Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The Year (So Far) in LEGO Robotics

This entry is cross-posted on the 20 Tech Blog.

This year is year 2 for my work with LEGO Robotics, and it has already expanded dramatically from last year. Whereas my efforts were primarily focused on the after school and summer school programs, this year so far has brought summer camps, a new competitive robotics team, new equipment to serve more students, and the beginning of classroom projects bringing robotics to all students in a classroom.  Here's a run-through of what has been done so far this year.

Summer Camps

The line-drawing program the robot uses in this video provides a great introduction
to programming with switch blocks.
With help from the RSU #20 Summer School program and the Searsport Recreation Department, I held two summer camps this past summer as part of a fundraiser for my program.  I held a beginner robotics camp for students who did not have any experience with LEGO robotics, and an advanced camp where I got to try some new things with students making their second pass through.  Many of the beginner camp students went on to do the advanced camp. Some of the new things that we tried this summer included learning about the switch block and using if/then/else logic in our programming, making remote control robots, and even some robotic musical instruments!  We also had a battlebots competition to see which robot was the toughest!  I have plans to run these camps again next summer, with longer sessions and new, fun challenges for the students to work through!

FIRST LEGO League (FLL)

Build and Program Team students work on troubleshooting
issues with the robot on the challenge table.
All team members take part in the research presentation and field questions
from a panel of judges.
It has been my goal since the start of this project to springboard the learning that the students and I were doing with the robots into a competitive team, and we did that this year with Team WALDO!  FIRST LEGO League is a league where students build and program robots to solve various challenges on the challenge mat.  Teams have two-and-a-half minutes to score as many points as they can, and it is impossible to get a maximum score, so teams have to strategize to earn the most points that they can.  They also have to do a research project based on the season's theme which was "World Class," an education theme.  Team WALDO brought together nine students grades 4 through 8 from four different towns and five different schools to work on this challenge.  We competed at the Augusta Civic Center on December 13th against 71 other teams from around the state.  We came in 29th place overall, and finished 5th out of the 14 total "rookie" teams who were there. And, we had a lot of fun, which is the most important part!  We lose two students this year who will be too old to compete next year, but I am looking forward to starting at least one new team for next season as we integrate in the after school program and become even more competitive in the future!

Classroom Projects:  Lunar Rovers and LEGO Towns

Third grade students at Searsport Elementary School work on building their lunar rovers.
A big stipulation of my grant funding from the Perloff Family Foundation for this project was that I would work towards classroom integration of LEGO Robotics.  We began that effort in earnest in December with a project that we dovetailed into the solar system research the students were doing in third grade at Searsport Elementary School.  We actually split the grade into halves; while one half would be working on their research and accompanying slide show (supported by the student tech team), the other would be working with me on building a lunar rover.  We are coming into the closing weeks of this project, and I'm hoping that we'll have enough time to learn some programming and prepare for an exciting challenge I have for them!

After this project is finished, I transition right into a project with second graders, as we build buildings and vehicles and all kinds of cool things as we learn more about communities!

I'm also in the process of making plans for a project at East Belfast and a project at Nickerson for the end of the year.

After School Program

Because my robotics equipment has been tied to classroom projects, it has not been available for use in the After School Program.  However, it looks like there will be a large enough block of time in the year where I can bring that program back, but this time, I will be doing it over at the East Belfast School!  The East Belfast After School program serves the Nickerson School as well, so I'll have a chance to work with students from two of my schools. While I don't have any final plans yet, I am excited at the opportunity to expand the reach of LEGO robotics to multiple schools.

New Equipment

Finally, while the new after school program helps me expand the reach of robotics in different buildings, I've been searching for equipment to help me expand the reach of robotics in different grades.  The NXT kits that I have are great for the upper elementary students, but they are not very accessible to students in kindergarten, first and second grades.  Therefore, I applied for and received a second grant from the Perloff Family Foundation for a series of LEGO We-Do kits!  These kits will allow the younger students to build simple, interesting robots while learning about how gears and other pieces work.  So far, I have distributed kits to a number of teachers to try out on their own, and I will be following up with them shortly on figuring out what we can do with the equipment and scheduling when the kits will be available at the different schools.  I'm looking forward to deploying these new kits and establishing a larger pipeline of robotics-related activities in our schools that "STEM" from kindergarten and work their way up!

One of many examples of crazy things that you can build and program (with help) with
LEGO We-Do kits.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Extra! Extra! News From SES Has a Whole New Look!

Last year, the fourth grade teachers at Searsport Elementary School and I worked on a couple of initiatives to bring the news to students, and help the students bring the news to you.  One news website that is great for students is Newsela.  Newsela takes news stories from reputable national and international news outlets, and differentiates them at several reading levels, all the way down to the elementary level.  They also do a great job of finding a nice cross-section of articles covering important economic stories, international developments, technological advancements, and spotlights on young people doing some amazing things all over the world.

We didn't just want students reading the news, however.  News happens all around us, including in our schools.  So, we wanted our students to report on the news happening where they are too.  So, we began with a newspaper project, and we finished the year with an issue for the second and third trimesters.

But the news industry is changing, and fast.  More and more, people are getting their news from online sources, and news outlets are changing their websites as a result.  News websites now feature multimedia, infographics, interactive charts and data sets, and blogs and community-sourced content.  Content is updated by the hour or minute, not by the day or week (and certainly not trimester).  So, we thought it appropriate to change our approach to our project.  So, I'm happy to announce our brand new news blog!  The blog will feature some of the same features of an online news source, including sections for different types of stories, more pictures and video, and content added as soon as it is ready.  We have established a team of student "editors" who will be taking stories written by their classmates and moving them into the website, adding multimedia captured by other students at different events.  We're also hoping to integrate into the After School Program, with additional students taking on reporting responsibilities.  I am so excited to continue this project, and really feel as though the new website gives us more flexibility to go in all kinds of different directions.

Here's the URL for the news blog.  Please share away, and check in often to stay caught up with all things SES!