Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Kids Teach Kids About Robotics!

Here's a nice article found at that illustrates the appeal robotics has for young people
Hannah Tipperman helps Abhinav and Anirudh Gianesan with their robot in a program created with her twin, Rachael.
Hannah Tipperman helps Abhinav and Anirudh Gianesan with their robot in a program created with her twin, Rachael. (RON TARVER / Staff Photographer)
"Matt Greenwood seemed to hold his breath as he stared at his robot rolling through a maze on the floor Tuesday night. The robot crossed the finish line, and the 9-year-old boy's face lit up. "It did it!" he said.

"You want to keep programming?" his father, Dan, asked.

"Yeah!" Matt said, grabbing the robot and rushing to a laptop that Hannah Tipperman had set up to control it.

"They think they're playing with toys, but they're learning some pretty advanced concepts," said Tipperman.

For two years, Tipperman and her twin sister, Rachael, have run a nonprofit, Robot Springboard, to teach robotics to kids.
They've taught children in Alaska. They've worked with the Intel Corp. to bring their camp to San Jose, Costa Rica. And they won about $7,000 in grants to run a weeklong camp for middle-school girls at Drexel University.

The Tippermans are just 17.

"This is so far beyond what I would expect from somebody their age," said Jeffrey Popyack, a computer-science associate professor at Drexel. "They want to teach the whole world, I'm pretty sure."

The sisters, seniors at the all-girl Baldwin School in Bryn Mawr, hope to do what they can to show kids, especially girls, what's possible. Less than 25 percent of students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics programs at middle and high schools and colleges were female in 2010, according to a 2012 federal report.

Teachers, foundations, and countries worldwide are looking for ways to increase the number of girls in these fields. The Girl Rising movement, which advocates for girls' education worldwide, has inspired the sisters.

The Tippermans focus on helping to start robotics programs using five robot kits on loan from Drexel. They have applied for grants to buy more.

To pay for their travel expenses, they babysit, do odd jobs, and sell old clothes. Friends, family members, and students have donated money.

Parents of kids they teach sometimes assume their father is the instructor. Richard Tipperman, an eye doctor, said his daughters know much more about robotics than what he's picked up. He's their assistant in class, but he's mainly the chauffeur and heavy lifter, the girls said, laughing.

The sisters are helping a high school senior in Colorado start her own robotics education program and hope to get more high school students throughout the country involved. They see their youth as an asset that makes them less intimidating to kids.

"This isn't someone who has a Ph.D.," Rachael said. "This is someone that's trying to get through precalc."

The girls stumbled into robotics one afternoon in the seventh grade at Baldwin. Hannah spotted a flier for a robotics program.

"I could have gone the rest of my life not realizing I really like programming," Hannah said.
Last year, they contacted Francisco Burgos, the head of the Monteverde Friends School in Costa Rica, to pitch their robotics curriculum. The girls ran a weeklong camp in June at the school, which stands in the middle of a fog forest and teaches 120 children.

Burgos had been looking for opportunities in technology for his students. He said the sisters were an inspiration to the 25 camp participants, especially the seven girls.

"You could see that something was happening in that classroom," Burgos said. "Hannah and Rachael planted a seed in my kids."

Burgos said he plans to discuss how his school can develop a robotics extracurricular class or its own robotics camp.

While they were in Costa Rica, the girls also partnered with Intel to teach 60 middle schoolers in San Jose.

In June 2013, the girls were in Homer, Alaska, teaching at their first camp. They said they chose to start there to prove to themselves and everyone else that their nonprofit could succeed...."

Read the full article at its source:

Sunday, July 27, 2014

"Life lessons learned from robots"

(Here's a nice little piece that describes well the convergence of 21st Century Skills Learning and Character Learning that I feel is typical of what students get from their experiences with robotics teams... re-blogged from ISTE Connects Blog)

"Life lessons learned from robots"

By Kelly Schnittker 6/7/2014 Topics: STEM, Robotics
This is a story about kids pushing through failure to achieve phenomenal success. And also robots.
In the rural town of Nuiqsut, Alaska — accessible year-round via air travel — seven middle school students took on the ultimate engineering challenge: Design, build and program a robot capable of executing a series of specific tasks.

