First Day

image Been a while since I posted… Thought I’d share some pics and vids from the first lesson I do in Robotics each year.  I have the students examine the Grey and black (friction) pins and to write down the differences.   Then I add in some beams and tell them to play and see what the functional  difference between the two is. image image image image image And finally I ask them to show the differences:



Robot Waves and Dances – How My Students Do It

Teachers (and other people) often ask me how I go about getting my students to do some of their cool projects.  The simple answer is I let them have as much freedom as I can to design the project themselves, and I give them all the available tools I have to make it easy for them.

We start off by watching the original video by Damien Kee of some youngsters in Australia doing the Wave.

Then we learn the icons we need: Wait For and Move.  You can do the entire Wave and lots of really cool dance projects with just these two.  The project is more about timing, coordination, and cooperation than programming.

After figuring out how to do the Wave themselves, I challenge the students to come up with their own robotic dance.  They write their ideas down on the tables.  (I use whiteboard paint on all my tables and lots of walls):

Splitting off in different directions.

Splitting off in different directions.

Idea 7







This one looks like a football play.

This one looks like a football play.








Idea 6


Using algebra to describe their idea.

Using algebra to describe their idea.  Sorry about the upside down pic!








The class usually ends up picking and choosing from a few different ideas.  At this point I sometimes see things that think won’t work out, but I usually keep them to myself.  50% of the time I’m wrong and the other half it’s a better learning situation for students to discover things themselves.

Once we know what we’re going to do, we figure out how to line up the robots; in this example the students draw a circle on the floor using chalk (the green rectangle is chalkboard paint.)  We keep a piece of tape for the center and keep a piece of string tied in loops at both ends so the diameter is consistent.  (The red tape is from the project my next period class is working on.)

Then we write down steps on the board, the students take pics with their cellphones, they go back to their computers to program, and they test each move one step at a time.

Here’s the steps we used for this dance:

All robots go in for 2.5 seconds at power 100.

All robots go in for 2.5 seconds at power 100.

And all robots drive backwards for 2.5 seconds at power 100.

And all robots drive backwards for 2.5 seconds at power 100.








This step had the odds (each classes' robots are numbered) going in, then the evens in while the odds go out.

This step had the odds (each classes’ robots are numbered) going in, then the evens in while the odds go out.

At this point we were going to be finished and start the spinning you’ll see at the end.  But the students had gotten to this point quickly and were excited so they brainstormed again.  One group wanted to have each robot go in one at a time, while another wanted groups of robots to go in and out together.  We did both.

Compass points, secondary and tertiary.

Compass points, secondary and tertiary.

Each robot one at a time; notice the use of algebra in figuring out wait times.  X = the number of each student's robot.

Each robot one at a time; notice the use of algebra in figuring out wait times. X = the number of each student’s robot.

And the end.  Each robot spins and plays a note.

And the end. Each robot spins and plays a note.

The students usually take cell phone pics to remember the program and then back to their seats.  And here’s the final result:





Move Without Wheels!

Workshop I ran with Travis' help at NSTA conference.

Workshop I ran with Travis’ help at NSTA conference.

I went down to Portland, OR to do a workshop at the NSTA Conference using the new LEGO Education Design and Engineering Curriculum for EV3. The new curricula LEGO Ed. are producing are pretty cool as they load right into EV3 as add-on modules in the lobby, no need to open a 2nd program. The D+E curriculum has a bunch of challenges designed to integrate with the Engineering component of the Next Generation Science Standards. I chose a fun one to do for the workshop, Move Without Wheels. You can see the results below:

You can see the rest of the videos on the Move Without Wheels playlist on my youtube channel!

Fun Little Spin Program

My 4th period class made a fun little program for their robots after the Wave.  First they got the robots to spin in place, one after the other, then in return order.  While watching their robots perform the students started humming noises from a lower pitch to a higher one.  I told them they could get their robots to make those noises and the students’ eyes lit up.  Here’s the result:

The cool thing about this program is it introduced the students to the idea of parallel programming which is a lot easier to do with EV3.


Listen Closely!


Gyro Sensor Tests

Image taken from

Gyro Boy – Image taken from

I spent some time today playing with the Gyro Sensor.  There seemed to be a lot of issues with it last weekend as I was training a group of teachers.  Though I don’t doubt any of the problems they had (I was there!  I saw it!), I got perfect results every time I tried to use it.

