Saturday, January 07, 2006

Robotics, Session 7

If you've been following our robotics saga, you probably thought we dropped off the face of the earth after the practice tournament. Really, we nearly did. There was so much momentum after the tournament; the kids who attended were very excited to pass around our trophy and tell stories from the tournament. And then the transit strike happened, and afterschool was cancelled. The next week we were off on holidays. I didn't know whether we'd lost that momentum over the long hiatus. There were a few clues, though...

On Wednesday, during my HS Prep after school class, one girl asked "Do we have school tomorrow?" This led to a lot of semi-sarcastic joking around about Thursday holidays and special holidays just for her and the like.

And then a boy who is also in my robotics class, an awesome engineer, who had participated in the tournament, said, "We have to have school tomorrow. Thursday is my favorite day of the week."

"Why, does something special happen on Thursdays?" I asked, leading the witness....

And another boy kept bothering me about the trophy. Why do you get to keep it? Can I be the one to put it in the trophy case? Can I go look at it, just for a minute?

We started class, as usual, with a group meeting. Attendance was good for the first time in a month or more - all but one student showed up. One boy who I thought had dropped out was back. We went around the circle, and each of the kids who'd attended the tournament told a little bit about it. We passed the trophy around. We talked about what we'd learned about strategy.

Then I suggested that we break into three teams - one to work on a research presentation, one to work on building, one to work on programming. I pointed out that it would only be for the next month, and then after that we'd go back to letting everyone try everything. I only had one volunteer to do research - I should be in that group, I like to talk! - so in the end, I let the kids choose their groups based on attendance - those who'd showed up most often had first choice, and so on. The kids chose wisely, placing themselves based on their strengths, and then everyone split up and started work.

The first few minutes went slowly, it didn't seem like anyone was getting anything done. The builders were playing with the walking robot that one of them had built back in December. The researchers and programmers were taking a long time getting computers up & running.

I had to give two kids a long time out for jousting with meter sticks within a few feet of several laptops. 15 minutes of sitting in separate corners of the room, only being able to watch, and one stern lecture about all the horrible things that could happen when you wave meter sticks around, and they were contrite and focused for the rest of the session.

And then things started to click.

The builders, who looked like they were each doing their own thing, were actually working together, two kids finding parts while two assembled a new robot, with gears and a new type of wheel.

The programmers were all gathered around one computer, but they'd realized they'd need to start from scratch to write a program that would work with the new robot design. They weren't getting much done because of wide variation in programming ability. Of the two with the strongest programming skills, one was trying to calculate the number of clicks with the new wheel, while the other was in time-out. The two remaining didn't really know how to get started without the others. Still, by the end of the session, they had a simple program ready to test, basically just rolling forward, tapping the gray fish, and backing up again.

Meanwhile, the researchers finally settled down and began finding web pages on oil spills. They would call me over excitedly whenever they made a discovery. There are bacteria that can clean up oil spills! Sometimes oil spills are caused when one of the people driving the boat gets careless and something breaks! Eventually, they even took notes.

In the last few minutes of the session, we were able to load the new program onto the new robot, and test it. The programmers had given up on clicks for the day and had just put in a time measurement, and it turned out to be much too short. This was interesting because with the other type of wheel, that same amount of time had been much too long. Working together, a couple of kids figured out how to use the test program to figure out roughly what the correct time would be. So next week, they're ready to try the new time, troubleshoot some more, and perhaps attack the tricky issue of clicks again.

1 Comments:

Blogger jcrit said...

Sounds like a nice beginning.

11:00 PM  

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