‘Trash Trek’ Robotics theme leads to ‘Story Of Stuff’

The upcoming theme for FLL Robotics challenge in Fall, has already fired up my students’ imagination.

 Yesterday no sooner had I introduced them to the recycling / trash theme, Trash Trek, than they began thinking of a project. By happenstance, I was getting rid of a large cardboard box, and it became the discussion point of where it ‘stuff’ comes from and where it ends up.

Better still, in my closet was another cardboard box filled with a gift from Solavore last week —the solar oven. As we looked at the ‘technology’ I could see the gears turning, as thoughts about energy, land fills, insulation and composting filled our discussion. I assigned a note-taker, and an ‘investigator,’ to seize the moment.

These are the last 3 days of  robotics, but it will become  a topic they could think about during the long summer break.



At our next class we will be watching this classic presentation by Annie Leonard called the ‘Story of Stuff.’


Science and Tech – main topic when students met Energy Secretary

SaltRiver_Robotics_ASUAs much as I prepped my robotics students for that a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to meet someone in government, there was the stuff you couldn’t anticipate.

Such as yesterday’s meeting with Energy Sec. Ernest Moniz, who was supposed to stop by their poster for about a 30 seconds. He continued to prod them on details for about 10 minutes. “Who’s next?” he kept asking. We had lined up three speakers. Two 4th graders, and a 6th grader.

The line of questioning was about their communication with a crew on Mars (the simulated community known as the HI-SEAS project) going on. Their project, for the just concluded FLL robotics tournament had extensive detail about how to use indigenous tools and material when, say, 3D printing (something used by the current Mission crew) isn’t enough.

After that high-profile moment, the students went on to check out the science packed into the 3-storey interdisciplinary science building or ‘ISTB4′ at Arizona State University.

This included an underwater robot, a weather station, and of course the impossible-to-resist full-scale replica of the Mars Curiosity rover.

If you’ve never been to ISTB4 at Arizona State University, the newest of the Engineering faculty buildings, it’s definitely worth a visit. It also houses a meteorite gallery, bio-tech labs and other interesting models of rockets, drones etc.

It’s one of the labs we visit when I take a group of winners of the Mars Day competition.

FLL Robotics Tournament Today

Poster_robotics_SaltRiverElementary“Learn from the past. Plan for the future.”

This was the title of our team’s poster with research around “How could we better communicate and learn from each other across different countries and…planets”

They have been communicating with Sophie Milam and Zak Wilson, two of the six crew members  spending eight months on a simulated Mars environment.

Here is a first look at their project poster with four members of XTreme Sharkbots.

World Class Research Project – With Mars HI-SEAS Crew

Our second robotics team has made some great progress with their project for the FLL tournament.

They have begun making contact with two of the 6-member crew of Mars Hi-SEAS Mission 3.

Zak Wilson just got back with a document on 3D printing and terra-forming.

Sophie Milam, sent in a video about the need for spacesuits on Mars, and why they are using space suits even on ‘fake Mars.’

The video she sent in is worth sharing with the rest of the school, since this discussions about gravity and pressure are very current – given that many students have begun to talk about the movie Interstellar.

Robotics Scrimmage with St. Mary-Basha Catholic School

Yesterday, we hosted two FLL Robotics teams from St. Mary-Basha Catholic School, Chandler.

It was the first scrimmage we hosted at Salt River Elementary. It was a lot of fun, and students got to see how nervous their potential competitors –or ‘co-petitors’ in FLL-speak — were.

Did the bots under-perform? Sure! But that’s part of the learning experience of a scrimmage, where you get to fix the things that worked one week ago, but didn’t seem to do well under pressure.

St. Mary’s Teams are:    Fantastic 5 and  Tech Stars

Salt River’s Teams are:  Red Mountain Razors, and XTreme Sharkbots

We began with a short presentation by Ruben Gameros, from ASU, on ‘Swarm Robotics’ part of the post-graduate work he is working on.

Robotics students build, plan missions

A time to build, a time to play..

Until now, since many of this year’s students are new to the FLL program, robotics was something they visualized as a Mars rover, or even… Robonaut

The pace quickly changed once they broke open the plastic bags, and spread out the competition field mat.

The missions this year, based on the 2014 theme, ‘World Class’ is all about knowledge, and sharing information across physical and virtual spaces. The Missions are called:

  • Cloud Access
  • Skills and Knowledge
  • Community Tree
  • Communication
  • Outside-The-Box Thinking
  • Door (to knowledge)
  • Changing Conditions
  • Engagement
  • Project-Based Learning
  • Homework
  • Search Engines
  • Senses & Learning Style
  • Robotics

Before they get to light and ultra-sonic sensors, they find out the need to measure, revise, re-think, reverse-engineer, and most importantly work in teams.

Boys Watch Out: Girl Power Rises in Robotics

I just got back from a robotics practice tournament at Intel this morning, an event where schools and clubs participating in the FIRST Lego League, come to learn, and make the necessary mistakes before the real thing.

Intel_Scrimmage 2009One thing that clearly stood out was the increasing number of girls in these clubs. I have been attending these events with my team for about three years now, and began to see the change last year, as robotics begins to go mainstream.

This is exciting for many reasons, as we educators try to break the stereotypes as to what kinds of engagement suit whom. This is not to discount the many teams with young men who are very passionate about robotics.

In a guest speaker slot a meteorologist (above: he was brought in because this year’s challenge is ‘Nature’s Fury‘) asked the kids questions about weather sensors and ‘data’, and a few kids knew what a ‘servo’ was. They instantly got the GIGO (garbage in, garbage out’) concept. I’ sure many other coaches and parents were pleasantly surprised at the questions they (girls and boys) peppered him with. And that was after the girls did swimmingly at the tables, changing attachments, modifying move blocks etc.

Intel must be excited about this girl momentum. I have heard from many tech folk there how they are trying to bring in more women into engineering, so in about 12 years, when these kids are about the graduate from collage, there’s going to be a rush to grab them into the workforce.