As members of the FIRST Lego League, the students would then put their problem solving skills to the test in the worldwide 2013 Nature's Fury Lego Robotics challenge. It was the first time either students or teacher had ever worked with robotics.

"The main goal of Lego Robotics is to build collaboration among students through problem solving," said Kelly Schnittker, a middle school teacher at Nuiqsut Trapper School. "The students are given a set of instructions on the computer to build the parts of the Lego board — this is where engineering comes in. Students follow schematics and pick out the parts needed to build a variety of items. This takes about a week.

"The science inquiry comes in when students are given a list of tasks (22-30) that need to be completed on the game board. As a team, students design a robot to perform the tasks and then program the robot using the Lego Robotics software."

Here's what they learned on their journey:
1. Anything worth building is worth building more than once.
"There is a great deal of trial and error during this process, and students can become very frustrated," Schnittker said. "The robot goes through multiple design changes and reprogramming, which really helps students learn how to communicate and support their suggestions."
2. Sometimes help comes from unexpected places.
"What was wonderful was when we went to the practice session before the competition, another experienced team came by and showed us how to measure the diameter of the wheel in centimeters and divide by 100 to find out how many degrees our wheel moves in," she said.
"Then we measured in centimeters where we wanted it to go and then multiplied that by the number we got for our wheel. We became very accurate in programming our robot."
3. Things are never as bad as they seem.
"Throughout the project, the students wanted to quit and give up. Attitudes became negative but they stuck it out," Schnittker said.

"The team was feeling even more discouraged after arriving at the competition and seeing how well the other teams were doing.
"When it came time to run our robot on the board, the team felt like we were not prepared and would not score any points. Boy, were they surprised when we scored just over 40 points. The smiles came out, and cheering.
"They ran back to the practice room to work on squeezing in a few more programs for the next round. We scored more points on the second round and the kids were elated. I was so proud."
Although the students didn't win in any particular category, the judges gave them a "Rising Star" award for performing well as a first-time team.
"When our name was called I had to tell them repeatedly to go up because they could not believe it," Schnittker said. "

The most valuable lesson my students learned was how to work through frustration and discouragement and celebrate each success along the way. Now they can't wait to start it again next year."

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Dancing Robot Arm Commercial from Cadillac

Robots are as flexible in what they can do as the humans who create them instruct them to be! Below - 2 videos: 1) a manufacturing robot arm showing what it is designed to do. And 2) Beyond the functional, the second video shows the same type of robot arm re-purposed to serve man's need to create and express, in this case through dance.


Thursday, July 17, 2014

JIBO: A Social Robot for your Family - A Robotics Game Changer?

"Jibo Wants to Be the World’s First Family Robot"

"Social robots. That's pretty much all Dr. Cynthia Breazeal has thought about for the past 20 years. Not so much how to build a better robot, but how to build one that could work and live alongside humans. It sounds like a simple concept, but it’s not; perhaps that is why it has taken her all these years to finally deliver a consumer product: Jibo, the world’s first family robot.

Jibo is a desktop robot making its debut on Indiegogo on Wednesday. At first glance, Jibo looks like a mashup between a desk lamp and Wall-E’s “EV.” It has a round base that plugs into a standard AC outlet, a slightly cone-shaped midsection and a round head with a flat front that sits on top of it. That dark, round face features a 5.7-inch screen. The design is attractive, but not necessarily compelling — that is, until Jibo comes to life

“Jibo, please introduce yourself,” Dr. Breazeal says, raising her voice only slightly. The transformation is startling. Jibo’s face lights up and its 11.5-inch body swivels around to face her. Jibo’s screen shows a large “blinking” ball (the blink is like the closing of an eye), as it responds, “Hi, my name is Jibo.”

