Sunday, September 29, 2013

First experiences with MINDSTORMS EV3

This past summer I was fortunate to participate in the LEGO Education EV3 Seed Project and test drive the EV3 in my camp programs. These programs service children from 8 years old to middle schoolers.

I run two types of robotics camps. One is a one-hour introduction to robotics workshop, and the second program is a week-long robotics camp where students get to build upon a robot project over a full week.

I was really pleased with the versatility of the EV3, as it was a perfect fit for both programs. Since the kits were new and in "beta test" condition, I had to spend some time organizing the kits so that all campers could access the parts they needed, and put parts away independently. Please see my earlier blog post on how I organized the parts.

Now onto the camps...

One Hour Workshop

The challenge of a one hour workshop is how do you offer campers a great robotics experience in such a short time? The one-hour workshops I run are also traveling workshops where I travel to sleep-away camps and unpack my gear for campers to interact with and then re-pack the gear to move on to the next workshop. So I need to be organized and have models that can withstand a lot of play.

I usually design a "simple bot" that anyone could build, and that have few parts that can be lost/repaced. My recipe for a simple bot is a robot that is stable (lots of kid play), but uses a minimal amount of pieces (less to lose/replace), and one that can be assembled in a few steps (for maximum play time). The EV3 comes with an amazing metal wheel that serves as the perfect 3rd/pivot wheel which saved me a lot of time with pivot wheel design - thank you LEGO! The EV3 kit comes with cross braces that are easy to attach to the base of the EV3, which made designing a simple bot a snap.  I didn't use the cross braces in this model, but the EV3 starter bot in the software uses them and they are designer's dream.

Check out the 1-hour workshop "starter bot"

This robot, which we named the "Robbie Bot" (after one of the camp counselors), was made from about 50 pieces. We attached a wired remote with two touch sensors and preloaded a simple 2-button remote program to get the campers started with running the robot on an obstacle course (that matched the activities of the camp). Once the campers were in a groove we introduced them to the On-Brick programming on the EV3 to move them up to hands-on programming. The campers then disassembled the robots in preparation for the next group to play.

Here are some happy campers and their EV3 bots!


One Week Workshops
For my one week workshops this summer I relied heavily on the LEGO Education EV3 software for guidance. I had very little time to learn the new system before presenting it to the campers and trusted that the tutorials in the software could support me, and they did, BEAUTIFULLY. I would encourage both rookie and experienced MINDSTORMS teachers to take advantage of the software - there are a lot of jewels to mine in it!

We began each week building the "Driving Base" model and then following the programming tutorials from "Basics" to "Beyond Basics" programming movement and sensor blocks per the progression of the software. We usually made it through the movement and sensor programming by the end of day three (1/2 days of camp) which gave days 4 and 5 over to project days where campers had a choice to build off their robot or build a new robot. 

What was reassuring as a classroom teacher wanting to incorporate EV3 into my studies this year is that my campers found enough inspiration and support in the kit to excel at independent projects without a lot of teacher support. I was able to spend much of my teacher support time on extending projects, like learning how to record custom sounds and send them to the EV3 brick and teaching parallel programs (which I found to be much more intuitive in the new EV3 software).

I had a group of four boys (4th grade) build the color sorter model in two sessions, and two 3rd grade boys build the Gyro Boy in 2 sessions. All the boys could explain the functions of the motors, sensors, and programming blocks to visitors during their showcase!

In the week-long camps we also experimented with the On-Brick programming. We found it to be helpful with prototyping programing segments, and then bringing our results into our larger programs on the desktop software.

Here are some pictures from the EV3 in action from a week-long camp:

We also used the EV3, sensors, and medium sized motors to run mixed-media marble runs this summer.

In closing, I am looking forward to playing more with the EV3 this school year, and I encourage rookie and seasoned teachers to embrace and play with all its possibilities.

Stay tuned for future projects from LEGO Teacher.  

Happy fall all!

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