Saturday, August 5, 2017

Pop Up Thinglab 29: On Your Marks, Get Set ... MAKE:ROBOT

Pop Up Thinglab 29 was the first workshop in the new Lab Central at Redbridge Central Library - it was a MAKE:ROBOT Mindstorms Thinglab for children 9 to 14 years of age.

We started with an introduction to robots - their past, present and future, their place in popular culture and their impact on work and our world. We spoke about the Hero robot in ancient Greece, Leonardo Da Vinci's drawings and mechanical Lions and modern machines. We spoke about the robots we could think of in stories and films and about what a robot is and the difference between machines, automatons, androids and robots.

We then got to making robots

LEGO Mindstorms is a wonderland of possibilities for invention and imagination but for first time users the full Mindstorms kit can be overwhelming and feel like being thrown into the deep end and the demonstration builds take a lot of time and patience to get started with.

It's difficult to make something simple

LEGO Mindstorms is exciting and you just want to get started quickly with something you can make and program to do things  ... its with this in mind that we have spent a lot of time developing quick and simple robot builds and a simple programming app to use with them. Our simple robot called "Buttons" can be easily made and programmed to move around with our app in less than 10 minutes.

“If you can't explain it to a six year old, you don't understand it yourself.” ~ Albert Einstein

Within 10 minutes the children had made their robots and had started programming.

Making a robot is a tangible learning experience ... its an object to think with and a bit like working with a three dimensional puzzle. Some of the children were wondering why their robots were either not moving or "not doing what they were told" e.g. going round in a circle rather than a straight line. With a little bit of help and experimentation they "debugged" their robot builds .. finding out that connections from the brain to the limbs were not working ... the robot's nervous system wasn't connected properly ... they hadn't pushed the wires into the large motors for them to make a good connection - in tech talk ... the connectors weren't seated properly.

After the children got used to programming their robots to move around we introduced some more buttons and attachments for it ... add on buttons that could be used to program the robot to make sounds and to control a small motor that can be used with our gripper attachment.

My first experience of teaching programming to children was with robots - back in the early 1980s using the constructionist ideas in Seymour Papert's Mindstorms with the LOGO Turtle and language. Programming a robot to draw is a powerful learning activity ... its an experience that has stayed with me and inspires me to this day. Programming a robot to draw inspires young people today just as it did back in the early 1980s - our 3D printed pen holder robot attachments were by far the most popular activity. Using the same movement commands they were now familiar with but with the robot holding a pen the children got to programming their robots to draw.

On your marks .. the children program the robots to draw

Robots come to their senses

So far the children had been programming robot actions ... robot outputs. We had a discussion about inputs and outputs, our muscles, limbs and senses and robot effectors\actuators and sensors. We introduced the children to the Mindstorms colour sensor and infra-red sensor. With the colour sensors the children could use colours to program their robot to move, make noises and make tunes. With the infra-red sensors the children could make their robots detect distance and program their robots responses e.g. how far away to detect an object, to move away or towards an object and how fast to move.

Doing it yourself and making your own is a great way to appreciate and understand something - the children were really proud of their robots and what they had achieved with them ... and best of all - they had tremendous fun.

See all the photos from Pop Up Thinglab 29 here

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To find out more about inspirenshare Pop Up Thinglabs visit\thinglab 

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