Read the full article at its source:

Monday, July 7, 2014

REPORT: Student Robotics Materials @ ISTE Conference 2014

Another ISTE Conference has come and gone (this year’s installment/June 28 – July 1 in Atlanta). Among my varied activities at the conference were repeated forays out onto the ISTE Expo (trade show) floor to see what is being promoted and sold these days in the area of Educational Technology. It was gratifying to see that Student Robotics Materials were on display throughout the expo and seem to me to be expanding and proliferating significantly… and, as I’ve long felt that Student Robotics is one of the very most promising and effective approaches to foster important student learning across the curriculum (STEM learning, yes, but the learning possibilities extend significantly into other important areas  of the curriculum, too), I was heartened to come across each and every one of the robotics materials vendor displays that I found. I may have missed one or two; and if I did I invite such vendors to contact me with some info that I’ll add to this blog post. I engaged representatives at all of the sales exhibits in in-depth discussions about their offerings.

Here’s what I found. There were 2 major trends in student robotics materials to be seen this year: a) general robotics kits that for want of a better descriptor either could, or are specifically designed and developed, to be alternatives to the perennial favorite in student robotics materials, the LEGO Mindstorms family of materials (covered thoroughly in my book Getting Startedwith LEGO Robotics and other posts in this blog)…  and b) robotics materials for very young students.

First let me run down the general robotics materials – and there truly were some wonderful things to see at ISTE:

I think the place to start here is by mentioning that LEGO(Mindstorms) was back at the conference with its usual, impressive demo/sales exhibit. I didn't see anything that struck me as radically different there, but I don’t expect this group to come up with something revolutionary every year. Over the past year or so it has introduced its newer generation of materials, EV3, and this year what I was shown were some specific curricular focus kits that incorporate these materials. Let me just say upfront that it seems to me that the LEGO Mindstorms materials remain the first choice of schools for robotics materials and there is good reason for that. Simply stated, they are wonderful, practical materials for schools (and for other situations in which adults want to provide kids with opportunities to learn robotics)!

Having said that, I’ll also opine that to some, it is a welcome development that other companies are now providing materials that represent alternatives to those from LEGO … “It’s good to have choices!” and here are some that caught my attention at the conference:

VEX Robotics - VEX IQ:

This just may be the most viable alternative to the LEGO Mindstorms materials available. VEX IQ was on display at the conference and what came across right away from its  hands-on display (replete with enthusiastic kids using it) was  how strong and robust the robots are that you can build  with this variety of material. If you are considering equipping a classroom with this sort of ‘snap together’, student friendly, robotics parts, electronics, and programming resource, I think making a comparison between this and Mindstorms would be informative and worth one’s while. I think a good number of folks might find some advantages to IQ. Take a look at the price of the basic kit and what’s included; you might find this to be attractive. There are some strong differences between the 2, the inclusion of a gaming type controller in addition to programability of robots with VEX IQ, for instance. But, of course, while there are similarities, there are differences to consider, too.  For instance, LEGO Mindstorms over the years, has established a strong and large community of dedicated users who have and continue to share ideas, experience and reflections, finished projects, etc. about how to use their products with kids. LEGO has also developed a strong connection to the very important FIRST Competition (and organization…
FIRST = "For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology.") I’ll be watching the progress VEX IQ makes; I think it is good that this variety of material has emerged. 

PITSCO’s TETRIX PRIME materials were on display. These are flexible in the way they can be used, offering strong and robust robotic constructions that result from student design. According to print materials I received at their booth, these can be snapped together, but also reinforced and made stronger and more permanent by connecting parts with ‘specialized thumbscrews.’ Interestingly, TETRIX PRIME can be paired with a variety of processors, including: LEGO’s NXT and EV3 “bricks” (small computing processors that are integrated into the robot construction itself, Arduino, Raspberry Pi, and others. In addition to programming student robots, they can be controlled with a “gamepad style, four channel wireless controller”, which may provide “easy operation of the motors and servos that bring robots to life.” These seem to be very worthwhile materials to me.

“Futuristic building blocks of ingenious invention. No programming, no wires, oodles of possibilities.”

