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/

Sumo Robots

Since 2000, I’ve been building Sumo robots and teaching students to do the same, primarily with LEGO’s as part of the RoboChallenge program. In RoboChallenge, we’ve had several competitions with Sumo robots from many schools in the California Central Coast region. I have a new tutorial web page with tips and guidance for builders, and a video of some recent Sumo robots, especially Sumo Robots using LEGO Mindstorms NXT. This page is a work in progress, and will continue to see additions and revisions, but still has much to offer people interested in getting started with Robotic Sumo.

Sumo Tutorial Page

Video from my Robotics Science Class Fall, 2008 (youtube)

STEM Education: Improving Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Education

teachinginclass

In 2007, I testified at a field hearing on the issues facing science education in the NCLB influenced standards-based era. In light of a forum taking place this weekend at Cal Poly, I am reposting this testimony.

Testimony of Luke Laurie

Science Teacher, El Camino Junior High, Santa Maria, CA

Director: RoboChallenge

mrlaurie@mac.com

given to the

SELECT COMMITTEE ON

SCHOOLS AND COMMUNITY

Senator Tom Torlakson, Chair

October 30, 2007

Cal Poly, Keck Laboratory

San Luis Obispo

Mr. Chairman, members of the committee, thank you for allowing me to speak today on the critical issues of learning environments and science education equipment needs for California’s classrooms.

My name is Luke Laurie. I am a science teacher at El Camino Junior High in Santa Maria, California. I have ten years of experience teaching and running after school programs in robotics and engineering. I am a recipient of the Amgen Award for Science Teaching Excellence, and a graduate of Cal Poly.

Last year, as a recipient of the Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellowship, I worked as a legislative assistant in the United States House of Representatives for Congressman Mike Honda, of Silicon Valley, a Member of the Appropriations and Science Committees, and a former science teacher himself. In the House, I worked on education, environmental policy, and appropriations. I worked with Congressman Honda on the Global Warming Education Act, and to end the narrowing of the curriculum, language for the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind to require all schools to provide a comprehensive curriculum to all students.

The school where I teach is not unlike many in California, serving an almost exclusively, low-income Hispanic population, more than half of which are English Language Learners. The opportunities for our students to encounter science and technology professionals in their communities are few, as are the opportunities for them to engage in meaningful science and technical experiences. That said, if we, as educators, do not provide meaningful scientific and technical experiences for students, with hands-on, minds-on learning, they won’t get them.

My time in Washington D.C. last year exposed me to the incredible bipartisan push at the Federal level to enhance science research and STEM education. Members of Congress, scholars, and business leaders agree that STEM education in the U.S. is in dire need of improvement.

Unfortunately, my time in D.C. also exposed me to the great disconnect between the federal infrastructure that provides guidance for public schools, and the framework that has been tasked with improving science education. Funds for improving K-12 science are appropriated to dozens of programs in NASA, NOAA, NSF, The Department of Energy, EPA, and the Department of Education. Rather than going directly to the schools with the greatest needs, these funds largely go to universities for outreach efforts. The results of outreach are often very good, creating amazing programs and providing unique opportunities for children, but they are also frequently short-lived, and directly affect only a small fraction of schools. The result creates a long and windy road for federal funds to science classrooms, and the trickle down effect often leaves some schools dry.

With frequent reports on the lack of science and technical literacy of American students, the concerns over global competitiveness, and the specter of global warming, one would think that science at all levels would see increased attention, increased funding, and especially, increased time devoted to science. Working down in the trenches, I can tell you from experience, that such is not the case.

Standards-based instruction and high stakes testing, the cornerstones of California education policy and the federal No Child Left Behind Act, have indirectly harmed science education, as well as education in the myriad of subjects beyond Language Arts and Mathematics.

The emphasis on Mathematics and Language Arts in testing and evaluation have created circumstances where well-meaning local administrators have issued directives or modified curricula that effectively discourage science instruction, and reduce or eliminate the time that would otherwise have been devoted to science. They are gaming the system; because they can, and because they believe they need to. In effect, the climate is such that there is no penalty for schools where science isn’t taught at all. The same could be said for other subjects, such as PE, health and nutrition, fine and performing arts, industrial arts, and technical education. The very subjects that may determine our future economic stability are seen as impediments to schools chasing the ever elusive AYP or API, in spite of their cultural and economic value, and in spite of their role in retaining students and preventing drop-outs. The current climate encourages short term gains, even when the trade-off is long term losses.

