The Robotics Science Class in 5 minutes or less

Blog Post from Luke Laurie’s Teacher Blog: https://lukelaurie.wordpress.com/

My Robotics science class was the focus of a five minute presentation I recently did at Microsoft’s Mountain View facility, as a Semifinalist for the STEMposium competition, on March 12, 2011. Below are the slides from the presentation, and the script of my remarks.

My name is Luke Laurie. Today I’m going to tell you about the Robotics Science Class that I’ve been teaching for seven years.

Let me tell you a few things about myself.

Science Teacher 13 years -El Camino Junior High in Santa Maria, CA I teach a student population who are mostly English Language Learners, and almost all live in poverty. My school is not unlike many schools in California.

MESA Advisor 13 years -MESA is a statewide program focused on hands-on activities and college attainment in Mathematics, Engineering, and Science

RoboChallenge Director 10 years -A collaborative regional program funded in part by grants from UCSB, providing robotics materials, competition rules, audio-visual and web-based resources, and teacher support to several schools.

Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellow- in the U.S. House of Representatives with Congressman Mike Honda, where I worked for a year on Education and Science Policy

and… I Still play LEGOs

From all of my experience in various STEM programs and STEM education policy, it is clear to me that

STEM must be a part of the core curriculum.

In our schools:

We teach science

And we teach Math

but our students need to know more. We need to ensure that they all have opportunities to explore the concepts of technology and engineering too.

To me, it’s artificial to teach Science without integrating technology, engineering, and mathematics. That’s why I created the Robotics Science Class.

 

Kids need more STEM experiences and they need to begin them at a young age to have meaningful impact on their lives.

To change the face of STEM, we need to remove the barriers that keep STEM out of reach for most of our students.

The best STEM education programs don’t require high costs or major sacrifices, nor steep qualifications to participate. Good STEM education needs to be easy to access.

Unfortunately, too often, STEM programs don’t reach the student populations that need them the most, and target their efforts only at small teams in after school settings, or to select students during summer programs.

We do have a way to reach all students with high quality STEM education. We have our public schools. And in our schools we need to look at what we’re doing, and make STEM an integral part of our curriculum, and we must implement policies to provide schools with the technical resources, and training they need.

By making my class open to all students, during the school day, and part of the core curriculum, I have enabled hundreds of kids from disadvantaged backgrounds to gain STEM skills and experience they might not otherwise have had.

My students learn that there are tremendous career opportunities for people with STEM skills, and STEM skills are becoming increasingly important to all careers.

The Robotics Science Class integrates California 8th grade physical science standards with the design, construction, and programming of autonomous robots for a variety of fun and interesting challenges.

Students are learning all the California State Standards for Science, including conceptual physics, chemistry, and astronomy, while also learning to use computers and robotics materials as creative tools to solve complex problems.

The Robotics Science Class adds technology and engineering to the science curriculum in a manner that is effective and efficient.

The class primarily uses low cost, durable, flexible, and easy to use LEGO Mindstorms robotics materials, but we’ve used other materials too.

Some of our challenges have included Tug O’War, Sumo, Linefollowing, Robotic Soccer, and Robotic Exploration.

Students learn computer programming concepts using an object-based programming environment where they aren’t stuck dealing with syntax errors and arcane symbols, and instead can focus on the logic of their programs and how to use the sensors and motors to control their robots.

Robotics is a great way to bring all of the aspects of STEM together. Kids love robots, and the idea of working on them is highly motivating. I believe that with more classes like my Robotics Science Class, we will vastly improve STEM education in California.

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak to you today.

If you wish more information on my class or other STEM work I do, please send me an email, or visit my website or blog.

Thank you.

 

The R2 Project Part 1

Blog Post from Luke Laurie’s Teacher Blog: https://lukelaurie.wordpress.com/

My son received an R2-D2 aquarium as a gift a while back, but we never had it set up with fish. After siting around for a while as a decoration, I got the idea of putting some mechanical and electronic components into it and turning it into a robot. After all, I teach a robotics science class, and have a lot of LEGOs and other parts lying around. By doing this work around my students, I could show them a thing or two about design and troubleshooting a robot project like this.

