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 2

Blogpost from Luke Laurie’s Teacherblog: https://lukelaurie.wordpress.com/

Last time, I talked about how I was building the drivetrain for the remote controlled R2. Click here for Part 1.

It’s really important to me that this robot is mobile, and able to drive on smooth ground or carpet, while also being able to overcome bumps and dips. Being able to turn smoothly is extremely important.

At first, I had a wheel base of two wheels in the rear two legs providing the mobility, and a single immobile wheel that could roll or slide on a turn. The sliding worked acceptably on smooth surfaces, but just couldn’t cut it on the rug.

So, I researched Omniwheels. I found some very cool robots people have built out of LEGOs using omniwheels, and some omniwheels that you can even buy. (I can’t vouch for any of these wheels or the vendor) I love that the internet is full of people’s cool technology projects.

I found a fairly simple Omniwheel design out there somewhere, and attempted several modifications, but in the end, I settled on the design below. This wheel seems pretty effective at allowing R2 to drive forward and backward in a fairly straight line without too many bumps, while also turning pretty smoothly. For now, this is what I’ll use, but I may consider other options.

 

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.

 

Media from the Einstein Summit

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

I was fortunate enough to have participated in the Einstein Fellowship 20th Anniversary Summit, where I met with friends new and old for the purpose of improving STEM education nationwide. Many photos from this event have been posted on the web. Some links to photos, video, and the Einstein Summit Report are below.

Me and Art: The Big Lebofsky

Making a Point on the STEm education Panel

Me and my kids at the welcome reception.

Mad scientist turned stern moderator.

 

Tons more media:

Picasa Web Album

Picasa- whole group photos

Photos from the Wilson Center

Video of part of the Summit from the Wilson Center

The Einstein Summit Report (.pdf)

 

Planning the Program for the E20 Summit

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

Teacher’s Network Leadership Institute Fellow, Policy Work for 2009-2010

The Einstein Fellowship 20th Anniversary Summit:

Planning the Program

Introduction:

During the 2009-2010 school year I committed myself to engaging in policy work, rather than action research. My initial plan was to advocate for policies to improve STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education. Little did I know, I would be swept up by a project that would become a national summit of leading STEM educators.

Background:

This year, 2010, marks the 20th Anniversary of the Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellowship, also known as the Einstein Fellowship. This unique program brings teachers of science and mathematics to Washington, D.C. to work in the House of Representatives, the U.S. Senate, and various federal government agencies, such as the Department of Energy, the National Science Foundation, NASA, and NOAA. Recipients of the fellowship are known as Einstein Fellows. They serve one-year terms living and working in Washington, D.C. With their extensive classroom knowledge, experience, and credentials, Einstein Fellows provide practical insights and “real world” perspectives to policy makers and program managers.

From 2006-2007, I served as an Einstein Fellow in the office of Congressman Mike Honda. During my fellowship, I had many opportunities to learn about policy, legislation, and government. I also had the opportunity to contribute to policy by advising the Congressman on education, appropriations, and environmental issues, and by participating in briefings and roundtable discussions on those issues. My work focused on education equity, enhancing science education, and improving the understanding of global warming. Following my fellowship year, I returned to the classroom, to continue my career teaching junior high science and robotics in Santa Maria, CA.

Summary of Work:

In Fall of 2009, I joined a group of former Einstein Fellows in conversations about the possibility of holding an event to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Einstein Fellowship, by bringing Fellows from the last 20 years together for an event in Washington D.C.. We formed a Planning Committee of fellows who were committed to spending a significant amount of time making all the decisions and preparations that would be necessary. Through numerous conference calls and thousands of emails, this grassroots event evolved to become the Einstein Fellowship 20th Anniversary Summit (called the E20 Summit by the Planning Committee), which will be held in Washington, D.C. from June 27 through June 30, at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. This summary was written after the planning process was complete, but prior to the actual Summit.

