Wednesday, June 22, 2011

LEGO Engineering Symposium 2011 - Part 3

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

Presentations (Day Three) – 26 May 2011

Kristen Wendell – Comparing Three Enactments of an Engineering-Design-Based Curriculum on the Science of Sound
Kristen talked about an interesting aspect of her “Science through LEGO Engineering” work... What can be learned from how the same engineering-design-based curriculum on the science of sound is delivered in three different classrooms?

Two sets of results were presented…
  1. Students’ understandings of sound production, transfer, and pitch
  2. Comparing learning environments
From the pre-post-tests, it was shown that for the sub-domain of sound production, all classrooms showed similar gains in reasoning about mechanisms. The gains vary by classroom for the sub-domains of sound transmission and pitch.

What was it that the two teachers whose classes had the highest gains on the pre/post-test did differently to the other teacher?

Of a range of differing patterns of interaction that were identified, Kristen highlighted the following…
  • Problematizing phenomena - Conveying to students that there is still a scientific puzzle to be solved, that a physical situation is more mysterious or “problematic” than it appears.
    - Eg. Drawing students’ attention to a question like, “Why is it that we can hear something across the room?”
  • Responding to peer’s ideas - Students communicate agreement, disagreement, or extension of another student’s idea - with oral comment or silent hand gesture.
    - E.g. hand gestures to indicate agreement / not sure / disagree
  • Embodying ideas with physical artifacts - Acting out scientific ideas with tangible materials; using physical objects as tools for discussion of the unseen.
  • Connecting to the design challenge - Specifying, or asking students to specify, how the current science investigation would inform work on a design project or process.
I think that Kristen’s research is an excellent study to learn from in terms of framing a research question as well as how to collect, analyse & present data. And awesome use of PowerPoint!!

Chris Rogers – On his soapbox (-:
On paper, this talk was to be about "Pushing the Boundaries of STEM Learning with a Camera" and although he certainly included some details about this, it ended up being a much broader presentation. Chris was on his soapbox and well in form. Some of the themes he touched on…
  • The merit of learning through argument and failure.
  • Multiple pathways.
  • SAM Animation.
  • Physics glasses (this was the bit about the camera)
    e.g. Create a robot to roll a die repeatedly and use a camera to determine the result, to answer the question, “Is my die fair or not?”
Chris’ talk complemented the message from Ethan quite nicely that the CEEO is continually working on tool development.

One aspect of the presentation that surprised much of the audience was that it wasn’t produced in PowerPoint or OpenOffice, but LabVIEW!

Damien Kee – It’s not rocket science (or why you don’t need a programming degree to teach robotics)
Damien’s message was essentially, “Keep it simple!” As leading robotics educators, we have a responsibility to bring newcomers into the fold, but remember to keep it gentle!

A simple, but important, point well made. When Damien explained what his talk was going to be about, the sigh in the audience was amazing! He was clearly saying something that the “overwhelmed” set in the audience was keen to hear. I think there were a lot of people in the audience who would identify more with the newcomers than the experts!

Challenges ideas:
  • Going the distance – use one move block to drive a particular distance
  • How far? – How far does the robot travel when the wheels do one complete rotation?
  • How fast? – How far does the robot travel in 2 seconds? 4 seconds?
  • Off roading – Driving on different surfaces
  • Figure eight – Program a sequence of moves to make the robot move in a figure 8
  • Mexican wave (or “wave” for North Americans) – Multiple robots perform a common goal
Ray Hsu (National Instruments) – LabVIEW for LEGO Mindstorms (LVLM)
Ray introduced LabVIEW for LEGO Mindstorms (LVLM) and highlighted some of the new features…
  • Project center – schematic editor
  • Remote control editor
  • Sensor viewer
He also showed K12lab.com. An example from the site that took my fancy was to create a Base 10 to Base 2 convertor.

LVLM is available for pre-order and will retail at US$99 for a single seat licence and $550 unlimited site licence.


