Welcome to Iona PS Robotics for 2017

The Iona PS robotics program is back for 2017, with 12 excited, promising new members from Year 5 and Year 6. The “Robotic Rebels”, with several new members, are returning this year; and our new mixed Years 5-6 team, “No Signal”, voted on their team name and logo last week. Welcome aboard girls!

Forays into Mindstorms Programming

With so many new members this year, we ran separate first-year and second-year EV3 programming challenges through Term 1. After exploring the use of flowcharts in robotics programming, our first-year students worked through the Drag Race and Maze Challenges, before exploring the use of the touch and ultrasonic sensors. Apparently, it is lots of fun to drive robots at walls (IF you know how to stop!)

 

Our second-year students explored intermediate to advanced programming techniques, including displaying text on the robot’s screen, using data wires to transfer sensor information into data or maths blocks, and proportional line following techniques. Amazingly, one girl recently managed to solve the incredibly difficult line follow challenge on our robotics mat – using 2 sensor proportional line following! Once again, I’d like to thank @EV3Lessons … whose resources help make this program possible!

 

Tournament Day! #animalallies 2016

On November 27, 2016, the Robotic Rebels and The Motherboards attended their first ever FLL robotics tournament, held at Curtin University. While it was at times an overwhelming experience for their coach, the girls really enjoyed the day – and actually did rather well. The Robotic Rebels came fourth overall in the Robot Game; and The Motherboards placed second in the Presentation category.

These are some of the photo highlights from the day. Thank you to our parents, and Rachel Barret Photography, for their generous sharing of the tournament photos.

The Robotic Rebels 

 

The Motherboards

Photo by Rachael Barrett www.facebook.com/rachaelbarrettphotography

Photo by Rachael Barrett www.facebook.com/rachaelbarrettphotography

 

 

Team Building with Fun, Laughter, and Robots

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During the October school holidays, we ran our first holiday robotics workshops. Both our Year 5 and Year 6 FLL teams completed several Core Values challenges (team building activities); invested a few hours into their mission planning and programming; and chose a topic for their research projects. It was a very busy, but wonderful two days.

Core Values Challenges

As mentioned in a previous post, the FLL core values are central to the competition experience. Succeeding in FLL isn’t necessarily about ‘winning’ – it is about learning, solving problems as a team, and having FUN!

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As part of the holiday workshops, the girls completed two core values challenges. The first, the “Towel Turn Over Challenge” (aka Magic Carpet), was a lot more difficult than anyone had anticipated. To complete the challenge, the girls had to stand on a beach towel, and turn it over without their hands or feet touching the floor. Sounds easy, doesn’t it?

To succeed in this challenge, the girls had to learn how to communicate effectively within their team. They had to stand back, discuss the problem, and ensure they listened to each other’s suggestions and strategies. The girls also had to develop their resilience and ability to learn from (repeated) failure. This wasn’t easy – although it was very entertaining to watch!

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The second team challenge was to design and build a bridge out of marshmallows and spaghetti. The idea was to create the longest bridge, but I think towers might be more challenging – we’ll try that next year. The marshmallows (and pasta) went down a treat 🙂

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Mission Programming

After spending several weeks working out which missions to focus on for this competition, these workshops provided the girls with their first dedicated opportunity to work on the programming and engineering for the robot game. The girls started by mapping out their algorithms – the sequence of steps required to solve the missions, and prototyping attachments.

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Starting our FLL Projects

As part of their preparation, the students need to identify a real world problem relating to the challenge theme, and come up with an innovative solution to that problem – which they present to the judges at the tournament.

This year, our theme is Animal Allies, and the project focuses on improving the interactions between humans and animals. After much discussion, brainstorming, and debate, the Year 5s have decided to focus on marine animals, and the Year 6s will focus on the dairy industry. As part of their research, the girls will need to seek the advice and expertise of experts in these fields – which we hope to do over the next two weeks.

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With less than six weeks to go before the tournament, we have a LOT of work to do! 

We’d like to thank Ms D (Year 5) for her help running these school holiday workshops; and we’d especially like to thank our parents, who helped provide a wonderful morning tea over the two days 🙂

Getting Started with FLL Animal Allies 2016

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Late last term, The Robotic Rebels (Year 5s) and The Motherboards (Year 6s) were busy preparing for the 2016 “Animal Allies” FIRST LEGO League season. We started by selecting team captains, and volunteering for team roles – engineering, programming, and project. After building the LEGO models, it (quite genuinely) took us three weeks to read the instructions, before brainstorming team mission strategies.

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During the mission strategy meetings, the girls ranked missions in order of difficulty and point values, and brainstormed the order in which they might attempt them. As part of this process, they mapped out possible robot navigation routes across the board.

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In pairs, students pitched their ideas to their team, and voted on the missions they will work on during the season. As the Year 6s will attest, this wasn’t an easy or straightforward process! They had to be guided into making their first compromise of the season over the animal feeding mission.

