Robots, Computers, and Programming, Oh My!

1 06 2012

Some days it feels like the Austin Children’s Museum is experiencing a Robot Invasion! We have dozens of Lego NXT Mindstorms Robots that come with us to schools and community centers for our Technology Outreach Classes. This Spring, we wrapped up another successful semester of classes. Students learned how to build and program robots, how to make computer animations and simple video games, and a whole lot more.

A student shows her robot to her mom and little brothers.

This year, we introduced a new curriculum where students used their robots to solve an ecological mystery. As engineers and programmers, we imagined being asked to help out a team of researchers who worked with endangered sea turtles. Our robots helped with a beach clean up challenge and collected clues that led us to discover who was responsible for the disappearing sea turtle eggs.

A robot disguised as a sea turtle.

We also got better at making video games and computer animations using Scratch. Students made some really great projects including mazes, animated jokes, game controllers, and much more.

Writing computer programs is fun!

We spend a lot of time trying to write very specific programs for our computers and robots. It’s like writing very specific directions. One of the activities we use to demonstrate this is our Behind The Back Building Challenge – and you can try it at home! All you need is a few LEGOs (or a similar building toy), and a friend.

Make two identical sets of blocks with 6-10 pieces each.

Give one set to your friend, and keep the other set for yourself. Now sit back to back with each other. Choose one person to go first – this person will build an object using all of the blocks from one set. Then, without looking, the builder will explain how to build the figure to the friend.

It’s hard! You have to be super precise and specific about your directions. When we tried it out, I built a bird (in the upper right hand corner of the photo) and explained it to my friend Emily. She made a similar bird, but didn’t get it quite right – see if you can build and explain well enough to get identical figures!

Our original bird, in the background, and what our friend built, in the front.

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