Hear what these Guthrie High School students have to say about taking the very first robotics course offered in their school. And preparing for their first robotics competition.
I teach Technology Applications courses (Web Mastering, Video Technologies, Digital Graphics & Animation) at Guthrie High School. We are a very small rural school located in west Texas about 100 miles east of Lubbock, with just over 30 students in grades 9 through 12. Earlier this semester, we were invited to participate in the TCEA/TWC Competitive Robotics Grant through the Rolling Plains Technology Consortium. The grant provided our school with four LEGO MINDSTORMS robotics kits and four licenses of LabVIEW Education Edition. Participation in the grant required that we enter four student teams in the TCEA Robotics Competition held in January 2011.
Since my classes are the only technology courses that are offered in the district, we decided to incorporate the robotics program into my existing Web Mastering classes. We have spent the last six weeks preparing for the TCEA Robotics Contest by building robots and programming them to accomplish the tasks laid out in the contest guidelines. The TCEA Contest is build around a simulation that challenges students to produce a robot that is capable of quickly and efficiently moving prototype oil drilling machinery from a well site and placing permanent caps on the oil wells. The contest simulation takes place on a four foot by four foot game surface and the oil wells and oil caps are represented by Big Red Soda and tuna fish cans. The students’ robot must be able to push the ten cans to predetermined locations on the game surface within a two minute time limit. The robot must be self directed for the entire two minutes, locating and moving the cans from their original locations to specific targets on the game surface, earning points for each target covered. For the entire TCEA Robotics Contest description and rules, go to http://www.tcea.org/collaborate/robotics/Pages/areas.aspx
Because we are integrating the robotics unit into the Web Mastering courses, we have chosen to supplement and extend those Web mastering objectives in a very unique way. Our Web Mastering students are taught to write HTML, CSS and PHP code in a text editor, upload those files to their web server, and then view/test them in a web browser. They repeat that process many times a day, for many weeks at a time, making necessary edits in their code until their code renders correctly for the end user. Problem solving is a large aspect of the class. Students must find and work within a process that builds towards continuous improvement, at the same time working within a given time frame while evaluating variables and comparing outcomes. The state standards (TEKS) that outline this concept are:
126.28. Web Mastering
With Web Mastering, this all takes place digitally. Students do all of their work on their laptop screen: from writing code, to troubleshooting, to final product. There is rarely a physical representation or an output that the students can touch and hold. This robotics project has allowed me to teach these problem solving concepts with something that exists in the physical world...a robot. The students are able to work with code that can be rendered out on the game surface. By combining LabVIEW with the LEGO MINDSTORMS kit, we are able to make a strong connection from the digital world to the physical one. That has been incredibly helpful to our students.
In addition, this robotics project has also caused the students to consider “real world” variables as they write code. While the code they generate with LabVIEW can be precise and elaborately structured, there are many variables that can cause the robot to fail to perform as expected. Students are now considering: friction, mass, temperature, power, structural flex and a host of other physical variables that might affect their programming. This is something new to these students, as they are used to only digital workflow and product. They have successfully transferred these new ideas and applied them to their web mastering projects in terms of: designing for multiple screen resolutions, developing for a wide array of web‐enabled mobile devices and accounting for usability and accessibility related challenges. In short, they are more “plugged in” to the human, device and location variables that are now a required part of building for the web.
We currently have four robotics teams, each with their own LEGO MINDSTORMS Education NXT Base Set. Each team also has a license of LabVIEW Education Edition that is used in both Mac and PC environments. The majority of our six week robotics project has been spent preparing for the TCEA Robotics Competition. The challenges laid out in the contest guidelines have served as our curriculum and scope and sequence. For the detailed TCEA Robotics Contest description and rules, go to http://www.tcea.org/collaborate/robotics/Pages/areas.aspx.