Beginning this fall, I’m collaborating with Michelle, our teen librarian, on a series of STEM-focused maker programs, called Make! The first one was this week and featured Lego Mindstorms Robotics, which are small, customizable robots you program using special computer software. We did two programs back-to-back after school, with eleven kids in grades 4-5 followed by nine kids in grade 6 and up. The kids worked by themselves or in groups of two, with one robot (already assembled) and one laptop for each group. For both programs we followed the same plan:
- Basic overview of the robots and what they can do, and of the software and which functions we’d be using.
- Walked the kids through several simple exercises (the laptop was projected on a screen so the kids could see what we were doing):
- go in a straight line for 10 rotations of the wheels
- go in a straight line for 5 rotations and make a 90 degree turn
- go in a square using the loop function
- go in a circle
- At this point, the kids were at different places, depending on how fast they moved through the exercises and if they had previous experience with the robots. Michelle and I walked around the room, helping the groups who needed it to make sure everyone got the basics down.
- Then they had time to explore the robots at their own pace. We had a couple mazes taped out on the floor for groups to move their robots through. When they were ready, we also worked separately with each group to show them how to use the sound and/or touch sensors. And most of the kids spent time creating their own experiments, building on to the robots, and attempting to have head-to-head robot battles (Us: “No robot battles!” <louder> “NO ROBOT BATTLES!!!”).
Another librarian at our library has done a few programs already with the robots, so the kids in attendance had varying amounts of previous experience. We have the NXT 2.0 robots, which were just replaced this summer with a newer generation (EV3). Because we just got new laptops, we have the new EV3 software, so even those kids who had done Mindstorms programs at the library before had to get the hang of the new software. We had wondered if it would be problematic having beginners and intermediate level kids in the same program, but it ended up working out well with kids helping and teaching one another (and us!). They all seemed to have a great time and it was fun to see what they came up with! My favorite creation was the robot in the top picture; the kids added a platform at the top so a Lego figure could ride around and a platform at the bottom to hold a cell phone that shouted things as the robot drove around the room.