Thursday, January 23, 2014

Integrating Lego Robotics

     Since Hour of Code I  have been thinking about how to REALLY integrate robotics into my curriculum because that is programming I know, and have on hand.  I'm a STEM teacher so I really SHOULD give my students that opportunity, but it isn't something tested or in my subject topics so it gets pushed to a lower priority.  I am, however, trying to find ways to put it in front of students.
     Last weekend my starting point/ big idea finally showed up.  My science topic is Ecosystems, my ELA curric. is to read non-fiction, research and write, and of course my STEM focus is to integrate programming with Lego and NXT. Our fifth graders are given the opportunity to go to Florida and swim with the manatee in their natural environment.  It is a LOT of work to plan but once on the trip I feel the students get a lot of information and experiences.  Gearing up for the trip we of course talk about ecosystems, people's impact on the manatee, we look at current population numbers, etc. I am hoping to skype with scientists next week, and get more current population numbers. This year I found a book in our library called, The Manatee Scientists by Peter Lourie.  I had students read the section on Florida and the Gulf (non-fiction reading) and find evidence as to how scientists are working to conserve and protect manatees and hopefully increase their numbers.  We researched the impact of boats on the manatee and laws that Florida has in place for interactions with manatees. We are working on essays and informational brochures for others.  AND THEN IT HIT ME. I made my own manatee Lego challenge.
     I created a list of "issues" for manatee: boat injuries, medical specialists, and loss of habitat. I then created scenarios for each task related to those issues and created three Task Cards.  Task 1 was based on the idea that many manatees are injured every year simply by people in boats not seeing them and running them over with the propeller.  Florida laws have No Wake signs all over rivers and areas where manatees are located. For Task 1 students had to start from the Rescue Base and put the No Wake sign in the river channel. We built 4 signs from Lego for this and put a sticky note on them to represent the sign.

     Task 2 was about finding an injured manatee and calling on wildlife authorities to take it to a medical facility to rehabilitate the animal.  One of my students likes to mold clay, so I asked her to build 4 models of manatee for me.  I love how she added algae to back of this one. With Task 2 the robot has to go out to the manatee, pick it up and return to the Rescue Base so the animal can receive medical attention.  The student added scratch marks to the clay model to represent the boat injury. 

     The third challenge was to create a water sanctuary so that the manatee will have a place to rest away from people and boats. Since our students will be swimming with the manatee in early February this is definitely a rule they need to know.  We created the sanctuaries with toothpicks and clay.  Five of the "buoys and rope" are located on a water spot on the right of the map, with the sixth one located on the title of the mat a few inches away (see below).  Students have to pick up the missing piece and drop it off inline with the other pieces to finish off a secure sanctuary. 

     After I figured out the challenges and created pieces with a few students, I got on Publisher (what I have on my computer) and created a mat.  Lego makes these mats that you generally have to buy, but what I made worked just fine.  I used the shapes and colors to create a circle for the sign, diagonal lines to represent the river, and filled in rectangles for the water areas for task 2 and 3.  The Rescue Base is where robots need to start out and return.  In the picture below you can see the 6th toothpick waiting to be placed.  I printed the 8.5 x 11 piece of paper out in color and then made four copies in our poster maker in the front office.  If you don't have a poster machine you may need to run out and get poster board and draw them by hand (thank you technology). You can see my complete set up below.
     My students were super excited to spend some time on these challenges.  We used robots from the NXT sets we have that were already built.  They did spend some time building arms to scoop things up, and kids who knew how to program well were quickly put in charge of the programming.  In the future I think I'll have this set up on the side of the room on a table, so students who have finished work or if we have indoor recess, can go and play around with it.  At the end of our work time students were super excited.  I'm sorry I don't have video of their successes and attempts, but we had a tour group come through and my attention turned toward them an answering questions.  The students were thoroughly engaged though in their programming. 

     One of the things I learned from this is that I can write scenarios for any topic.  As long as I can come up with a story line, and find ways to represent them I'm able to present these to the students.  I think in the future one of these will be permanently out for kids to work through and encourage more of them to program.  The logic and organization of programming is a very valuable skill for my students, and I think it is worth the time. 

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