Sunday, June 12, 2011

LEGO Engineering Symposium 2011 - Part 2

Reflections on LEGO Engineering Symposium 2011 (Tufts University’s CEEO, 24-26 May 2011) - Part 2 of 3.

Presentations (Day Two) – 25 May 2011

Chris Wright – “It looks the same to me”
Day two started with presentation from Chris Wright about his research on students’ spontaneous representations of sound transmission. This was another good example of the value of listening to students to get at what they understand.

Chris' presentation featured a nice quote from Sigmund Boloz, “We must merge our traditional sense of schooling with the real world. What we do in school must not insult the child’s past but must build upon his past and encourage future learning.”

It was interesting how the boys in his study used different elements to represent their ideas – eg. changes in crescent length, compactness, line weight, line type.

Steve Hassenplug – Pushing the limits of LEGO Mindstorms
We’re not worthy!! We’re not worthy!!

One of the highlights for me this week was having the opportunity to meet Steve Hassenplug in person for the first time and getting some insights into his design process. For those of us interested in Mindstorms, Steve is without peer. His creations are in a class of their own, but I think this was the first time I realised how important it’s been for Steve to be part of a community of LEGO fans. There’s no doubt that competitions are a driving force for Steve’s creations, but he is also a community builder in his own right. And I guess that make sense. After all, the more he helps others develop their building skills, but better the quality of the competition available to him.

In his presentation, Steve inspired us with a selection of his very impressive creations. I was aware of most/all of these, but there were some aspects that I wasn’t aware of, or had forgotten. For example, I didn’t realise that Steve was involved with creating the standard for the Great Ball Contraption. I was interested to learn that Monster Chess consists of 400 pounds of LEGO, but I was particularly inspired by his Green Monster and his RFID-based PSumo (programmable sumo) project.

Some features of PSumo…
  • It’s a sumo-based game where the participants are responsible for programming a standard robot.
  • They have to choose four cards from a range of 20. Each card represents a different instruction and the cards are colour coded according to their type.
  • The user has to make a decision between, for example, harder/shorter v softer/longer.
PSumo, or something like it, would have been a pretty cool solution to a task I was working in at Tufts last Fall - to create a cheap educational robot.

Afterwards, Steve made it very clear that he’s not interested in providing complete solutions, but is more than happy to provide pointers in the right direction. He repeatedly says he’s not a teacher, which is true in a sense, but that doesn’t stop us learning from him!! In any event, it was great to hear some stories from him over a few days and fill in some blanks about what I knew of the early days of the NXT (including the history of the “hassenpin”).

Liz Gundersun & Sandy Jones – Lights, sound, action: Here come the Olympians!
From their presentation, it sounds like Liz and Sandy have done an awesome job of providing girls who are at risk of leaving school early with opportunities to learn through design challenges. It’s an after school program that encourages student to scaffold ideas, teaching students to explore, think and be curious about problems, and to become analytical and creative thinkers.

Their curriculum includes circuits and switches, RCX robotics, PicoCrickets, and Scratch. Liz’ talk highlighted the value of the PicoCrickets style approach, with its theme cards and craft materials, etc. A useful tip was that for a project to appeal to girls, add eyes, lights, and colour. I think this is something that I need to remember!

For a final project, they had the girls base their projects on Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series. The students selected a Greek deity or hero, and present a story and create a scene about their choice.

Jake Foster – Analytical Thinking in New Science and Engineering Standards
I was particularly impressed by Jake Foster’s presentation detailing trends in the Massachusetts’ science standards. Jake is from the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, so I wasn’t surprised that he could talk with some authority about policy matters. I was however, most surprised to hear from someone with his background talking about science and engineering education in a way that seems consistent with the goals of the CEEO.

Whereas the current science standards have a strong conceptual (content) focus with inquiry skills being separate and the design process presented as content, the new syllabus, whereas the new version will combine science and engineering practices with content to promote analytical thinking.

Jake argued that science and technology/engineering are being treated as closer now than ever. There is consensus that it’s not just about scientific literacy; technology / STEM is where it’s at.

One slide, adapted from a National Research Council Conceptual Framework featured a comparison of common “thinking analytically” practises in scientific inquiry and engineering design – interesting stuff! It was also pleasing to see extensive use of verbs in the example standards that we were shown, but why doesn’t all this go even further? What about the “M” in “STEM”? Where’s mathematics in this discussion?

Over all, I think that having this work done in Massachusetts and the US is only going to help the case for STEM-based education in Tasmania and Australia. I’ve got to find a way of getting this guy talking to our state and federal education ministers and policy makers back home!!

Janet Coffey – Engaging students in meaningful assessment
Being so very familiar with Hammer’s take on science education and learning, it was interesting to hear many of the same ideas in a fresh voice.

Janet emphasised the sense of “assessment” as meaning “to sit alongside” (As I understand it, the word assessment derives from the Latin “assidere” that means to sit alongside).

In typical approaches to assessment, the students learn something, and then their learning is assessed. In Science, assessing ideas and reasoning *is* doing science. Everyday assessment is important, as is involving students in the process of assessment. Student engagement in assessment involves...
  • Listening to, and taking seriously, others’ ideas.
  • Evaluating quality and reasonableness
Admittedly I’m a convert to what she was saying about assessment, but I think Coffey made the point well.

Ethan Danahy – What should the CEEO develop next?
This was fun! Ethan conducted two quick polls, using wireless thingies, in which his asked the audience for our views on possible future directions for LabVIEW and SAM Animation.
In the LabVIEW poll, the four options rated fairly evenly…
  • RoboBooks
  • Physics glasses
  • Music /MIDI
In SAM Animation, iPad support was the clear winner.
  • Software modules in LV??
  • iPad support
  • Adding a 4th dimension
  • Movie analysis
It’s not really something that the CEEO has any control over, but I wonder what would’ve happened if iPad support for LabVIEW had been an option in the first poll? (-:

Although I don’t think that much can be drawn from the poll results, it was a good way to illustrate that the CEEO has lots of projects on the go, and that they are always looking for, and finding, new and innovative ways to develop their products.

B Samanta – Swarm Intelligence
B Samanta talked about a swarm robot project he had worked on with some students. He had a tough act to follow and to be honest it was a bit dry, but I thought it was an interesting presentation and very timely… I’ve got a student who is working an NXT based swarm robot project, but we’ve been struggling to see in what direction we should take it. During this presentation, however, it suddenly clicked.

For their swarm robots, Particle Swarm Optimisation (PSO) was used as the main algorithm. PSO is a population based approach that allows for sharing cognitive and social information. What if the Particle Swarm Optimisation (PSO) theory described by Samanta were to be combined with some off-road NXT robots like Hassenplug’s Green Monster and Dexter’s dGPS for localisation and the NXT-Bee for communication.

Andy Bell – Green City Challenge
Andy Bell, from LEGO Education North America, gave us some background on where LEGO Education’s focus in terms of creativity, team-work, and problem-solving and then presented their new Green City Challenge product. The Green City Challenge is a structured getting-started set that includes step-by-step instructions, and a FLL-style mat consisting of seven different renewable energy-based missions. I must admit that this sort of thing isn’t exactly my cup of tea, but it was good to get a taste of it nonetheless.

One point that Andy made about the purpose of robotics had me thinking, and that was when he briefly mentioned the difference between a “learn to robot” activity and one that is more “robot to learn”.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the summaries. Good to refresh my understandings.