The best lessons we teach are about trouble-shooting

There were so many sides to Avnet Tech Games last Saturday.

Titans_AvnetTechGamesMy students were invited to a ‘competition’ that was more of a demo. The challenge was quite good. Unlike the FLL tournament challenge, with a complicated field mat –where they had to run many missions– this one involved two tasks, built around Line Following. If you know anything about sensors added to a Lego NXT brick, you’ll know how fussy these things are when a color sensor has to ‘read’ a line on a surface that has a few wrinkles.

LineFollow_AvnetTechGAmesBut therein lies the challenge, not just in robotics, but in the real world for which we try to prepare our students. You can’t create perfect conditions, you can’t always give them ‘Buckle Down’ type practice runs. Life throws you a  wrinkle, and you better be prepared for these imperfect conditions!

That’s one reason why I loved these Games. I can’t remember how many times I repeated the work ‘trouble-shoot.’ And trouble-shoot they did – 4th and 4th graders.

The other reason: This event was broader than Robotics. Much older kids, budding  Junior High and College-level engineers-in-the-making were working on more complex bots, with dozens more moving parts.

Outside I bumped into another slide of the Games – the solar challenge. Sponsored by Kyosera Solar, the college-level students were given a basic kit and asked to build a solar-powered water pump, right there. The specs were neat: the pump had to move a certain volume of water, shut off, and trigger a light. One team I spoke to used a Styrofoam ball, that floated to the desired level. But it was wrapped in foil, so as to trigger the shut off switch. Crude, fussy, but a simple, low-cost idea that could be implemented almost anywhere. Anywhere there was sun of course.

And what if there wasn’t enough sun, I asked. (An unheard of problem for us in Arizona!) The exec from Kyocera whose company sponsored the challenge  smiled and said some of teams would resort to creating a reflector out of the low-tech tinfoil.

Life throws you a wrinkle! Whether you are in robotics or solar, it’s our job as teachers to teach them to trouble-shoot.

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