Robotics: From No-bots to Go-bots

This post was originally published on the Interface Magazine Online website – you can read the original post here.

Briony Marks

Miss Briony Marks

Last year was my first teaching robotics. We began a Robotic Club using EV3 Lego Mindstorms, which quickly found its legs and became firmly established across the Preparatory School. It was a fantastic learning experience; the children were enthralled, writes Briony Marks, St Andrew’s College, Christchurch.

We began with construction and attempting to understand the components. Identifying the sensors and motors was a key factor. Discussing wheel size and rotations formed part of our initial learning. With time, we began to program the Lego Block. Hanging to the instruction booklet like a life raft, the students and I navigated the early concepts.

Whole-school programme

Our confidence grew and, when asked to make a presentation to the PTA in Term 2 about the benefits of a widespread robotics programme, I was able to talk confidently about the phenomenal learning that had happened in our club. Our students were measuring in degrees, centimetres and metres; calculating turns; programming and sequencing and all within a couple of 40-minute sessions on a Friday lunchtime.

We were fortunate enough to receive another eight sets of the Education Edition EV3. This was to enable us to roll out robotics on a class scale (allowing one robot between two in our maximum classes of 26). The year saw a huge transition, from a small group of 15 experimental and brave Year 5 students to a school-wide project.

RoboCup Junior NZ

robotics1At the beginning of Term 3, we decided to enter the RoboCup Junior New Zealand competition (robocupjunior.org.nz). This was an ambitious plan with only five weeks to prepare. We selected five teams (from Years 5, 7 and 8) and with two full days blocked out and about two extra hours a week we went from unpacking and building to choreographing a piece of Robot Theatre.

The time frame was tight, with little opportunity for instruction in even the basics. However, the students managed to self and peer teach to eventually put together four very different theatre pieces. We were incredibly pleased with their hard work. From ‘Mazerunner’ to ‘The Hunger Games’, ‘Jurassic World’ to ‘Pink Panther’, students’ ideas and creativity came to life with MDF, plenty of paint, papier-mâché, some poorly mixed soundtracks and, of course, the robots!

Positive student feedback

Following RoboCup, I asked them to take an anonymous survey. I was delighted to read the overwhelmingly positive responses. As a general comment, the students enjoyed the independence, working creatively and intuitively to overcome problems, and saw the experience as enriching rather than disheartening. They listed their interpersonal skills with comments such as:

“I learnt to take turns at things and not always be the leader”

and

“You can save time if you work together as a team.”

My reflection and advice

Three weeks prior to RoboCup I attended a training day with the fantastic Sandy Garner at the University of Otago. Her easy-to-use booklet allowed me to grasp huge concepts of programming. This structure has driven the way I now introduce the robots to my classes. Her website Learning with robots (learningwithrobots.weebly.com) hosts a wealth of resources that will help focus your planning for establishing a robotics course.

The greatest challenge I found was trying to structure lessons that allowed for creativity and continued success to maintain student engagement.

Term 4 saw us expand Year 4s, who have been chomping at the bit all year long to get their hands on a robot! These young masterminds blew me away with their ability to problem solve (as I become a more confident teacher of robotics the children are encouraged to experiment more).

I’m incredibly proud of the reaction of the students and parents, and of myself for being able to understand and teach others to use the robots (mostly) with success. I hope that I’ve managed to inspire some future robot engineers, modelled a ‘growth mindset’ rather than a ‘fixed one’ … and also that I might have broken down some stereotypes about women and tech along the way!

Five-week sampler course, by Briony Marks

  1. Introducing routines below and allow students to discover how to go forward, backwards and turn
  • Where things are kept;
  • How to save your files to avoid confusion;
  • The basics of programming and downloading your code to your robot; and
  • Rules, such as ‘never run your program with the robot on a table!’
  1. The Arch Challenge – Students must navigate through a simple arch maze. They must not cross the lines and must perform a ‘trick’ at the top. This allows them to experiment with different turning styles and the sound and image function.
  2. Complete the Arch Challenge and start the Red Riding Hood challenge. This is from Sandy’s booklet, which shows a sweet challenge where students must navigate safely from Grandma’s house to Red Riding Hood’s garage. She must stop at the main road, check left and right and then navigate the maze to reverse safely into her garage without being eaten by the wolf!
  3. Complete Red Riding Hood
  4. Introduce the Ultrasonic Sensors and loops to create a program that lets the robot navigate the classroom without crashing.

 

Briony Marks teaches at St Andrew’s College in Christchurch. Learn more about her work at her blog missmarksblogs.wordpress.com

Guest Post: Our Coding Journey – The Beginnings

This guest post comes from Miss Briony Marks who has guest posted here before with her work in maths. Today it is her story of working with Year 7 students in our Preparatory School, introducing them to the basics of coding. You can see the original post here.

One of my goals for this year was to learn something (anything!) about the world of coding and how teaching coding in schools can benefit students.

January came and I started with trepidation and a sense of awe as I scoured the Internet looking for ideas and where to begin. I was utterly overwhelmed by the amount of information available. I want to share this journey with you in the hope that it will help others along their way!