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“Robots and Walls don’t Mix!”

Miele robot vacuum, IFA 2015Creative Commons License Kārlis Dambrāns via Compfight

Have you ever wondered how a robot vacuum cleaner detects and avoids obstacles? This was a question our girls sought to answer when they began exploring the role of sensors in aiding robot navigation.

The first sensor we worked with was the touch sensor, which is ‘activated’ by a ‘push’, being ‘released’, or with a ‘bump’. As the girls discovered, this sensor can be extremely useful for detecting obstacles in front of the robot.

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The first challenge required the girls to work out the difference between the ‘push’ and ‘bump’ sensor states. They had to program their robot to move forward until a team member ‘bumped’ the sensor with their hand. The resulting code looked something like this:

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Move Forward –> Wait Until Touch Sensor is ‘bumped” –> Play “Sorry” —> Move Back 1 rotation.

Robots and Walls don’t Mix!

The next challenge proved to be rather entertaining. The girls were asked to program their robot to move until it detected a wall, reverse 20cm or so, and then turn 90 degrees. Then after adding a loop, they had to create a physical obstacle course for the robot to navigate through. Judging by the number of robots trying to drive through (and climb) walls, this wasn’t an easy challenge. 🙂

The key to success relies on understanding the difference between the ‘bump’ and the ‘push’ states when using the touch sensor. A bump could be likened to a quick tap; however, the ‘push’ is activated when the sensor detects a firm pushing force (e.g. what happens when you hit a wall).

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And, in one of the funniest pre-season moments to date … 

  • Student: “Mr Graffin, our touch sensor doesn’t work! Our robot is stupid!”
  • Teammate: “Have you tried plugging it in …?”

They had to pick me up off the floor after that one, 🙂

Robots and LEGO – Just two of our favourite things!

It has been a very busy few weeks, with some big changes happening down in the robotics lab.

FLL 2016 Team Names – The votes are in!

The Year 5 team will be known as the “Robotic Rebels”, and the Year 6 team voted for “The Motherboards”. Well done girls!

Our Competition Practice Table has Arrived

With the help of Mr B, our school groundsman, our FIRST LEGO League competition practice table has now been built and installed. At about 2.5m x 1.4m, it wasn’t a small (or light) addition – and it is only half the size of the full competition table! The girls will be using it regularly from the start of next term, as they participate in a practice FLL season using the 2015 Trash Trek missions and models.

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Speaking of models, we had no idea how hard it would be to construct our FLL mission models, or how long it would take. The girls have spent weeks trying to decipher the build instructions, constructing a LEGO trash sorter, power station, cars, and a compost machine. One of the greatest lessons we have learnt so far is that we need to follow the instructions to the letter – if you don’t, the models simply don’t work!

Given we have a whole new set of LEGO models to build for the 2016 Animal Allies season, it looks like we’ll be scheduling some lunchtime and after-school building sessions come early September …

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We welcomed (and named) some new robots! 

A few weeks ago, we took delivery of some new EV3 Mindstorms robots, enabling us to return our two loaned LEGO NXT robots to Curtin University. Our thanks go to Tim Keely, from the Curtin University Engineering Outreach team, whose loan & support made our program possible.

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Our new robots, with names including “Bubbles” and “Alice”!

Wrapping up our focus on programming for now. 

As Term 2 drew to a close, we finished up our programming work with a series of challenges focused on how to use touch, ultrasonic, and colour sensors to aid robot navigation. I’ll share more about these in future posts.

As we move into our last week, the girls are beginning to learn about basic robot structural design and gearing. The next step will be introducing and exploring the engineering design process, as the teams start to familiarise themselves with the FLL competition format & robot building challenges next term.

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First Steps in LEGO Robotics

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Over the past two weeks, our new Year 5 and 6 robotics teams have begun familiarising themselves with building with LEGO robotics components and the requirements of the FIRST LEGO League competition.

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Our Year 5 team were tasked with building our first LEGO robots, which will be used to explore basic programming this term – focussing on moving forward and turning. The girls rapidly discovered that following LEGO build instructions wasn’t as easy as they had thought! Thankfully, we switched to the slightly less complicated design provided by Damien Kee! Lesson learned.

The Year 6s have started building the LEGO models for FLL Trash Trek, and spent last week inquiring into how robots work in the real world. We hope to share their presentations and findings next week.

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Welcome to our new robotics blog!

In late 2015, Iona PS won a FIRST LEGO League Robotics grant from FIRST Australia, in partnership with Google. This grant has helped us to set up a small LEGO Robotics program for 2016, which will enable 18 upper primary girls to compete in the 2016 “Animal Allies” FLL competition.

The FIRST LEGO League (FLL) is part of an international student robotics competition which focuses on high level problem solving, critical thinking, coding, and finding solutions to real world problems, such as natural disasters, trash, and aged care.

Mr Graffin, and the robotics girls, are looking forward to sharing their FLL adventure over the coming year!