Summaries and lessons learned from the Development Labs

1. Seeing the science/engineering in children's thinking
Kristen Wendell and David Hammer

This group watched videos and analysed transcripts of classroom interactions. They identified the ideas proposed by the students and activities in which the student were engaged
  • What do we think they think?
  • How are they approaching the task?
They also generated a “menu of possibilities” of instructional moves.

What might a teacher do next, and why?

For example, one move might be to have the students record failures, for use later. A failure now is informative and might be helpful later. It’s valuable to identify an idea that isn’t useful in a particular situation.

Thinking about these instructional moves is all about “retooling instincts”, perhaps like practising a sporting skill. Sometimes we might wish we’d reacted in a different way.

As an aside, David noted that the symposium participants were much better at listening to students’ ideas and didn’t tend to use phrases like “they almost have it” as much as the pre- or in-service teachers that he typically works with. Is this because providing feedback to engineering design challenges requires teachers to listen?

2. Integrating Engineering & Literacy
Erin Riecker and Elissa Milto

The Integrating Engineering & Literacy (IEL) project is funded by a five-year grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF). One of the main goals of the project is to help teachers bring engineering to grade 3-5 classrooms through challenges in children's literature. They are using books that teachers already use (not necessarily fiction). They will be starting with 20 teachers from 3 districts, and following them for 4 years.

For the workshop, the challenges were drawn from two books…
  • Mouse and the Motorcycle - Ralph S. Mouse has driven his toy motorcycle off a nightstand and landed in a trashcan. Can you help him escape (with the motorcycle)?
  • Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing - Peter loves his pet turtle, Dribble. Unfortunately, Peter’s pesky little brother Fudge has a tendency to destroy Peter’s favorite things. Can you help Peter protect Dribble?
The development lab participants attempted these challenges and then generated questions, suggestions for professional development, cross-curricular ties, etc. For example, some of the questions raised:
  • When to introduce engineering challenges? – stop during chapter or go back and ask, “what if?”
  • How does the setting in the book influences the design constraints?
  • Class discussion to define the problem - Should the challenge be based on the overall theme of the book or a specific problem?
3. SAM (Stop Action Movie Making) - Tools for children to create representations of their ideas
Elsa Head and Brian Gravel

In the morning session, participants played with SAM Animation to create stop action movies of a “cycle”. In the afternoon, they came up with ideas for incorporating engineering and animation, for example:
  • Documenting steps/process used
  • Film festival of movies from throughout the year
  • Maths – changing variables, dynamic measurements
  • Sharing learning
  • Using time lapse (eg. measuring shadows, growth, weather)
Brian posed the question, “What is it that kids like about video games?” Answer: Doing things that otherwise wouldn’t be possible. SAM allows for this.

SAM is available from: http://www.icreatetoeducate.com/

4. LabVIEW Education Edition / LabVIEW for LEGO MINDSTORMS - The Next Generation of Programming
Barbara Bratzel, Rob Linslata, and Rob Torok (!)

Because the focus of our development lab was on a new piece of software, it tended to be more of a workshop in format than the other labs, but nevertheless the participants had opportunities to explore and create.

In the morning session, Barbara introduced the LabVIEW for LEGO MINDSTORMS software (LVM) and framed a challenge in terms of creating musical instruments using the NXT and LabVIEW. In the afternoon, I led an intelligent highway / autonomous vehicle challenge. The building instructions and programming samples are available from https://sites.google.com/site/robtorok/

I thought our workshop went pretty well, but Barbara made our workshop look really good by showing lots of videos of the participants’ creations. I particularly liked the point that Barbara made about LabVIEW having a very high ceiling - with lots of stairs!

5. Supporting the Development of Engineering Design Skills K-12
Morgan Hynes and Ethan Danahy

With a focus on engineering design skills, it’s no great surprise the participants in this development lab were given a couple of design challenges to play with…

Challenge 1 – Build something that will stay in a wind tunnel (mounted vertically, with a fan at the bottom pushing air up) the longest. Particpants were given materials and 15 minutes to build their solution.