In the district in which I teach, a block schedule was implemented which provides junior high students with Math and Language Arts courses every day, but PE, Science, and Social Studies, meet every other day or for only half the year. Some English Language Learners have no science at all, or are given one quarter of science, while they are placed in a reading intervention class that is in addition to their language arts class- that’s 160 minutes of language arts in a day. There are only 3 full time science teachers in my school, serving a population of over 600 students.

In some schools, the precious time they have to teach science is taken up with weekly math review, or extra reading time. The time is taken out of science as it is considered a non-essential course.

Some of the greatest impact have been on elementary science instruction. Many elementary teachers I have spoken to who are passionate about science education have been forced to reduce their time spent on science. Some express great frustration, because of drill and kill tactics and extended time on Math and Language arts, they are unable to implement the science units they used to teach, which integrated mathematics, reading, writing, and vocabulary development, and used these skills in context.

Don’t get me wrong, literacy, acquiring English, and mathematics are vital skills, however, the overemphasis on these subjects has been harmful, because science is less frequently used as the context for language development, and context for application of mathematics. The common defense for this overemphasis is that while deferring these subjects, we are providing students with a stronger framework for future coursework. Such could be tested, however, there is a tendency, especially for students in English Language Learner programs to defer science year, after year, after year. It is a disservice to these students to remove them from the courses in which the language is universal, the minds will be engaged, and students will be able to experience success. At the junior high level we are not seeing students more prepared for science instruction because of their work in mathematics and language arts. In fact, we’re seeing fewer students able to apply mathematics skills to real situations, such as the ability to measure or estimate, and we’re seeing less in the way of prior science knowledge. They are likely to have strongly-embedded misconceptions about ordinary phenomena, and they are less prepared to learn science.

Fortunately, in spite of these policies and trends, the programs that I personally work on have been strongly supported by my site administration, and we’re fighting to keep science alive. We have been able to channel grant funds and awards into strengthening my Robotics Science Course for 8th grade students, and we’ve been able to maintain strong participation in MESA (Mathematics, Engineering, and Science Achievement).

But all of the grant funds we have acquired have provided little other than equity with wealthier California schools. We need 5000 dollars in grants each year just to keep pace. The lack of equity in funding requires teachers in schools such as mine to beg and borrow- just to get what may be provided in the next zip code.

With what we have, we have converted some regular classrooms into what you might call labs. We even have a single room designated as “science lab” on our school map. But this old classroom doesn’t have hot water, is poorly lit, has no access to gas for Bunsen burners, and if we plug in too many hot plates, it will blow out the low-amperage circuits. We make it work. Is it  a science lab? I’m not sure.

This brings me to a concept I call “Faith-Based” education. I don’t mean faith in the religious sense. What I mean is that, commonly, education policy neglects to provide much needed resources- or fails to institutionalize or require instruction that all students must definitely have. Instead, we take it on faith, that somewhere out there, some courageous teacher will pick up the ball and fill in the holes that were made by omissions of policy or shortages of funding. We see this in the teachers that go around fixing the school’s outdated computers, and the lone elementary teacher who will still take kids on science field trip, or teach their unit on whales, or growing plants from seeds- even when science has been alloted no time in the day. Or the elementary teacher who still goes out to teach PE- every day. We see this in the teachers who are working in my program, RoboChallenge, having students learn language and mathematics skills while designing and programming their own robots.

We should not have to rely on faith that good instruction and a comprehensive curriculum including robust science is being taught in public schools in California. With one of the largest economies in the world, a world-class university system, and the wealth of corporate resources, California should have a world class K-12 education system, and world class learning environments for all students. Increased investment in K-12 science is a drop in the bucket compared to the benefits we will reap from a strong workforce, our ability to curtail and adapt to climate change, and the cultural and technological benefits that will arise from tomorrow’s innovators.