Tuesday, July 7, 2009

LEGO Robotics Camp... I mean Teacher Training

A week ago I was fortunate enough to have my school send me and our 2nd Robotics teacher to the Carnegie Mellon Robotics Academy NXT-G Teacher Training course. It's held over a week at the National Robotics Engineering Center in Pittsburgh, PA.

Pittsburgh is a sweet city and the place we stayed at lent us bikes for free and it's baseball season, so we also got to take in a Pirates game at the beautiful PNC park on the Allegheny River.

But back to LEGO robotics...

In the NXT-G teacher training they gave us pre-built tribots (not Tribot from the MINDSTORMS kit, but a simple tri-wheeled robot), and we began with programming, not building. We progressed through the software from move blocks, to sensor blocks, to loops and switches, and ending with logic and data collection. We also worked through troubleshooting scenarios where we looked at broken programs and brainstormed how to help students through fixing them by closely examining program flow.

We usually begin our season with a lot of LEGO building, and then address programming after a robot has been built. I also used to just teach move blocks and a few wait for sensor blocks. Even some FLL teams won competitions with only using move blocks in their programming. But after this course I feel I should have dug into the capabilities of NXT-G a long time ago. There are many problems with even basic programming that can be resolved if the students have a solid foundation in basic programming. My initial goal of the course was to learn the capabilities of the software better than the 8th graders in our program, but I have revised that goal to include restructuring the first few sessions of ou after school program to include foundational lessons in programming with NXT-G.

I am also considering starting all the kids off with starter bots in September and re-addressing programming first, then moving on to building. The theory behind this is to give the students a toolbox of programming blocks that they make and can pull from when they build their own robotic creations later. They will develop this toolbox through engaging challenges with the starter bot. For the FLL team these starter challenges can be related to the Smart Move missions. I feel that starting this way the students will make better choices when designing their robots and when addressing the big question, "What do I want my robot to do?"

I have a lot of homework to do this summer.

You can teach yourself what I learned from the Carnegie Mellon Robotics Academy through their NXT Video Trainer CD-Rom

They also have an online course as well.
Professional Development - Online Course

I highly recommend the course to both veteran and new LEGO MINDSTORMS teachers.

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