Challenge 2 – Build something that will make the longest descent from top to bottom. This time they were given 15 minutes, and a catch… You must sketch/plan before building THEN after sketching, instructors announce that the designs will be passed to left and you must build another teams design!

Lots of great ideas highlighting various engineering design skills came out of the subsequent discussion / reflection, including:
  • Quit while you are ahead
  • Inconsistencies between trials
  • Borrowing ideas, sharing
  • Learning to fail, ok to fail
  • Modifying designs based on experiments
  • Research includes testing.
  • Compromising: merging, picking ideas
  • Communication
  • Working within constraints When are you done?
Challenge 3 - Create or redesign a classroom activity to emphasize specific engineering design process steps or skills AND create/incorporate assessment into the activity.

The design compass is looking pretty good now and is available as a free download from www.designcompass.org

6. Physics Glasses: Augmented Reality and other fun things with Image Analysis
Bill Church & Kevin???

This development lab was all about using a webcam as a sensor, for example to represent the momentum in a system as a graphical overlay. Even though wasn’t able to attend this development lab, I’ve had a bit of a play with the new image processing toolkit in LabVIEW and it’s pretty cool. I think there’s a lot of potential here!

Listening to the summary of the lab gave me an idea for a swarm robot project that might be useful for my students back home – mount a camera above a field to determine the location/orientation of the robots and an object. The robots aim is to move the object to a particular location. Hmm….

Merredith’s summary – Pushing the envelope of STEM learning
Merredith close the proceeding with the following questions…
  • How would you summarise your major “take aways” from the Symposium?
  • How are you going to push STEM?
Here are some of the themes that came up in the following discussion…

See you at Tufts in 2012!!

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…
  • URAPI
  • 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”.

Friday, June 3, 2011

LEGO Engineering Symposium 2011 - Part 1

Reflections on LEGO Engineering Symposium 2011 (Tufts University’s CEEO, 24-26 May 2011) - Part 1 of 3.

Okay, so I confess, I’m a CEEO groupie. I’ve been a CEEO groupie for nearly a decade. Ever since I fired off a series of emails to the only address I could find when I wanted help with how to do something or other that was at the edges of what was possible with Robolab. I was most impressed that the person, Chris, who answered my emails was not only prepared to give me so much of his time, but was also pretty knowledgeable about the RCX and Robolab. Eventually, wondering if fielding Robolab queries was even part of this guy’s job, I thanked him for his time and asked what his role was in relation to Robolab… he replied that he wrote it! Only in his spare time, mind you. Chris’ main focus was particle-laden air turbulence, but he had wanted to use the Lego Mindstorms RCX to help teach engineering principles to undergrads. At that time, only Windows-based software was available for programming the RCX, and being such a Macintosh tragic, Chris decided to write some Mac-friendly software himself!

I think this story highlights exactly what it is that I love about the CEEO. Not only do they come up with creative and fun ways of helping people of all ages learn how to think like engineers, but they are always open to feedback and incredibly supportive of other people’s idea. They are genuinely committed to learning, and understand that their products are the means, not the ends.

I attended my first LEGO Engineering Symposium last year, and as much as I loved it (which was a lot), this year’s was even better! Everything I loved about the format of last year’s event worked just as well this year, but the big improvement was what it didn’t have… Last year the tipping point / climate change / renewable energy theme, undoubtedly an important issue, felt unnecessarily forced at times, particularly in the development labs. This weakness was recognised by the organisers, and full credit to Merredith for putting together a program that allowed the CEEO staffers (collectively known as the “red shirts”) to work to their strengths. A balanced program no-less; one that examined not only the “big ideas” of research, but also the pragmatic questions of “what am I going to do with my class tomorrow?”.

Given that most of the material presented throughout the Symposium is available from the LEGO Engineering website, I’m not going to try to summarise it all here. Instead I’m using this an opportunity to reflect on anything that took my fancy, anything I was particularly surprised by, or anything that I particularly want to remember for the future.