The Planning Committee conceptualized the event to be less of a celebration, and more of an opportunity to have a meeting of minds, to share ideas and build upon the vast and varied experiences of Einstein Fellows. We divided the work into three subcommittees: Fundraising; Logistics and Budget; and Program. The Fundraising Subcommittee successfully harnessed the support of government agencies, science and education organizations, and industry partners to provide funding to carry out the objectives of the E20 Summit. The Logistics and Budget Subcommittee coordinated the venues, vendors, and bookkeeping. I took leadership of the Program Subcommittee and became the Chair to coordinate the development of the substantive components of the Summit.

The goals of the E20 Summit, as stated in our proposal, were as follows:

  • Publish and disseminate a formal report of the E20 Summit proceedings with key recommendations to inform ESEA (the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, commonly known as No Child Left Behind) and improve STEM education;
  • Recognize the accomplishments of Einstein Fellows and their collective contributions to policy, programs and the advancement of K-12 STEM education;
  • Promote the professional capabilities of Einstein Fellows, and other nationally recognized teachers, to national, state and local STEM education stakeholders;
  • Illustrate the efficacy of the Einstein Fellowship program as a best practice of STEM policy inclusion for teachers and professional development model;
  • Formalize and strengthen the Einstein Fellowship network.

It was a joy to work with the other members of the Planning Committee and the Program Subcommittee. On many aspects we shared common goals. Where we disagreed, we discussed our differences in a constructive manner and found compromises that everyone could accept. All participants had served as Einstein Fellows within the last twenty years in various offices and agencies, and were from many different parts of the United States. Most were science teachers of various disciplines, and some taught mathematics. The wealth of knowledge and experience in the group was incredible. Each Fellow had many valuable connections that we were able to draw from as valuable resources to implement the goals of the Summit.

The Program Subcommittee formulated the content of the Summit. Through a lengthy brainstorming process and a series of collaborative discussions, the Subcommittee created a list of possible topics around which workshops, panel discussions, or roundtable discussions could be created. The group solicited input from active members of the Planning Committee, as well as other Fellows who might attend the Summit. From this input, we created a schedule covering topics pertinent to Einstein Fellows, and relevant to the current national dialog on STEM education. We assigned facilitators to manage the sessions and worked with them to connect with experienced speakers and panelists in positions of authority within the appropriate fields. Throughout this development process, all relevant information was compiled into a document that would become the final Program for the Einstein 20th Anniversary Summit.

The final Program is a 21-page document, and includes the following elements:

  • A welcome statement
  • A description of the three locations for events, The Wilson Center, The Rayburn House Office Building, and The J.W. Marriott Hotel in Washington, D.C.
  • A brief agenda summary
  • A detailed program of all sessions and events
  • The text of H.Res. 1322, a Congressional Resolution Celebrating the 20th Anniversary of the Einstein Fellowship, which passed the House on June 15, 2010.
  • A list of the Planning Committee and Subcommittee members.
  • Brief biographic information about all of the facilitators, panelists, and featured guests
  • A full list of approximately 200 Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellows from the first 20 years.
  • A list of sponsors and supporters

Looking Ahead:

Following the Summit, a report of the findings will be published by the Wilson Center and distributed nationally. In addition, we will be forming an Einstein Policy Team, which will work to promote and advocate for ways to improve STEM education using the findings of the Summit. The Einstein Policy Team will be involved in advocacy at the local, State, and National level. It is our hope that through this advocacy, we will be able to make notable contributions and give teachers a stronger voice.

More info on the Summit can be found at the official website:

http://sites.google.com/site/einstein20summit/

Ed Potosnak on Innovation

Ed Potosnak has a great post on innovation over at downwithtyrrany:

http://downwithtyranny.blogspot.com/2010/03/dont-be-deceived-by-new-jersey-democrat.html

“As a technophile and science nerd I may be biased, but I believe America’s economic stability depends on how seriously we respond to the challenges presented by an increasingly technological global economy”

Read More:

http://downwithtyranny.blogspot.com/2010/03/dont-be-deceived-by-new-jersey-democrat.html

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.