Getting Started

Posted by Debby on 10th September and posted in Robotics

Course: Intro to LEGO Robotics
Level: Community College
Time: once a week for 2.5 hours
Class Structure: Started off by talking about current events involving robotics, watched a you tube video on the “great ball contraption” as a lead in to a discussion on motion and basic behaviors. Discussed Mobile Robotics based on the ppt and then the Full Speed Ahead intro. Had students break into small groups to discuss breaking down rest to motion in 10 steps or more and had groups share their ideas with the class as a whole. Introduced the basic structure of each unit, set up the expectations for the activity, broke students into groups of 2 or 3, and let them go to work. Finished up the class by showing another video on an RCX robot that can solve rubric cubes.
So this is WAY cool. I have 24 students in the robotics class, ages 14-45, all levels of experience from total newbie to computer programmer who is already checking out the C based robotic languages. Some are obvious engineers (the builders), some are programmers (the coders) and others are the R&D guys (think about it, design it, troubleshoot it). About 3 weeks ago, someone contacted me through MySpace. Turns out he’s a research scientist at the base working with lasers and has taken teams of jr and sr high schoolers to robotics competitions. He came by earlier in the week and we talked for two and a half hours, in between students popping in and the usual chaos that is in my office. I had several students working on making the taskbot we needed for the class and he got to see them in action. Tonight he came to the class and just hung out. Fits right in. He went around to the groups and observed, giving a comment here and there. He definitely knows his stuff. I think he’s gonna be a great resource for the program.

We got off to a bit of a late start on the curriculum because we didn’t have enough NXT sets to use when the class began two weeks ago. What we did instead was a challenge with the RCX bricks to get the students warmed up and give the newbies a chance to learn about general building and programming.

I am finding the Robotic Engineering curriculum to be fairly structured, although it works in a lot of reflective thinking questions and has students figure out why things are done instead of just telling them. Last night was the first night we had really gotten into it and I wasn’t sure how the students would respond. A lot of these guys just love to build stuff. This curriculum isn’t so much about building as it is about making robots do things and learning the technology, engineering, science, and math behind it all. I was surprised though… even my more advanced students were engaged. They said it was simple but interesting. For the newbies, it laid down a good foundation for them to build upon. It will be interesting to see how they respond as we move through the rest of the course. I am requiring that the students blog each week about their experience, looking reflectively at what they are learning and how it applies to their own experience, as well as looking critically at the curriculum and giving their comments on that.
From a teaching perspective, I would have liked to have had a better idea of the pacing of the content ahead of time to better plan the semester. Given that we are a college class that only meets once a week for 14 weeks, I’m not sure how far we will be able to get. We are just going to work through the units and see where it goes.

I do like the support materials, and even though I am pretty much an “anti-powerpoint” person, I did use them as notes for myself to intro the unit. I am planning on putting them up on the class website as a resource and reference for the students. The CD doesn’t make it particularly easy to print off materials. It would be nice to have a page where you could access all the handouts in one location without having to go back and forth or opening the actual folders on the disk. I use Moodle for my classes and am having them submit the worksheet answers and do the quizzes online through that. Stay tuned for more!

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