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.
If you are like me as a science teacher, you simultaneously live the acronym "STEM" and are exhausted by its overuse in nearly every blog, set of state standards, or professional development seminar that comes to town (Full disclosure: I often facilitate those seminars).
That being said, the more I dive into the world of Robotics (second year as an FRC Mentor and long time Summer Science Camp facilitator), the more potential I see in leveraging that which we often write off as "trendy, and that which we hold dear.
Tools common to enrichment programs (MakeyMakey, Arduino, MicroBit etc.) can potentially be powerful tools in my/our Biology and Chemistry classes during the school year, while also engaging students in a disciplines they would not normally see embedded in traditional physical and life science courses.
Below are links 5 activities I have done, or plan to do, that merge coding/electronics and biology/chemistry. Enjoy!
#1: MakeyMakey Interactive Eukaryotic Cell
#2: Lego Mindstorm Natural Selection Simulation
#3: Modeling States of Matter with the MicroBit
#4: Drop Counter Hack with MakeyMakey
#5: Arduino Conductivity Probe
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.