Robotics in the Classroom – MacICT Workshop

Today I attended the Robotics in the Classroom professional learning workshop at Macquarie ICT Innovations Centre. The course was presented by John Burfoot, an experienced teacher and robotics educator who has spoken and presented at numerous events in Australia and internationally. He began by talking about a recent conference he attended in San Diego, USA, the LEGO Education Elementary Conference. The purpose of this conference was to gather together people who use the LEGO toolset to teach STEM related subjects in the classroom, and try out new activities, share experiences, meet new people and learn about new LEGO developments.

Our first activity today was to build a robot, specifically a robot called Harvey Mark II. We were given the hardware components, including the sensors, wheels, cables and EV3 brick. We also received, to keep, a small bag of LEGO Mindstorm pieces to construct our robot with. It took me 20 minutes to build the robot, shown below, from the instructions provided.

Harvey Mark II
Harvey Mark II

This robot included the 2 main motors, the ultrasonic sensor and the light sensor. We then used the Mindstorm software to code the robot to move and draw a square shape on the floor. The challenging part of this activity is the turn the robot needs to do. It takes a few guesses to make the robot turn the 90 degrees necessary, and when achieved the first turn is perfect, but the next 3 turns needed to complete the square are not 90 degrees, due to some oversteer the robot produces. Other people experienced the same problem, and part of the fun of robotics is collaborative problem solving, working things out with others, trial and error to see what works and what doesn’t in the quest for the perfect algorithm to produce the perfect output.

The next challenge was called ‘Bug in a Box’ and we needed to alter the build of the robot so it looked like a bug. I added some antennae to mine using a few extra pieces of LEGO. On the floor of the room we were in there were floor tiles, and some of them were red, some were beige. Some of the red tiles had masking tape around them, and the challenge we faced was to keep the robot moving inside the red tile only for 1 minute. This challenge meant we had to use the colour sensor to sense the colour of the floor, if the sensor read the red tile it kept moving in a straight line, however, if it sensed the colour of the masking tape around the outside of the red tile then the robot was programmed to turn around back to the red tile and keep moving straight. This challenge was not too difficult, and again people worked collaboratively to fix any problems that arose. People in attendance had mixed experience with LEGO products and robotics, but everyone was fully engaged throughout the day.

We then altered our program to include the ultrasonic sensor, and if the robot was close to an obstacle in the box it would also change direction. For this we used the loop and switch blocks to make the algorithm more complex and efficient. We could use logic like if the robot is less than 10cm from an obstacle then turn around and go back. We also got to program sound effects and images on the screen of the robot to improve the output when these events happened.

We filmed our robots for this challenge and were encouraged to join an Edmodo group to share our videos with the others in the group, which was a nice touch. The Edmodo group included lots of resources from the day as well as plenty of others, very useful indeed.

Some of the resources I learnt about today are:

This was a great workshop and the presenter was excellent. We got to build a robot, program it to move, turn, use the ultrasonic sensor, colour sensor, use loops, switches and more. It was a packed day and the time went really quickly. The course was very well catered and other participants were like minded and enthusiastic to learn new things. After this course I can’t wait to get back to school and use the EV3 with the kids!

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