STEM Robotics Competition
By, Greg Schwartz, Director of Instructional Technology
Our eighth-grade students are working their way through their first unit in our STEM Robotics curriculum. They have prepared during the first half of the year by learning about simple machines, electrical circuits and motors, and by implementing the engineering process within their problem-solving. Now they are stepping into a hands-on learning environment that allows them to address real problems using teamwork, prototyping, predictions, observations, and collaborative construction.
We just wrapped up their first major multi-step build. Their objective: create a moving device using a simple motor and a few specific guidelines that can make it the farthest distance in ten seconds. They could use wheels on the back of their motor, but the front needed to be “arms” that would pull the contraption forward by gripping the floor. Each group was given a base model to build, and then the opportunity to create adjustments to their vehicle in order to optimize the performance. It was great to watch their minds start to turn as they discovered all the different variables they would need to consider if they were going to make their vehicle travel the farthest.
As the groups worked, I heard conversations about stability, speed, friction, weight, vehicle length ratio, trajectory, and more. Each group tackled the problem in a unique way. They all assigned different levels of importance to the various elements of the build. Some were obsessed with the size and placement of the wheels, some with the length of the “arms”, and some with making sure their device went as straight as possible. Each group was required to create a minimum of two prototypes and then a final model. They recorded the unique aspects of each prototype in their journals, what worked, what didn’t work, and how they were going to make the next version better than the last. Once they had fulfilled their prototype quota, most groups moved on to a third, fourth, and even fifth iteration of their machines until they were satisfied with the result. After each version was completed, the groups would test their vehicle for a ten-second timed run and use their observations to direct their next step.
When the day of the race came, each group hooked their motors up to our coding program and activated their code blocks. These blocks instructed the motors to count down from three, activate the motor, and shut off after ten seconds had passed. Some devices worked better than they had hoped, some ran into technical difficulty, but each group performed well and got the chance to show-off their solution to the original build. STEM is all about learning from your observations, collaborating to make something better, and solving problems in creative ways. Our eighth-grade classes are proving to be very clever and resourceful when it comes to working together.