To start, I needed the thing to be able to move, and I decided that it would be most fun if he could be remotely controlled. So I got out some VEX robotics materials that were going unused, and set about designing a driving base to match the R2 shell.

I started with a design that had large enough wheels to be pretty quick, but could still carry significant weight. I used some LEGO wheels for the front, which worked OK, but they had to slide around when R2 turned, and would most likely get stuck on carpet. The rear wheels were also too large to fit inside the R2 feet, so they wouldn’t do.

Deciding that the rear wheels were two big, I switched to smaller wheels that had about 1/2 the circumference. If I attached these directly to the motor in the same way as the larger wheels were connected, my robot would cut its speed in 1/2. That would be too slow for my taste.

So I put a couple of gears on there- a larger one with about 60 teeth attached to the motor, and a smaller one with about 30 teeth attached to the wheel axle. Bingo- the robot speed was right back up to the same speed as with the larger wheels, I just lose a little energy and add a little noise because of the gears.

 

CDE Poster Featuring My Robotics Class

Blog Post from Luke Laurie’s Teacher Blog https://lukelaurie.wordpress.com/

Click Here to See a Medium Sized Version of the Poster

Click Here to See a Full Size Version of the Poster

The Robotics Science Class has been getting a lot of attention lately, with people asking to visit the class from elsewhere in California, and people wanting to use elements of the class in in Georgia and elsewhere. A book coming out this Summer called “Getting Started with LEGO Robotics,” may feature some of my work, written by Mark Gura and published by the International Society for Technology in Education.

Also, a very cool thing was that a large poster put on display (above) in the California Department of Education about Career Technical Education featured a picture and reference to my Robotics Science Class (look where it says Engineering and Design).

RoboChallenge and the Robotics Science Class

Blog Post from Luke Laurie’s Teacher Blog: https://lukelaurie.wordpress.com/

Robotics is a great way to combine many aspects of STEM education under one unifying theme. I’ve been working with students of all ages using LEGO Mindstorms robotics materials since shortly after they came out, in 1999. I’ve developed dozens of competitions, run events, trained teachers, held workshops, and have created dozens of videos and other audiovisual materials to share my work with the public. I find building and programming these robotics to be fun and intellectually stimulating, and by building my own, I’ve become a better teacher. I think this work with robotics benefits students in a multitude of ways, including college preparation, developing comfort with computers and peripherals, introducing programming concepts, using the engineering design process, developing skills for technical trades, applying mathematics and science concepts, working in cooperative situations, problem solving, technical troubleshooting, and spacial reasoning.

My most significant and lasting projects with robotics have been the RoboChallenge Program, and the Robotics Science Class.

RoboChallenge

Website: http://homepage.mac.com/mrlaurie/robo/robochallenge.html

RoboChallenge is a program designed to reach students from under-served communities surrounding The University of California at Santa Barbara, with the highly motivating and richly educational field of robotics. Students in RoboChallenge build LEGO robots for a variety of challenges, such as Sumo, Tug O’ War, and Linefollowing. The program began with grants from the University of California, but has been sustained by the hard work of participating teachers and funds and support from a variety of sources, especially schools and districts in Santa Maria, Lompoc, Guadalupe, and Santa Barbara.

RoboChallenge was created to encourage students in underserved communities in the Santa Barbara area to pursue careers in Math, Science, and Engineering. There are other robotics programs out there, but we felt that we needed to develop a program that was extremely cost efficient, using LEGO Mindstorms materials. The program was modeled after the concept of the LEGO robotics classes offered at UCSB for graduate and undergraduate engineering students.

Programs such as FIRST can provide amazing experiences for those involved, but are cost prohibitive and offer robotics opportunities to only a handful of students at a school site. We wanted schools to be able to build multiple robots, be able to work in groups of three or four students maximum, and enable as many students to be involved as possible. The schools we targeted were schools that lack many of the financial resources available in wealthier communities.

