Saturday, June 26, 2010

LEGO Engineering Symposium 2010 - Day Three

Here are some thoughts about day three of the LEGO Engineering Symposium 2010 that I jotted down on my way home, and then left to age for two weeks. I wish I'd finished this off closer to the event, but better late than never I guess...

Morning presentations

Ethan Denahy – Talked about what’s happening at Tufts. This was presented in a bit of a blur, but he had a lot of ground to cover and I suppose it helped fill in some gaps. He focused almost exclusively on the CEEO's “products” and given that I very nearly missed learning about some research that was very relevant to me, I almost would’ve preferred a quick overview (or at least a printed list) of the research projects currently on the go. Anyway, here’s what was in Ethan’s summary:
  • Books
  • SAM Animation
  • WeDo
  • Design compass & design log – this is the first time that many of us had seen this (or so it seemed). Looks very interesting…
  • RoboBooks – This is the 4th year of its development. Progress continues…
  • LabView – intelligent control
  • Telerobotics
  • Arduino processor combined with LEGO
  • Sites… CEEO, LEGO Engineering, SAM Animation, STOMP network
Chris Rogers – Talked about the future of RoboLab. He started with a discussion about the strengths and weaknesses of RoboLab, as a justification for LabView Education Education (LVEE). He showed some quick LVEE programming examples, such as proportional control, and how a light sensor can be connected to a waveform chart. Chris described the launch of LVEE in 2009 as a “quiet release”. I get the impression that LVEE 2011 has always been the main goal. After 2011….??? And then because the next speaker hadn’t arrived, Chris entertained us with lots of cool videos of robot design projects: e.g. a hamburger maker, musical instruments, assistive devices. There was a slightly odd moment when someone asked Chris who he was - I think maybe the implication was that Chris was a LEGO or NI salesman or somesuch. He handled it well, but I was fully expecting him to say he was the janitor. (-:

Key note: Dean Kamen
Very interesting. This was another of those “oh, that’s what it’s about” moments. I had always thought that FIRST was all show and not *really* about learning robotics, but now I can see that that was never the original intention. I guess I need to do a bit more reading now, but I was quite impressed by Dean's explanation of the thought processes that lead to FIRST… I was especially impressed that it had been possible for anyone to do the hard work to make it happen. Talk is much easier than action, but it seems that Dean Kamen does both. There were lots of great ideas in there, here's a list of what I jotted down during his talk... (this is more a reminder for myself, it probably won't make much sense to anyone else, sorry)…
  • Education crisis? What education crisis? – Polititicians jump on it, and make it a devisive issue - they throw money, testing, computers at it , but does this solve it?
  • Dean's assertion was that it's not an education problem – it’s a culture problem. It’s not a supply problem it's a demand problem.
  • The US is so rich The problem is not about what we don’t have, it’s that we have too much.. "Life is short , play hard". Why isn't it “life is short, so work hard”?
  • FIRST was about making STEM as highly valued as sport. Engineers as popular as sport stars.
  • If there was a “cricket crisis” in the US (eg. If cricket become part of the Olympics), how would it be solved? Curriculum, standards, , national high-stakes testing?, or would it be through role models / superstars?
  • Dean met with 50 CEOs - the NBA/NFL of “smarts” to discuss and solve the “education crisis". He put it to them that their engineers would become the superstars of education.
  • His process was... Companies adopt schools, Dean would supply kits to the companies/teams, after school events are held, students want to get onto the team, come to Manchester, NH in 6 weeks, and bring cheerleaders, at the event students operate the robots that the engineers built.
  • Why robotics? Beccause it is accessible.
  • The engineers don’t teach, they coach. In sports, the coach builds you up when you don’t do well. If the great thing about sports is that it's good for teamwork, why is teamwork called cheating at school?
  • After the first FIRST, in which 23 comapines participated, the CEOs complained... It took too much time, it wasn’t just an afterschool program after all. But then in the second year, they all came back!
  • As the competiton has grown, so have the number of events... regional events, state finals, etc. It’s now in its 19th year, 19000 schools, 90000 engineers.
  • You can’t buy passion.
  • Brandeis University Study “More than Robots” found that students participating in STEM were 50% more likely to attend college. 3x more likely to major in engineering . 90 page report. Must get!!
  • George Bush Senior described FIRST as, “Like the WWF but with smart people”.
  • Now there's a new problem – It’s not a shortage of volunteers, but rather the feds claiming that the schools won’t want to participaic, that they won’t want the money.
  • The money’s there… $10000 per school, ~$1 billion over 4 years!
  • The talk finished with Dean asking us the question, “How do you get the support of teachers & administration?” He spent some time trying to tease out an answer that could help him. There were some good ideas, but nothing that was going to save the day.

Development lab summary
A summary of each of the five different development labs from the previous two days...
  • Merrideth – Designing activities for young children. Gave a list of components of climate change, and described the projects that her groups had come up with.
  • Morgan – Renewable energy. Which is best? Solar v crank v wind. Solar reflectors improved performance by 10%. Variables and trade-offs.
  • Rob, ?, Darby - Data logging lab.
  • Brian - Multiple representations using SAM Animation. What is wind power and what does it mean? Brian gave a very exhaustive list of ideas of how SAM could be used? It would be best for me to just link to it. He also said the videos produced will be put on youtube.
  • Robert – Instructionism v Constructionism – A tricky session to convey to the others, but the two people who volunteered to create a model summarising their experience of the symposium did a great job, and I think showed how it could work, very nicely. Well done!

Optional extra afternoon session
NASA Curriculum – I’d love to talk about this, but we had to sign a NDA… (mind you, I got very distracted talking about the future plans for [censored] so I didn’t end up actually do very much of what we were meant to be doing anyway, so there wouldn't be much to tell.)

But wait there's more... Day Four
Okay, there wasn’t really a day four, but I was pretty keen to meet Kristen Wendall despite not having arranged a meeting… Kristen was, however, very gracious and gave me plenty of time and lots of great ideas for my own research. In one hour I made more progress than I had in weeks. Some of the questions that came up…
  • What do students think they are doing when they undertake STEM activities? – I need to have a look at David Hammer’s work on this topic.
  • What does students think it mean to do engineering, science, maths (in the real world, and in the classroom)?
  • When do students think they need to draw on STEM knowledge to solve a problem?
  • More of an example of a content question, but… What do students think a computer program does?
I was a little surprised, but very pleased, to learn that I’d missed a relevant paper in my informal literature review… one by Chris Schunn on using robotics to teach proportion (More on that later, I'm sure.) Anyway, it’s great to have met someone who has undertaken the style of research that I originally wanted to undertake. I can’t wait to read more about it, and start formulating my research questions.

1 comment:

  1. Dean Kamen has more than the average brain - well worth listening to!