Thursday, November 03, 2005

Robotics, Session 2

I am too tired to adequately express my excitement about robotics. Our team is up to 17 members, 15 smart, feisty boys and 2 sixth grade girls (not particularly feisty, but really smart, and one of them did First Lego League at her elementary school). We have a good mix of kids from each grade in our school, which means we have some kids who are probably more abstract thinkers because they are older, but we also have kids who will be back next year and the year after. And the only ones with prior robotics experience are the sixth graders, so I think when we begin learning how to program and build robots, the older kids will find themselves learning from the younger, and that will be good for everyone.

We started with a group meeting, everyone said their name, grade, and one thing they are looking forward to in robotics. Answers ranged from having fun to liking technology to winning the competition to making robots do cool things. Then I briefly summarized the way the program works for the new students, and we went to work building more of the props for the playing field. We are bogged down in the biggest building project of them all: the ship. We still need to finish the dolphin cage and the shipping container and the pipeline, too. The kids say we are missing pieces of the pipeline. I suspect they will turn up as we finish other things and the Lego storage box empties. One group of kids went to work installing Robolab on some laptops. Unfortunately, that was a very slow process and we really only got it installed on one laptop. They had a more boring job but it was some of the more patient kids tending the installation process, so they didn't complain much. I stressed how important it was to get the program on the computers. We also ran into some installation problems because our computers have student, teacher, and administrative accounts, and to fully install Robolab required the admin password, and it wouldn't accept what I thought was the password. So that was mystifying and frustrating.

Anyway, I think the kids had fun. I didn't exactly have fun, but I think that was just because the sheer number of kids was overwhelming. I will devise some systems to streamline things and that should help. I do enjoy those moments when the room is really chaotic at first glance, but upon a closer look, everyone is engaged in an important task.

We had a guest, someone who might film robotics for a documentary. He was awesome and helped out and talked to kids as they worked.... it is so much better to have a second adult in the room. What was interesting was that one of my sixth graders went right up to our guest and asked him some questions and then basically stuck by his side for all of snack time. It always amazes me how much certain kids - and all kids, really - crave positive attention from adults.

Next Thursday, when I will likely be on my own, is going to be really challenging. Systems, systems, systems. Hopefully my lunchtime helpers can finish the boat by then.

3 Comments:

Blogger feetonrock said...

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12:05 PM  
Blogger feetonrock said...

Ms. Frizzle

Thanks for this account. I enjoyed it. I’ve always wanted to work with a group of kids on a robotics project. It has been a long standing dream of mine. For a while I was planning a Computer Clubhouse, http://www.computerclubhouse.org/about1.htm, in for the Binghamton, NY area. I have heart for underserved kids because I was one.

I have a little robotics design experience in my past and the best job I ever had was working with a multidisciplinary team at IBM on a very cool robotics project. We built the first robot using stepper motors that could travel between the “tooth dimension” of the stator and rotor. When we finished our project the resolution we achieved was about 1 thousands of an inch, something stepper motors were not capable of before our research and design project. The application was for clean room precision chip placement on high density substrates. Three of the motors were linear in configuration and two were rotary steppers. This was in the early 80’s. I was the young mechanical designer, a technician. Our team was lead by, Joseph P. Pawletko, IBM Fellow, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IBM_Fellow,. He had some patents on stepper technology before the project and of course many of our team members earned patents as a result of the project. And, I it looks like Joe he is still and active inventor, http://www1.uspto.gov/web/patents/patog/week52/OG/html/1289-4/US06836035-20041228.html, in his old age. In addition to Joe there was a mechanical engineer and three electrical engineers on the team who also did the software development. I really enjoyed working with the crusty old skeptical model maker we had as part of our lab. It was a blast to work with our “vendors” to get all the high precision mechanical parts and bonded subassemblies fabricated to specifications. One joy was when I had enough parts for a major subassembly that used fasteners; I’d get to bolt my team’s creations together on a big granite surface plate that helped with the precision of the assembly process. Yes, this was an example of a very big constructivist education project for talented professionals.

As the bottom fell out the robotics industry, I moved on from my mini-career as a draftsperson/designer to become a computer-aided design specialist. I did get to teach a lot of adults for a few years, CAD and Geometric Dimensioning and Tolerancing , http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geometric_Dimensioning_and_Tolerancing. After that I went into marketing at IBM and it was down hill from there, . But that is another story.

Good luck and my G_d bless you and your students in your adventures in science, technology and robotics and please continue to keep the world posted on your robotics team’s progress! As an aspiring teacher in training you are inspiring me to follow a dream. I’m looking for a job that will top the one I just described but in education.

12:38 PM  
Blogger Terese said...

I am Joseph Pawletko's daughter...would love to hear about his involvement in your projects...he is no longer working and sadly has Alzheimer's.
Terese Pawletko, Ph.D. teresepawl@yahoo.com

5:34 PM  

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