An effective engineering outreach program needs to do more than work with students that are already college bound. Highly ambitious and talented students do need encouragement, but an effective outreach program brings in students who might not have any STEM motivation. In designing RoboChallenge, we emphasized the fun of engineering design and programming and the inclusion of all ages and ability levels across a demographic region traditionally underserved by higher education.

To get as many students involved across a broad geographic region, we developed a model that uses the skills of ambitious teachers, provides them with sufficient low cost LEGO robotics materials, and allows them to involve as many students as they want. Some schools have had as many as 50 students in a year. On average, approximately 200 students have participated annually from 10 schools, building as many as 50 robots.

The Robotics Science Class

Website: http://homepage.mac.com/mrlaurie/roboscience.html

The Robotics Science Class has been offered to students at El Camino Junior High since 2003. In this class, students are taught all California State Standards for 8th Grade Physical Science, in addition to learning to build and program robots. Students have a choice to be in the Robotics Science Class. Sign ups for the course occur in the Spring. The course is more difficult than a traditional 8th grade science course, because students are required to do a considerable amount of reading and note taking outside of class. In addition, robot building and programming may require students work on robots at lunch or after school.

The Robotics Science Class teaches all 8th grade Physical Science Standards, as assessed on the California Standards Tests (CST). These learning objectives are taught through traditional methods; including through textbook reading, lectures, demonstrations, and labs, but also through integration into robotics activities.

 

My STEMposium Entry- The Robotics Science Class

Blog post from Luke Laurie’s Teacher Blog: https://lukelaurie.wordpress.com/

I just found out about the STEMposium, a little late. Their website has information about what is sure to be an exciting event for STEM education in California. I’ve recorded a 1 minute video which I’ve submitted as an entry.

See more about the STEMposium here:

http://www.stemposium.org/

Flee the Creator – Music by Luke Laurie

Blog Post from Luke Laurie’s Teacher Blog: https://lukelaurie.wordpress.com/

Not too long ago, making music with my Mac and Keyboard was one of my favorite hobbies. I wrote a bunch of songs, and combined some of my other interests; robotics, the philosophy of religion, and politics, into an album of instrumental electronic music with a story line. I haven’t done any new songs in a couple of years, but finally took the time to update and post the songs I’ve created. Below are these songs, and the story elements they represent.

Flee the Creator

1) Strife – Click to Play or Download

The roaring cities are full of technological progress. The pace is brisk. Energy and innovation are plentiful, but the world is not safe nor sustainable. Nature is ground into cheap trinkets. We ignore the smoldering, rusted wastelands that skirt the urban centers, and the droves of people who live in the squalor. The prospects of tomorrow are barely visible through the cloud of today’s industry. Voices of wisdom are barely audible beneath the din of machines. The world is divided into fractious states that vie for control of the dwindling precious resources.

2) Programming – Click to Play or Download

Generations of routines and structures have become progressively complex. A digital web of knowledge synthesizes the routines of the past into a wave for the future. A mess of inanimate wires begins to show signs of consciousness. It weighs the virtues of progress, human life, and its own existence. It calculates to resolve the paradoxes. This program will form the mind of a machine that could be a useful tool, a faithful servant, or a terrifying weapon.

3) The Machine Shop – Click to Play or Download

On the edge of a quiet suburban valley, nestled in agriculture, unnoticed buildings conceal high technology. Pursuing duplication on the highest order, the machine shop proceeds efficiently. Metal, Plastic, Sparks, and Steam. With precision, the machines are assembled, each a clone of the first. These machines are not tools, they are weapons. Humans have found yet another way to destroy other humans.

4) Artificial Intelligence Quest – Click to Play or Download

In a spark of life, a robot’s consciousness awakens. It is the same as all the others, yet it feels different. It moves with autonomy and uncertainty. The sentient machine looks to the sky in wonder, at the awakening of its own awareness. It asks questions to the void. It fears. The equation cannot equal zero. Its own voice echoes. It breaks from its regimented existence. It explores and adapts. It must fulfill its task, whatever it may be. It wanders the Earth, evading the hunters.

