[Lab] This week's mod lab: I'm bringing the robot I use to teach 10-14 year-old kids

Michael Sepa michaelsepa at gmail.com
Mon Aug 13 08:25:25 EDT 2012

This week I'm going to bring to modlab the one of the six simple robots I
use in my ABC class to teach kids (10-14 years) about robot building.  The
basic robots have an Arduinio board, two drive motors, a motor control
H-bridge.  During the 6, 1.5h sessions I have the kids add some LEDs,
photosensors and bump sensors to 'discover' the world.  My current approach
is ordered around 5 goals
1. Getting the Arduino working & basic programming
     Goal: flash the built in LED
     Result: LED flashing at different rates, some flash morse code
2. Getting the robot moving by understanding the H-bridge and the 2 motor
     Goal: Drive the robot forward, backward and make turns.
     Result: Robot drives in set patterns on the floor.
3. Getting the robot to sense obstacles
     Goal: take the feedback from the bump sensors and change the robot's
     Result: Robot detects obstacles and works its way around them
4. Getting the robot to sense light
     Goal: have the robot change movement when light is sensed (or not
     Result: Robot can be steered by a flashlight (while still avoiding
obstacles using bump sensors)
5. Getting the robot to follow a line
     Goal: Use the photocell to sense dark/light on the ground to allow a
robot to follow a line
     Result: Robot will follow a line in a jerky manner
Naturally, by the 3rd goal many kids realize all futher goals can be
inservice to a robot combat.

The programs been run for a number of years, but during the first couple
sessions the kids are hard to enagage  because they can't really see where
we are going.  I show them the final robot on the first session, but they
are understandably impatient to get to the end.

I thought it might help if I were to knit the steps into a better narrative
(maybe tie it into the super exciting Curiosity Rover) and am looking for
ideas.  I'd like to spark their imaginations a little more.

Any ideas on improving my approach are appreciated.

Looking forward to this week's modlab.

-Michael Sepa
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