I think there’s definitely a place in STEM and other subject area instruction for Mod Robotics’ MOSS robots. Simplicity of use is obvious here,  but these materials still offer kids opportunities to acquire much of the important body of learning that comes from putting together robots and programming them. MOD Robotics was at the ISTE Conference’s Start-Up Pavilion, where new and smaller companies are afforded the opportunity to show off what they’ve developed and offer. While this system is somewhat similar to the modular building block approach of the companies below that offer robotics materials for younger children, this stuff has a good deal of sophistication. And while MOSS appears to be infinitely easier and simpler to handle than some of the other systems mentioned above, there is  clearly a good deal to be learned by kids in working with this variety of material. I recommend you follow the link  to the company web site and to the YouTube video… informative and inspiring.

*BirdBrain Robotics: I lOVE the spirit of this company’s vision. In fact, I’ll go out on a limb and opine that this is where Student Robotics ought to be headed, providing robotics activities that include designing, building, and programming robots… but go beyond that, applying robotics skills to something more than simply creating machines. In the case of BirdBrain Technologies' materials (specifically, its Hummingbird kit) that means expression of ideas and stories and feelings… The Arts! We can see a tad of this in LEGO’s WeDo Robotics materials for young students (they provide character figures, etc. with which to tell stories); the vision at BirdBrain, though, seems to go all the way. (see) (I hope to write more on this theme soon.)
My take on the 2nd (and perhaps most interesting) trend in student robotics at the conference was robotics for very young students. Here are items that would fall into that category that I experienced at the conference:

KinderLab Robotics "KinderLab Robotics creates toys and educational tools that enable young children to learn critical technical, problem-solving, and cognitive skills."At a booth at one of the hands-on playgrounds at the conference I saw some very nice robotics  materials for younger students that are offered by KinderLab Robotics ( @KinderLabRobot ) These seemed very appealing and instructionally functional to me. These materials take advantage of the 'building blocks' approach, in which children program the robot (already complete) by putting together blocks in sequence, each of which has a simple programming command written on it. These are interpreted for the robot with a bar code that appears on the block, as well. The child passes the bar code over the robot's built in scanner and the robot knows what to do.


Play-I Robot:

I spoke with Alicia Chang of play-I at their booth at the same playground and was given a look at their very compelling resources to teach young children how to program. Click on the link above and check out the YouTube video below for the full picture.  

Bee Bot / Pro Bot: +

Very simple and very easy to implement, Bee Bot and (intended for slightly older kids) big brother Pro  Bot are highly established student robotics resources that (seem to me) to have been overshadowed by flashier alternatives recently. These are great resources, though. I can't imagine a better way for a school to get itself started in teaching robotics concepts and simplified programming ideas than with these. Check out the links above and the YouTube video (below) for a better look at these. It was great to see these items in the flesh again  at the conference.  



And here’s an interesting outlier, not student robotics in the sense that the items above are, but still a robot that I feel that every school district should inform itself about… Double Robotics

One more thing… There were a couple of poster sessions (my preferred format for getting important information quickly at these conferences) of note that involved LEGO Robotics – one of the very best was produced by Ms. Merry Willis, a teacher at Carmel Elementary School in Woodstock, Georgia, who presented some very sophisticated STEM learning activities.

However, the (robotics-supported) student-centered presentation that most truly won me over was the Sustainable Cancun exhibit (presented by students of the Cumbres Cancun school / Cancun, Mexico) this project titled Turtle-Robo Map was very impressive because not only did it involve students in conceiving and creating a robot (in this case a classic LEGO Robotics Line Follower) but that activity was done in support of a more overarching one, the creation of a museum-style informational exhibit (on Sea Turtle Ecology) with the student created robot playing a supporting role in what the students were reporting on, the true purpose of the project. Kudos to the educators at Cumbres Cancun for anticipating what I feel is sure to be the next-level of student robotics-based instruction: communication and EXPRESSION of ideas!

View of the Cumbres Cancun school's student robot supported informational display on sea turtles

PS – Here’s last year’s report on the materials offered:


Mark Gura