I’ve been working with a Year 7 class who had no prior experience with coding. I’m hoping to survey and interview them about their experiences towards the end of this term.

Where we began:

I began with the students in the same place that I started as a teacher; looking for information on the benefits of coding and why we should be encouraging students to learn how to code.

I found myself reading guest articles by Chris Betcher (@betchaboy) on Splash ABC,  “More than a game; why coding will help kids for life” was just what I was looking for.

I copied the article onto our OneNote Content Library and asked students to read and highlight key information.

The article was in our content library ready for students to copy across and annotate.

The article was in our content library ready for students to copy across and annotate.

Students then worked in pairs to discuss the article, ultimately posting three reasons why we should code onto our Collaboration Space, this was a great exercise in using OneNote to work collaboratively and to share ideas as well as encouraging students to see the benefits in coding.

Our shared space (again experiencing a few syncing errors)

Our shared space (again experiencing a few syncing errors)

Students were able to identify benefits such as:

  1. Kids should code because they would like to see what happens when you are doing something on the computer.
  2. kids should code because it is a new experience for them.
  3. kids should code because they need to know what do when they don’t know what to do.
  1. Learning to think the computer way can help solve other problems, whether it be Maths or English.
  2. To learn on different websites like Scratch, and without noticing, go through failure repetitively to find the solution.
  3. Not just to develop understanding of coding, but to help students see the big opportunities open to them.

Other students identified being able to get jobs in the IT Industry as a key factor, being able to write your own apps, create websites or blogs.

Despite this shared knowledge the students were still asking me “what is code?” and “what does it mean?”. They had been told what the benefits of coding were without knowing what it really was (other than it was to do with computers!).

To tackle this question I used a PE lesson. I was still a little wary of where to begin with computers so was grateful for the opportunity to delay the inevitable!

I wanted to show them that coding was essentially a series of very specific commands so we set up obstacle courses. Armed with stacks of cones and hurdles and a box full of blindfolds we constructed two obstacle courses. Students had to come up with a list of commands to navigate a blindfolded partner through the maze. The blindfolded partner could not think or act for themselves. They had to be told exactly what to do.

The results were great – students were highly engaged and were frustrated when their sequence of commands weren’t interpreted as hoped! We had started to test and re-write our code and there wasn’t a computer in sight.

Even now as we make our projects in Scratch I remind the students of this experience and how important it is to have an eye on a goal and to write clear, specific instructions as to how to get there.

A great post from Miss Marks and we will certainly post updates about how the students are getting on with their programming challenge.

Guest Post: Excel-lent! A Smart(ie) Take On OneNote & Excel In Maths

This post was originally written by Ms Briony Marks, a teacher in our Preparatory School, on her teaching blog that you can read here. I liked the post so much, and her natural integration of technology into a Year 6 Maths lesson, that I gained permission to reblog it here – enjoy.

The setup of the class OneNote & the W.A.L.T. for the lesson.

The setup of the class OneNote & the W.A.L.T. for the lesson.

Now that the school year is well and truly underway a few of my summer pipeline plans are taking form inside my classroom which is exciting, and it feels like a long wait is over!

As a member of the eLearning professional learning group in the Preparatory School I have been trying to integrate the useful and purposeful use of computers and the Internet into my lessons and I am endeavouring to document my reflections as I go along to feed back to the rest of the group.

Last week I set up a class OneNote to use with my Year 6 and Year 7 Maths groups using the Class NoteBook Creator App (I think I’ll do a blog on this once they are underway and being used in the longer term – I’ll share how I’m using it and how effective it is in a class without their own devices). We finally got started using it in our maths lessons this week and I was really pleasantly surprised with the results.

Student graphs showing analysis of their Smartie investigations (note the feedback comments from Ms Marks to the right of the graphs)

With my Year 6 class we were undertaking the age-old Smartie statistical investigation. I decided, like many teachers, to use this opportunity to introduce the class to Microsoft Excel. My aims were to show students how to use AutoSum; to see if they could understand the benefit of this function and the advantage over using a calculator and to make simple graphs. Next week we will be adding the results of other groups to take a Mean and use a comparative graph feature to support our analysis of the results.

There were plenty of resources on the Internet (TES.co.uk had a plethora!); wonderfully detailed PowerPoints or Word documents with screen shots and arrows showing the students a step by step method. I chose my favourites and adapted them slightly (one needed modernising to the Excel 2013 we run on our school netbooks and other details such as where to save and open the Spreadsheet were made more suitable for the school systems).

instructions

Example of OneNote NoteBook with the Excel instructions printed into it

What I chose to do next was not particularly intentional but it worked fantastically. I copied the Powerpoint into our Content Library on our class OneNote. Once those students who were savvy were online they took themselves through what was essentially a step by step tutorial, with minimal assistance, and self-taught how to use Excel.

This allowed me the opportunity to work with a smaller group of students who were not so familiar with OneNote or Excel.

Children assist each other before I can get a look in!

Children assist each other before I can get a look in!

The children were able to help each other and often a question was asked and before I could get to the child to assist, another member of the class had jumped up to show them where to find the answers on OneNote or how to do it.

I can’t wait for the next lesson and to see how they deal with the next set of skills.