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Robotics Challenge

Michael Pelland, Mt. Eden High School, 2016-2017 Classroom Project

Project Description: The original plan was to have the students work towards competing in the UC Davis C-STEM Robotics competition. However, the students were not making adequate progress with their programming skills and I did not have enough resources to incorporate the robots into the curriculum in my programming class. As a result, I needed to change my expectations. My students were not very motivated to learn programming in the manner that I learned 30 years ago. As a result, I introduced the students to RoboBlockly, which allows them to program the robots without having to type in the code themselves. Before introducing RoboBlockly, the students were extremely slow to think about the steps required to write the assigned programs. Once they were using RoboBlockly, they were much more engaged in the process. Students that had not attempted work in weeks were now “writing robotics code” and they were very engaged in the material. With Roboblockly, the students were able to see their programs simulated on the screen. I gave them a project to have the robot dance to part of the song Cupid Shuffle. We had a class competition to see who could program the robots to have the best dance to the song. They wrote the program in RoboBlockly and then transferred it to the requested software so their program would control the actual robots.


Expected Results: While my students were not at the level to compete in C-STEM Day like I originally planned, they learned a great deal from the project. I had been telling them to plan their program on paper before moving to a computer. With RoboBlockly, they were able to instantly see the results of their code (without errors) and quickly organize their thoughts into working programs. I believe that they now could see the importance in planning prior to writing their code (for more traditional programs). They were able to see the outcomes of all of the coding structures that we have been studying in real life situations. It put programming into concrete terms for many of the students. They also saw how the logic in loops and conditional statements are used in real world applications. Even though they were just initially drawing squares, I believe that many of the students could see how missing a step in programming a robot could negatively impact a robot welding parts on a car. For the robotics dance competition, students learned the importance of planning. The robot did the dance, according to the lyrics, but not at the same pace as the music. They learned how to adapt their programs to more accurately re􀀁ect the task. My daughter took programming at Chabot in the fall. She complained about her professor telling them to plan ahead. My students heard the same message from me. Having RoboBlockly and the robots allowed to see the reason to plan ahead in a much friendly environment for the student.

Important Outcomes: The most important outcome for the students was to learn the steps to writing a complete computer program. With RoboBlockly, even unwilling students were able to quickly write code. With the robots, students were able to see the results of their code and they immediately knew if their code was correct. Receiving an error code on a computer screen was not motivating to students. As a result, they weren't interested in debugging their code. However, seeing the robot move incorrectly was taken as a challenge and students worked to correct the ô€€aw in their programs. The use of the robots engaged the students in the programming process from design to implementation. It was a great motivating tool for everyone in the class.

Student skills and knowledge: Students skills and knowledge increased because seeing the robot move was far more motivating to the students than reading error codes on the screen. Students were able to better realize all of the steps needed to implement a computer program. Next year I hope to incorporate more challenging, technical assignments for the kids and, hopefully, have a team of students participate in the C-STEM Day competition.

Project Award: $800

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