploys the classroom’s computers, make sure they reference the ROBOTC Deployment Guide on the ROBOTC wiki for important help and information.
  • Make sure to check the computers’ hardware to the minimum requirements for ROBOTC or Robot Virtual Worlds before
  • Always test one computer first! If there is a problem with the installation, it is better to find out about it early and fix it before they same issue appears on a classroom full of computers.

– John Watson

Reviewing ROBOTC Concepts After a Summer Off

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There is a bevy of materials to help a teacher get started teaching the ROBOTC Curriculum. But what about the teacher that has made it through the curriculum and has a robotics class returning at the beginning of the school year? Whether that teacher is preparing to enter a robotics competition or is planning on creating a cool ROBOTC project, the teacher will still need to determine what the students have retained from the previous year.

Default-Objects-copyStudents that have made it through the ROBOTC curriculum should be able to use variables and functions in their programs. A great way to assess this would be to utilize the Robot Virtual Worlds. Students can spend the first week of school trying complete all of the missions within Operation Reset. Working with Operation Reset affords teachers the opportunity to differentiate this beginning diagnostic. Students that have retained more information can work independently, while those students that need more assistance can get the help they need. This is just another great application of Robot Virtual Worlds in the robotics classroom.

If Robot Virtual Worlds is not an option, you can apply the same concept with a physical robot. For students that are already proficient with ROBOTC, a good challenge to begin the year with would be the Chasm Detection.

 

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Another great tool that a teacher can utilize is the debugging of code. This can serve as a good one or two day review of ROBOTC syntax and logic. If a teacher is anxious to get started with a project and wants a quick review, this may be the way to go. One of the nice things about using code is the teacher can get some quick and individual feedback from the students. If time allows, a teacher may use one or two examples of code, see where the students are, and then design a challenge for them. Here is an example of code that the students could troubleshoot.

 

trouble-shooting-code

 

Hopefully this gives you some ideas of how you can reintroduce ROBOTC to your students. A seamless beginning to the school year will help with all of the projects and activities that you may have planned for the rest of the school year.

– Jason McKenna

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!

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!

A Teacher’s POV: Robotics in a STEM Classroom

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TeacherI’d like to welcome a new section to our blog called Teacher’s POV (Point of View) that will allow guest bloggers who are teachers, mentors, and coaches to share some of the lessons they have learned while teaching robotics. Our first guest blogger is a good friend to the ROBOTC family, Jason McKenna, a K-8 Gifted Support Teacher in the Hopewell Area School District outside of Pittsburgh, PA. He has been kind enough to put together some blogs about his experiences teaching robotics.

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As teachers, we are constantly looking for ways to make the subjects that we are teaching relevant. Students are always asking when they will ever use a particular concept, or how what they are learning applies to a real life scenario. Admittedly, teachers sometimes have a hard time answering those questions.

Thankfully, teaching Robotics and computer programming puts those questions to rest. Because technology is so ubiquitous in students’ lives, students will immediately see the benefits of learning how to program. Moreover, Robotics is the perfect platform to show the application of math and science concepts to everyday scenarios.

In addition to all of that stuff that we educators like to talk about, students just have fun programming a robot to do something. Add in the allure of some competition, and you have yourself a pretty engaged classroom.

 

With that in mind, I decided to have my 8th grade students participate in a line following car race. Students were to program their robots to follow a line as fast as possible. Of course, the trick is the robot has to stay on the line. While following a black line, the robot has to decide (using a light sensor) if it is on the black line or on the white part of the mat. For the competition, the students added some PID concepts to their line following. As many of you already know, PID is used in many control systems, from your car, to your homes, to large scale factories. The students and I discussed how PID is basically a control system that tries to calculate an error and make adjustments to a control system based upon that error. The robot calculates an error (how far it is off the black line) and then makes adjustments to the motor speed based upon the error. That is what makes it proportional: the movement is based upon the error. Large error equals a large correction whereas a smaller error creates a smaller correction.

The students were able to apply some of the concepts they are currently learning in Algebra to their program. For example, they are utilizing the slope intercept formula (y=mx+b) to find their turn. Y is the turn distance, x is the light sensor reading (the error), and m is the change in y (maximum and minimum turning power) divided by the change in x (maximum and minimum light sensor reading). Students get to apply an important math concept to a fun and engaging scenario that has real-world applications.

 

The students then decided that they wanted to see what would happen with two light sensors. The students adjusted their code, conducted some iterative testing, and surveyed their results.

 

In conclusion, one really sees how Robotics and ROBOTC meld perfectly with the goals of a STEM classroom. Really, the only limitation is a teacher’s (and students’) imagination.

– Jason McKenna

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Thank you Jason! If you are a teacher who would like to share your experiences on our blog, send us an email to socialmedia@cs2n.org.

Top Images – Code designed by Brennan Novak, Teacher designed by Juan Pablo Bravo, and Robot designed by Simon Child all from The Noun Project.

Written by Cara Friez

May 16th, 2013 at 6:18 pm

Robotics Teacher Appreciation Week Challenge

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RTAW2013_BigTeacher Appreciation Week is May 6th – 10th and we are celebrating! We LOVE all teachers and appreciate everything they do for their students! Here at the Robotics Academy, we have a special place in our hearts for robotics teachers, mentors and coaches, so this year we want to make sure they get the attention they deserve.

Do you know an amazing robotics teacher, mentor, or coach? Let us know who they are and why they are AWESOME! Send us your best story, pictures, and/or video about this person to socialmedia@cs2n.org. We will share several of these stories on the Robotics Academy blog during Teacher Appreciation Week. And the Top Three Stories, voted by us, will each WIN one Classroom Annual License for Robot Virtual Worlds for their teacher/mentor/coach!

Stories must be submitted by Wednesday, May 8th at 5pm Eastern Standard Time. We will announce the winners on Friday, May 10, 2013.

RTAW2013
 

Please include contact information (name and email/school phone number) for the teacher, mentor, or coach that you’re writing about so we can make sure to get their permission to publish their name on our site. You can send any questions to socialmedia@cs2n.org.

Written by Cara Friez

May 1st, 2013 at 6:21 pm

Become a Robotics Academy Certified Instructor

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NXT Student Certification Version Advanced NBWe are extremely excited to announce our new teacher certification courses! A “Robotics Academy Certified Instructor” is officially certified by Carnegie Mellon’s Robotics Academy. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Cara Friez

March 28th, 2013 at 6:51 pm