Jury Duty Blues – or – A First Week Activity to Keep them Busy While I’m Gone

Nifty title, huh? Yes, I have jury duty during the 2nd full week of school this year and it’s driving me crazy! I have a great guest teacher taking my spot, but you all know how hard it is to give up your Robotics’ class for more than a few days, especially in the beginning.

After my students build their first robots I usually have them go through the four basic tutorials in EV3 Robot Educator. I’m not sure if this is the best idea. I love the way the tutorials are laid out with their five slide format. I love that they’re self-paced. I do worry that they are confusing.

EV3StartUpThe Straight Move and Curved Move tutorials use the Move Steering icon, while the Tank Move tutorial uses the Move Tank icon. To me it’s vitally important that students learn the difference between Move Steering and Move Tank: the first controls both motors and distributes power based on a curve you give the robot while adjusting the slider on the arrow, while the latter allows you to control power to each motor yourself and design your own turn.

MoveSteeringvMoveTankI like to ask my students what the difference between these two programming blocks is after they’ve done the first three tutorials. Only a few get it instinctively and only a few more get it after a bit of prodding/explaining. Most are just lost and I’m not sure I blame them as there’s no need to understand what you’re doing when you’re just copying tutorials.

This trimester I was a bit more explicit in explaining to the students that there were two different blocks they would be using and those blocks’ names were similar but not the same as the names on the tutorial programs they’ll be going through in a moment. This helped a bit and took a bit of explanation.

As you can see in the video compilation below, most students were able to understand and choose which block they thought was better. Some students used Move Steering to create a curved turn around the track, while others use Move Tank to execute a pivot or point turn depending on their choice.

I was happy with this activity because it’s quick and easy and gets the students doing something right away. As jury duty has kept me out three days this week (so far) here’s how I extended the activity for my guest teacher:

Challenge 1 was to drive in-between the black lines (not too bothered if they go over a bit, the lines were hastily made with electrical tape) and knock cuboid off the table without going over yourself.

That one they started while I was in class. The next two challenges were totally presented by the guest teacher:

Challenge Two – Using the building tutorial in EV3>Robot Educator>Building Instructions>Medium Motor, add the medium motor and lift arm. Program your robot to drive around the track and use the medium motor (hint you’ll need to use a new type of block that controls a single motor – look for it in green) “grab” cuboid and then drive it back to the start.

Challenge Three – If you are successful with the second challenge, program your robot to do a victory dance that includes sounds and pictures on its screen. Figure out how to do this by looking at the blocks in the green action palette.

My question to you dear reader of this blog is this:

Do you use the EV3 tutorials to teach beginning programming? Do you think they confuse students as to what Move Tank and Move Steering do? What other methods do you use to teach beginning programming? Please answer in the comments if you like.