Saturday, June 12, 2010

Thank You - DonorsChoose - Robots

The following thank you also outlines how a DonorsChoose grant can morph.

Dear Lisa, Michael, Joel, Vicki, Duane, Terry, Christine, Arnie, Maria, Mike, Kristian, George, Shelly, Sy and anonymous donors,

Finding the right level of robotics with programming for continuation students poses challenges. Without your support, the sweet spot wouldn't have been found. Furthermore, your commitment help makes our robot curriculum transferable to conventional schools which may enhance their students's destinations such as First Robotics or VEX. In the future, this effort may lead to summer internships in university labs; where masters of Python, Labview, Matlab, and JMP/Minitab software are in demand.

It would have been easy to start with LEGO Mindstorm robots which use a simplified Labview language. Our continuation students are familiar with LEGO's, but that's about it. None have assembled models or wired electronics. Our school's solar panel installation program would benefit from students who know the difference between open and closed circuits. Parallax Sumobots and BOE-bots provide the needed mechanical and electrical background at low cost. These robots have built-in breadboards that force students to install LED's and speakers, for example.

The tradeoff is that their BASIC software doesn't employ graphics, just text. Students would have to start by puzzling over code, which was an open question before the DonorsChoose grant was submitted. To mitigate this concern, a cardboard robot and several plastic analog robots, OWI Sumobots, "programmed" with variable resistors, were included in the grant. The cardboard robot died a quick death and the analog robots were inconsistent. Students didn't learn much. However the Parallax robots were simple to build and actually easy-to-program: students merely copied other programs and tweaked them to see how robots would respond to modified software. Fun and learning resulted. Showing off robot battles and robot travels impressed friends and teachers.

In the future, two or four students per math lab (3-5 per day) will work on a robotics/software/wiring curriculum. They will start with MIT's Scratch and Microsoft's Small Basic. Next they will work with MIT's Picocricket and inexpensive Parallax microcontroller breadboards. Finally, they will program and fight with the Parallax robots. As an option, they can either venture into greater depth with sensors on the Arrick Arobot platform or move into VEX robots.

None of this would have been possible without your help. You encouraged a few students today and many more at the start of next year. If you have questions, please contact me. Thank you for assisting DonorsChoose in its efforts to assist teachers directly. You made a difference.

With gratitude,
Mr. A

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