Friday, January 24, 2014

Robotics: Session Two is Underway!

Before I end this post I also want to thank Sharon Catus, a parent of two children in Searsport schools and an RSU #20 board member, for helping me to get setup for yesterday's session.  I also work at Weymouth Elementary in Morrill and didn't get back to Searsport until about 2:25.  What a rush!

Ellis and Chase with their completed robot, and a new set of eyes!
After School robotics is back!  Just yesterday we began the second session of LEGO Robotics in the After School Program at SES.  Between the first and second sessions, I spent a lot of time thinking about how to do things differently for this second session, and I've made a number of changes even in this first afternoon.  For starters, I decided to look for a simpler robot template for students to begin with (we had been using the template instruction guide that came with the kits), so that we could get to programming sooner, and have more time to add sensors or other projects down the road.  I came across this template for the Simple NXT Robot from Tom Bickford and Maine Robotics.  However, since the education version of the NXT kit does not have some of the pieces needed to design this particular robot, and because I wanted to try something different with the free wheel in the back, I made some changes to the design, made my own tutorial, and posted it on my website for the students to view and use.  I had groups in the first session that didn't have a finished robot until week 3 in the first session; all but one group finished theirs within the first day, and several groups even got to programming their robots!  I'm looking forward to the time we'll get building new things in robotics this session!

The website itself is another big change to this session.  Needless to say, it gets a little crazy in a room with 14 students when they all come to you at once asking for help!  The website is designed to alleviate some of that.  It's not completely finished, but I will have all of my weekly challenges (including next week's programming challenges) there for the students to view.  That way, if I am working with a group of students, I can send another group of students who need help to the website.  I noticed a huge difference just in the first afternoon alone, both in the sense that I wasn't running around as much as I had in the first session, but also that I was getting fewer "smaller" questions, since there was a resource available for students to use to answer on their own.  It made for a much smoother first day, and I'm hoping that trend continues, for my sake as much as theirs!

A third change that I made was the decision to combine all of the kits together.  Previously, each kit had a certain number of each piece, and students would have to borrow from each others' kits if they don't have enough of a part in their own bin.  Instead, I have decided to combine all the kits together, and to sort them out by the type of part that they are (motors, sensors, beams, pins, etc.).  I have two reasons for this.  First, since no group would ever come close to using all of the parts in their kits, I decided that combining all of them together would allow for more people to use the materials without having to purchase as many kits in the future.  The second (and more educational) reason is that by having to have the students get up and move to get the parts, and then to find what they need out of all of the parts on the table, gives me an opportunity to teach students and help them learn the names of the different parts and pieces.  At a LEGO robotics conference I went to earlier in the school year, the presenters stressed that part of teaching the engineering process is using the nomenclature of whatever it is that they are doing.  Therefore, to go along with our engineering theme, I hope to use this setup to get kids thinking and talking like engineers, something else that we can reflect on during our program.

Finally, I have decided that I will begin and end every session with a meeting.  Each afternoon (or nearly every afternoon) will have a theme to it, and the purpose of the meetings will be to introduce the theme and related concepts, and to reflect at the end on how we experienced those concepts.  For instance, week 3's theme will be engineering, and I will be introducing a model of the engineering process from Engineering is Elementary, and asking students to think about how they experienced each step of the process at the end.  My hope is to add some more structure to the program and to make some of the concepts I want to teach to students more explicit as well.

So, after a lot of work and a whirlwind first hour, After School Robotics is up and running and better than ever!  I'll be sure to keep this blog updated as we go along, and share some pictures of the students at work and the robots they are building!  

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