Saturday, 27 February 2010

Junkbots hits Moulton: Part 1

The junkbot project moved to Moulton  School & Science Academy, and working with eighteen Year 7 students and their teacher Desmond  O'Niell, looking at issues relating to waste management and also using engineering and computing principles. Examples of the the robots produced and the level of creativity can be seen below:

Some creative ideas are demonstrated using cans and motors with eccentric cams either as a source of vibration or as wheels, and all used the principle of control similar to tank tracks (control one side then the other) to direct the robots. Also the students were encouraged to consider form over function (and especially the weight will have an effect on the effectiveness of the solution). Two groups actually developed solutions that could move a drinks can but also small parts into a specified area.

This was taken from the first part of the project and I would like to thank Mr O'Niell for inviting us in and also for the suggestions of the future direction to take this and possible other related project, including a future robot project. This project is about developing cross-disciplinary (Computing/ICT/Design) material using the Matrix Multimedia robot that could be used at several years, revolving around robot programming is especially interesting for under a £1000 you can have ten robots that can be added to relatively easily, be programmed in a simple specially written language or  in more widely and industrially used langauges such as C.

As personal point of view I think robots are a great teaching tool for developing engineering and computing skills, as well engaging people with STEM subjects (hence the junkbot project and my own research). We are also especially lucky in Northamptonshire to have two leading companies in automation and robotics  Festo and ABB having a presence in or near Northampton.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Student Feedback from Brooke Weston

Thank you to the students and staff at Brooke Weston School, Corby, UK for working with us on this project. Here are some of the comments made by the students.

Several of the students identified some interesting features about building robots out of 'junk':
"We had the [f]reedom to show the teachers what skills we have" (Student B)
"interesting overall" (Student H)
"...but frustrating because modifications were frequent" (Student J)
"The activity was very fun and creative. We experience lots of difficulties to overcome." (Student K)
"it was nice have time off timetable once in a while" (Student N)
"I found that building the junk bots has made me some new friends..." (Student T)
" we[ we]re able to put any ideas forward to put ideas forward to create our own creation" (Student V)

The programming of the robots caused a differences in opinion which seemed to come down to two main factors, that there was only one robot per group and having to learn a challenging new skill (programming):
"Didn't get much of a go on this one" (Students D, E)
"this was good however I didn't get to to do a lot" (Student F)
"Really enjoyed it" (Student G)
"It was really good and the amount I have learnt about Java is incredible" (Student J)
"This activity was fun but very fustrating if the program wasn't going well" (Student L)
"We didn't actually get much of a go on this one because we had to plan the presentation" (Student O)
"It was cool because we could program them" (Student Q)
"It was good being the programmer" (student R)

Waste Management like the programming of the robots caused some variation in feedback:
"Lots of information which was useful..."(Student B)
"Very informative but could have been a bit more fun" (Student I)
"I learnt a lot and calculating my carbon footprint was great" (Student J)
"This was different and you found out facts" (Student P)
"I learnt about [Eco] stuff" (Student S)
"I found the waste management activity helpf[ul] because it showed me the truth of what we could do to help the earth" (Student T)
"I liked the presentation we were given...interesting facts which we will remember a long time" (Student V)
"I learnt a lot from this. I enjoyed planning a campaign and the statistics were revealing" (Student W)

On the project overall the feedback was very positive
"The whole project was really fun and I enjoyed it lots and I liked making the robots the most" (Student A)
"The project as a whole was very fun and I learnt many different skills." (Student C)
"It was fun because I learnt about carbon emissions and the stuff you need to do the robot" (Student M)
"Overall it was very fun yet informative" (Student R)
"The junkbots project was great! It was a great way to teach us more about science, technology, engineering and maths. I also think it improved our problem solving skills. " (Student W)

Some pictures of the activities in action can be found at

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Brooke Weston Event

Students at Brooke Weston School, Corby have been working with the University of Northampton's School of Science and Technology on the junkbots project. Scott Turner and Terry Tudor on the 16th and 17th February 2010 went to the school to run the sessions. Starting with a talk and activities on waste management, including how much waste the UK produced, and in terms of numbers of slices of toast what is the cost of energy of leaving a monitor on overnight.  

The task was to produce robots out of rubbish that could carry other rubbish into a containment area. The change made to the sessions was that students brought there own 'junk' to the sessions.

Some innovative and creative designs were produced involving 'legs', wheels (including turning cans into wheels and wheels from old toys). 

Some of the designs pushed rubbish into the area, but one of the designs carried the rubbish into the area and some designs used magnets to pick up small steel parts (nuts and bolts).

 The third task was to use lego-based robots to repeat the second task by programming the robots and use of sensors.

Based on the feedback from Nigel Barratt (see the quote below) who co-ordinated the session at the school, students were encouraged to keep journals of their activities and team leaders were selected by the groups.

"I do feel embedding some sort of diary/journal adds a focus and allows every one to reflect on what they have done."

Based on the feedback shown above the session were enjoyed and the level of engagement was overall high.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Views and feedback

Feedback from the sessions in December are very encouraging. When students were asked to grade out of 5 the sessions overall ( scores with 1 being poor and 5 excellent) of the twenty replies received 100% were rate at 4 (65%)or 5(35%). In all the questions asked, the feedback was in the majority rated three or above.

For this group of the students the creative aspects of the activities engaged them and this was reflected in their feedback. Quotes from some of the students:
“it was fun and creative, I learnt quite a bit”
“It let use be creative with our design.”
“it opened my eyes to engineering”
This last on is especially of note as the aim of the project is to encourage engagement with Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) subjects.

The waste management activities seem to engage from the point of view of helping them to understand their own impact both positively and negatively.
“ was cool to know what my carbon footprint is.”
“... made me think about all the waste in the world.”
“[I] now recycle”

An observation that needs to be unpacked a little more is the language the students used. Each reply was an individual reply, but in many cases ‘we’ and ‘us’ was used. This could be indicative that these students did see it as a group activity (which it was intended to be). A couple of quotes from one of the students on this point
“We liked this activity because it help us work as a team.”
“We really enjoyed ourselves over the last 4 days. We found it very useful.”