Presentations (Day One) – 24 May 2011

Merredith Portsmore - Introduction

Merredith explained that being a Symposium (as opposed to a conference) means that the event is more about sharing and collaboration than training. Hence we’ve got “development labs” rather than “workshops”. It’s also an opportunity to provide feedback to developers, in particular LEGO and National Instruments.

David Hammer – Listening to students
David was in form. He started with a repeat of the “juice box” and “dorm room” clips from last year, but this year took it a step further and in five minutes covered what took me weeks to wrap my head around when I took his class last Fall. Here are the main beats of his presentation…
  • A view of science…
    - Science as a pursuit: Of coherent, mechanistic accounts of natural phenomena.
    - Science as a body knowledge: The accounts that have result of that pursuit!
  • Two well established findings…
    - Children have extensive intellectual resources for learning science.
    - High school and college (university) students typically treat science as information to memorise.
    Why the second, given the first??
  • A likely conjecture
    - We assess ideas, and teach students to assess ideas for alignment with the canon — the results of scientists’ inquiries — rather than by the ideas’ merits within the students’ inquiries.
  • We need to change...
    - We need to assess students’ ideas — and teach them to assess their ideas — in ways that build toward how scientists assess ideas.
    - And that means a kind of caring about students as nascent scientists.
I loved his quick example that if, for example, I told you that, “I walked my dog to the park” and you replied, “Oh, don’t you mean ‘aardvark’?”, it would be a bit odd of me to agree, “Oh, yeah, I walked my aardvark to the park” as if it didn’t affect the meaning or that it even mattered.

David compared learning in science to what engineers do, putting ideas together and taking them apart.

Rob Linsalata – URAPI: Universal Robot API
Rob raised a very cool idea that I was certainly aware last Fall, but at that stage it was very early days. It looks like quite a bit of progress has been made since I left the Center.

At present there are a number of different hardware platforms that are targeted at the education market but have different strengths. For example, the modularity of Mindstorms that means that everyone’s robot can be different. There’s the simplicity of the Finch that means hardware does what’s it meant to do so the student can concentrate on programming. The iRobot Create that makes the base of a robust, commercially available robot chassis available as a building platform. (Some other platforms I’d love to see added to the mix would be NAO , LynxMotion, or even Willow Garage’s PR2 - when the price drops a few orders of magnitude...)

Imagine being able to run the same program on multiple platforms. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if they all played nice together? Having learned basic programming techniques on the Finch, the student might use the same code to program an NXT that they had built themselves. Or better still, I could imagine constructing a LEGO attachment, say an arm and gripper, on top of the Create base and then using one program to manage sensor information from both sections to control both LEGO and Create actuators.

As an aside, I recognise that having them play nice together might appear to work against the developers’ commercial interests. I.e. what’s in it for LEGO? Well, for a start, I’m a teacher so I think that learning trumps commercial interest, but second, I think there’s plenty of evidence to show that in communities where the players play nice together, everybody is better off. Think of cars manufacturers… what if learning to drive a Subaru was completely different to learning how to drive a Toyota? There’s no doubt that both companies benefit from operating successfully side-by-side in the same environment and enabling users to switch between them.

In practise, though, differences between platforms mean that different platforms will necessarily mean slightly different programs, but at least being able to use one software environment for multiple hardware platforms would be an excellent step forward. And I’m happy to see it happening within LabVIEW.

John Heffernan – Rewards and challenges of designing a PK-6 engineering curriculum
John presented his approach to a PK-6 engineering curriculum that makes use of BeeBots, WeDo, and NXT.

There was a lot of interest in John presentation and it was amazing how often it would be used as a reference point in conversations about a whole bunch of topics.

One challenge that I thought John described very nicely was the difficulty in finding suitable challenges for the youngest grades that would hit the right balance between being open-ended and achievable.

I liked the idea of having students “write down three ideas” (words and/or pictures) to help the students pause for a moment and think about their options when they’re get started with a design challenge.

