When I am asked what we do in robotics, I tend to answer it with something about ‘making science relevant and exciting.’ Not the about how it is fun to build, or why programming is a 21st century skill etc. which is also accurate.
This Tuesday, I had ASU researcher and robotics mentor Ruben Gameros kick off a brainstorming session with my robotics team. The topic was ‘animal-human interaction.’ I loved how Ruben got the students thinking of ‘animal’s that are often not on their radar: bats, bees and insects.
Bat’s after all are mammals, with amazing navigation skills. They also help our survival in ways that often go unnoticed. Ruben is familiar with ‘critters’ for another reason. He works in a field of bio-mimicry, and swarm robotics!
This week, we selected members who applied to our Robotics club. That’s right, we have an application process which involves a short test, an interview and a contract (the code of conduct) they sign and agree to practice.
Why such a process? Robotics is an after-school club at my school but I wanted members to realize what they were getting into. It’s not just building and playing with Legos. I have done this for 5 years now, and found out that the real value for students is when they get their hands around the broader scope of robotics. They learn to be researchers, problem-solvers, journal-keepers, programmers, and ‘mission specialists.’ They must also become good presenters of their work.
This year, the focus (‘Animal Allies‘) is on Animal-Human interaction. What happens when animals and people interact? Are there problems they could identify, and solve? As FLL recommends, could the solution be beneficial to animals and humans?
If you’re starting out with a team it’s important to know that many of the previous themes have nudged students towards a ‘win-win’ solution.
At the tournaments, teams will be judged on three areas
- Core Values
- Robot Design
A little neglected fact is that winning the Robot game will not earn the most points. But as we coaches all realize, the robot game is what eats up most of the meeting time. It’s also worth looking at the rubrics for each of these three categories:
Just the Rubric for the Project (right) involves:
- Problem Identification, Sources of information, Problem Analysis, Review of Existing Solutions.
- Team Solution, Innovation, Implementation.
- Sharing, Creativity, Presentation Effectiveness.
In other words, getting into robotics means learning to become an investigator, a problem-solver, learn to be an effective communicator of the science you worked on. It’s exciting to see 5th and 6th graders step out of their comfort zones to do this!
Each year, as we wait for details of the FLL Robotics challenge, some teams begin speculating what the specific challenges might be on the tournament table.
FLL had announced the theme, ANIMAL ALLIES. If we were to look into the crystal ball, there could be ‘missions’ around animal rescues, conservation and human-animal bonding.
Previous themes have been: Conservation, Education, Health, Ageing populations, Food, and Catastrophic Events.
Animals will certainly fire up elementary school students, especially in the research project. As for the missions, here is how one team speculates what the table-top missions could be, with detailed builds!
AS the FLL puts it, ANIMAL ALLIES season will be all about young people collaborating to solve a real-world problems. That’s the part I like about the FLL. It creates a rich, evolving context for students who could see bots as part of society they inherit and –most importantly, will influence.