DRIFT – Gyro sensors suffer from drift.  Perhaps a more saaavy engineer could describe it properly, but for me drift means the gyro sensor will start registering numbers even when it is not moving at all.  The way to account for this is to constantly unplug and replug the gyro sensor in when using it.  I did that each time I used it in the following experiments, always using Port View to make sure it read like this:


1. The first program I tried was from Robot Educator.  It has you use the Gyro sensor in the Change Angle configuration.  Robot turns to the right, and stops after an increase of 45, the drives straight.  Here’s what the program looks like:


And here’s the video:

2. Next I tried the same program but with an increase of 90 (right angle).


3. After the change in angle worked, I tried using the gyro sensor in the compare angle configuration.  This first time I again turned to the right until the sensor sensed an angle greater than 45.


4. Similar to last time I kept everything the same but changed the compare to > 90.


5. Now I tried left turns because this is what caused so many problems at the training.  First up is left turn change in angle decrease of 45.  Decrease because the numbers get negative as you turn to the left.


6. Same, but with decrease of 90.  Forgot to get a screen shot of this one.

7.  Wanted to use the compare angle configuration, but made a mistake.  I programmed turn left, stop when gyro sensor sense and angle greater than -45.  Can you guess what happened?


Yep, zero is greater than -45 so the robot stopped turning immediately (faster than you can see) and went straight.

8. Corrected previous example, changed to less than -45.


9. And finally I went with compare angle, less than -90.


Fortunately the gyro sensor worked fine in my tests.  Unfortunately I couldn’t repeat the mistakes that my students made during training last weekend. 



EV3 – Early Reflections – The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly


These pictures are from theEV3  training I did in Yakima last weekend (8/10-8/11) and don’t reflect the words in the post title!  🙂

The Good – People migrating from NXT saw a lot of good in the new robot:

Pieces – the middle hole of the sensors is an axle hole, the square pieces allowing for easy motor connectivity, the medium motor, the colored pieces

Brick – 4 ports for motors, auto id, no assigned port for sensors (e.g. NXT ultrasonic on port 4)

Software – projects and programs took a bit to get used to but were well liked, zoom ability, no data wire problems yet, loop interrupt, multiple switch conditions, the flow of work and not modifying every icon in the bottom left of the screen, the context help and help screens

These were all things that NXT users were head over heels about.  New users of EV3 were excited by the overall coolness, they marveled at The Wave and a basic line follower, but as with a lot of new technology you don’t know what an improvement something is unless you have used a previous version.

The Robot Educator, the Core Set and Expansion Set design files had everybody excited.

The Bad – I wouldn’t say anything was bad.  Mediocre might be a better term.  People were not enthralled with Content Editor, either as a display tool, a way to create assignments and instructions for students, or a way for students to document their work.  Perhaps this was my fault for not presenting it well.  I don’t know – I love it and think it’s the #1 reason to get EV3.  On the other hand one teacher said they won’t use it.

Personally, I am questioning the wisdom of the teacher and student sections of content editor.  The more I look at it, the less I feel like I want to create content that only teachers and not students can see.

The Ugly – Two things fit this category perfectly.

1. The gyro sensor.  It suffers from drift.  This means that you have to unplug it often or it will start to change numbers.  You can see this happen using port view; a perfectly stable gyro sensor will just start counting 1,2,3…  It gets quite frustrating.  We had a lot of problems getting it to work for left turns using negative numbers, but as you will see in my next post, this is not always the case.  Either way, people were quite frustrated with it.

2. The EV3 screen.  I had too small an example to say for sure (and I hope this doesn’t come off ageist) but the older students in my class had an incredibly difficult time reading the screen.  Some of the younger men and women too, but it seemed like those with poor eyesight really struggled.  This is a shame.  I have heard back-lighting would cost too much to add, perhaps someone will hack an simple/cheap solution.

I’m not sure where to include On-Brick programming.  Those migrating from NXT liked its flexibility but felt like it was not intuitive.  However the youngest teachers claimed it was a snap and that middle school students would pick it up right away.  So again an age thing, which I’m not comfortable making blanket statements about but it did seem to show differences within the small number of students I had.  Coupled with the hard to read screen though, some people really hated the on-brick programming.

So that’s my initial observations after training a group of people on EV3 for a weekend.