I was honored to give a presentation yesterday to colleagues in Utah on strategies to promote engagement in the sciences when teaching in a 100% distance learning setting.
Rather than share an exhaustive list og best practices (which are constantly evolving), I decided to give participants a snap shot of my current thinking on distance learning science pedagogy which is heavily informed by constant reflective practice.
Click here for a link to a PDF of the presentation which features my top four current strategies. I am sure these will change...but sharing reflection and iteration, I feel, is very powerful. At least for me. And it's my blog. :)
While PhET and cK-12 HTML5 simulations have proved to be essential in facilitating 100% distance learning in my chemistry and biology classes, creating a meaningful distance learning system for my robotics elective course was much more difficult to dream up.
First, although the new VEX VR coding interface provides a fabulous coding/simulation environment for teaching robotics in a distance format, the thought of not doing hands on robotics during this time, resorting only to online simulations does not sit well with me.
Because there are 20 students in my class, and we only have 10 sets of the VEX V5 system used in our traditional face-to-face course, current quarantine rules do not allow students to work in groups, and thus, creating take home kits composed of our pre-existing materials was not a possibility.
In search of a cost affordable option that could be easily packaged and delivered to student homes, contained the ability to learn skills in coding beyond drag and drop interfaces, and could be programmed on a myriad of different devices, I stumbled across Edison, and its Python (EdPy) coding interface.
Within a few days of discovering Edison I was able to secure enough funds to purchase one Edison and one add-on kit for each student. I am currently about to embark on Week 4 of the program, and although I haven't once seen students in person, they have interacted with their Edison Robot and the EdPy coding interface every day!
There have been no coding hiccups, uploading of code issues, or the many different technical malfunctions that are traditionally associated with learning a new robotic system. Distance learning in robotics, once the subject I feared the most teaching remotely, is not my favorite class to implement thanks to Edison!
Click here to scroll through the curriculum that I am currently implementing (scroll down through the document to see all lesson plans leveraging the Edison robot).
Below are links to examples of public Padlet boards used to house student products for each challenge. Check them them out and view student video products for a more observable/tangible idea of how Edison has been transforming my distance robotics class.
Although I am very much looking forward to jumping back into our face-to-face VEX V5 curriculum in the coming months (fingers crossed), Edison has provided added so much value to a class that I feared would struggle the most in the distance learning format.
This is the third year that I am teaching a course titled "Introduction to Robotics" as part of our regular curriculum at Sonoma Academy. Click here to access our class website.
The goal of the first few weeks is to answer the question "What is Robotics?" Merriam-Webster defines a "Robot" as...
...a machine that resembles a living creature in being capable of moving independently (as by walking or rolling on wheels) and performing complex actions (such as grasping and moving objects).
I have always struggled to help students derive there own definition of what a "Robot" is using standard curricular materials.
The "...moving independently" portion of the definition is not a problem initially, as most systems (Lego Mindstorm, VEX EDR, etc.) feature the ability to autonomously program the robot to perform complex tasks. Not a problem.
However, when relating a definition of the structure of robotic competitions such as those seen in FRC, and VEX I have always struggled.
Each of these competitions features a "telops" phase, where a driver is remote controlling the robot to perform a series of tasks in addition to an "auton" phase, where the robot performs the tasks individually.
Logically explaining to students that remote controlling a system is a branch of robotics is difficult.
If a human is in control, is the machine still performing a series of complex tasks?
How do we rationalize the inclusion of a human controller into the field of Robotics?
This year, I decided to tackle the conceptually challenging topic of rationalizing the role of the "telops" in robotics. Here is what I did for the first two weeks:
Student responses were fascinating. All students understood that in the Arduino Uno controlled autonomous robot, the program written living on the microprocessor provided commands directly to the motor controllers, guiding the robots movements.
The remote controlled robot "program" surfaced different, incredibly intriguing responses such as:
God programmed us to send a signal to the receiver to control the robot.
Evolution programed us to send a signal to the receiver to control the robot.
Education programmed us to send a signal to the receiver to control the robot.
Amazing questions also emerged:
Is it possible to program the Arduino to fight more efficiently than the remote controlled robot?
What happens when the intelligence of the Arduino Uno matches that provide by God, Evolution, etc.?
Is this related to the Technological Singularity? AI?
Although this unit laster longer than I would have liked, the physical motion of removing the transmitter-receiver system, and replacing it with a preprogrammed microprocessor opened up incredible discussion about what it means to be "...moving independently".
I freaking love teaching.
Campers spent day 1 using the Microbit to learn the basics of interfacing physical hardware with coding. Campers worked through a series of modules, leading to their own invention that they will showcase on our final day. Click here to see all modules via our leaderboard, and click here to see the handbook that contains links to all activities. A few images from today are shown below.
During Day 1 of the STEM portion of "Soccer & STEM Camp", campers built ball pitching machine to experiment with the process of "gearing up". After building the same machine, campers were challenged to modify their projects to change the speed and/or structure of their machine. Today, Day 2, campers will apply their knowledge of gearing to build a Robotic Dragster. See a few images of Day 1 below.