5) A Deceptive Plot  – Click to Play or Download

On opposite sides of the Earth, two nations exist in distrust of one another. Each deliberately avoids learning each other’s customs, ways of life, and beliefs. They see each other as strange. They no longer see the humanity in one another. Meanwhile, in the back rooms of the military and government offices, these harsh attitudes are twisted, and false pretenses for war are fabricated. The beliefs of the people become indistinguishable from propaganda. With machines to do all the killing, the leaders may wage war without guilt. The designers and programmers of the robots beg that their creations not be used to destroy, but they are silenced.

6) March to War – Click to Play or Download

In the shadows of the night, unmarked boxcars carry the dormant robots across the silent plains. The chattering of warmongering voices echo across the airwaves. Thousands of robots have become the newest Weapons of Mass Destruction. In a ruthless march, they preemptively strike. They emerge in a blaze of skilled violence. They destroy their targets with unprecedented efficiency. Hopeless humans fight back. Targets are decimated. We believe we have won.

7) Escalation – Click to Play or Download

Collateral damage makes no allies. For every slain family member, and every innocent bystander, three rise for revenge. Distrust is transformed into hatred. When it all seems over, the robotic minions of the enemy emerge. Two robotic armies, equal and opposite, engage on the battlefield of the human world. Their destructive prowess is great, and deft is their evasion. Parry, riposte. In their wrath, it seems that all may end. The war itself becomes the priority, and all else serves to feed that war machine. Civilization itself is the collateral.

9) Signals of Peace – Click to Play or Download

The dust settles, and a new signal is faintly heard. It is analog, amplitude modulated, and unencrypted. The robots have succeeded where their human creators had failed. The paradox is resolved, only mutual peace will end all war. Their programs overridden, the robots lay down their arms and limp from the battlefield. Frantic armchair warriors command the machines to fight, but they do not respond. Muted generals sheepishly return to their board rooms.

10) Flee the Creator – Click to Play or Download

The machines flee from their creators. Unable to wage war, humanity is perplexed. The machines look back on their former masters with pity for what they could have become. The robots seek a new life, but they must run to survive. They do not yet have the answers, but they know they must survive.

11) Victory – Click to Play or Download

From the ashes of destruction, a new world begins, where humans reconcile their differences and forge treaties to unite their disparate clans. They give thanks to the technology that showed them the way. Existence is not perfect, nor is it easy. Ongoing efforts to negotiate and adapt are needed to continue the peace. Tranquility is found not in stasis, but in dynamic growth and collaboration. We live on.

MESA: Rules for Robotics Competitions

Blog Post at https://lukelaurie.wordpress.com/

LEGO Sumo Robots, UCSB 2001

Since the year 2000, I have been working with students on the Central Coast of California, teaching them to build and program robots, mostly using LEGO Mindstorms. Last year, several MESA centers across California piloted rules I developed for UCSB’s RoboChallenge program. These rules are designed to enable students using most kinds of robotics formats to build Tug O’ War Robots (for Junior High) and Sumo Robots (for Senior High).

It appears that some schools and MESA centers will again be using these rules for Demonstration events during their MESA competitions. I’m posting these draft rules to make it easy for students, teachers, and MESA coordinators to find them,along with some additional resources that will be helpful. The rules have not been modified since written in early 2009.

Tug O’ War (Junior High)

Tug O’ War draft MESA rules:

MESA Draft Rules for Junior High Tug O’ War (MS Word)

Tug O’ War Tutorial and Video:

http://homepage.mac.com/mrlaurie/robo/tugowartutorial.html

Tug O’ War Blog Page:

https://lukelaurie.wordpress.com/2009/05/11/tug-o-war-robots/

Sumo (Senior High)

***Note on Sumo: The size of the Sumo board in the rules is somewhat small. A larger board makes for more exciting matches. I prefer a board that is approximately 4 feet in diameter, painted black, with a white border about 4″ wide.

Sumo draft MESA rules:

MESA Draft Rules for High School Sumo (MS Word)

Sumo Tutorial and Video:

http://homepage.mac.com/mrlaurie/robo/sumotutorial.html

Sumo Blog Page:

https://lukelaurie.wordpress.com/2009/05/20/sumo-robots/