Monday, November 20, 2017

Dancing Robots Programmed in Grade 6 STEM Class

Sixth grade students in Dan Chies’ STEM class at Minnetonka Middle School West spend one quarter learning about robotics and coding. STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. Approximately four weeks is spent on each topic. For the coding unit, students learn using Apple’s Swift program on their iPads. For robotics, students use LEGO’s NXT robots. The students love STEM class overall, as it is a very hands on, project driven class.
One student's robot animal with claws and a heart.
For the robotics unit, Dan first taught students the basics of using the block coding program to move and manipulate the robot. He provides guidance and assistance as needed, but leaves a lot of the troubleshooting and problem solving up to the students. Students work in collaborative groups as they learn and then each of these groups creates a product to showcase their learning as well. One of the final projects is for the students to make a robotic animal, such as a giraffe, turtle or snake that uses its sensors to move or react.  Students also had to submit a video explaining their thinking and each step of coding that took place.
The end project of the "learning the abilities of your bot" portion was to make their robot dance. The dance moves had to be choreographed to the music or words of the music. For example, if the words say "to the left" your robot actually moves to the left. The students each had to program their own robot to work collectively as a whole for 15-30 seconds. As you can see in the video, students had fun with this project and worked hard to get the timing correct.
One group's coding block sequence for their robot.
Then during the second half of STEM class for the quarter, sixth graders learn Swift. The app is very user friendly, with each ‘level’ adding another piece of code language or complexity.  As a final project, students design their own level for Swift, creating a story with a problem to solve, providing the user with hints as well as showing at least two solutions. Dan requires that the code contain more complex moves than moving right or left, such as if...else, loops, etc.
In later grades in Minnetonka, students have further opportunities for hands on, project based classes learning coding and robotics. In seventh grade Tech Ed, students once again get to use LEGO robots, as well as a 3D printer (MakerBot), and design with Google Sketchup. Elective classes in eighth grade include Advanced Robotics using EV3s and a Computer Science class in which students learn Java and HTML. These elective options continue at our high school as well.

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