Challenge ideas:
  • BeeBots - Find the honey
  • WeDo - amusement park rides, burglar alarms
  • NXT - robot car challenge
Make a robot that goes as fast as possible, but avoids obstacles – this seems like such an obvious challenge, but it never occurred to me as a way of dealing with the request I get every year from students who just want to make dragsters.

A few other nuggets:
  • We should be “engineering the curriculum”.
  • Do adults follow the model?
  • The challenges are the rewards.
John posted some of his "take away" ideas from the symposium here.

Pernille France (LEGO) – Pushing the envelope of engagement with LEGO

I missed this one because I was setting up for our development lab… (-:

Bran Gravel – Diverse Trajectories: Students' Multiple Representations and Varying Ways of Developing Understandings
In a slick presentation, Brian argued that the “language” of STEM is representation and the representations are central to the STEM disciplines. Representations range from the conventional to the idiosyncratic

Multiple representations...
  • Students’ resources - their ideas - are captured in different representations
  • Engage students with different aspects of problems
  • Offer opportunities for re-description
  • Provide opportunities to assess the quality of ideas
Brian provided some neat examples of what we might learn from students representing ideas in different ways, and how these ideas grows as they refine their representations. Students ideas are embodied in representations and representations can amplify efforts to make sense of the world.

John Cole (Dexter Industries) – New developments in sensors for the Mindstorms NXT
Dexter Industries have produced some very interesting new sensors for the NXT over the last couple of years. I was somewhat surprised to learn that they are such a new company. For some reason I had assumed that they were an established company that had only recently turned their attention to the NXT.

In any event, they have already got some pretty cool sensors on the market, and have some interesting new ones on the way, including:
  • Thermal infrared
  • WiFi
  • IMU (gyro and accelerometer combined)
Some possible IMU activities…
  • Centrifuge test
  • Conservation of momentum
  • Building a better bumper – crash test dummies
I’m particularly interested in the possibilities of using their dGPS and NXT-Bee sensors in tandem to support an NXT-based robot swarm.

Later in the day, I introduced myself to John and was pleased to have the opportunity to express my concerns about the name “NXTBee”. When I first saw the name I was troubled about its similarity to the name “N-X-Bee” that my son and I called one of our robots a few years ago. John was pretty understanding about it, and I’m confident that we’ll be able to keep matters out of court. (-:

Seriously though, John is a really nice and approachable guy, and made it very clear that he is interested in listening to suggestions for products and future directions. All in all, I think that what he’s done provides a great role model for anyone interested in carving out a niche in the market.

Karl Wendt – High Tech High Media Arts Engineering
Karl showed us some of the work he’s been doing with his students at High Tech High Media Arts. I’m not sure what was more impressive... how quickly he was able to put together the infrastructure and materials to create a program that enables students to build robots from scratch, or the quality of the students’ documentation of the process. He has made excellent use of Google sites to allow the students to document and display their work. Karl presented well, but ultimately I think the work speaks for itself… http://www.masei.org/1st-semester-senior-projects. Most impressive!

A couple of neat ideas…
  • Embracing failure – in bringing an idea from conception to the final projects, failure is inevitable and may lead to discoveries that are useful at another time.
  • Legacy – Karl’s students are required to address the question of what legacy will their projects leave behind. At the very least, past projects are kept as part of a 3D reference library.
When I tell people that I spent six months in Boston learning about robotics and engineering education, I’m sometimes asked, “where are you going next?” I think I’ve just found it! At the very least, I’ll be very keen to arrange a visit the next time I’m passing by.

Marcelo Molina – Robotic Education as a Tool to Help Change Developing Countries: Brazil’s Perspective
Marcelo’s presentation reminded us that students have much gain from an engineering approach to learning wherever you happen to be in the world. Talking to him to afterwards it was very clear that he faces some distinctly local challenges in doing what many of us (at least in the US and Australia) would take for granted. In spite of the challenges, he’s had some very impressive growth with his program.

Ideas for challenges