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Science Teacher Discovers The Solution To An Age Old Classroom Dilemma

- Michael Pustie, Teacher, West Deptford High School

I have been teaching science at West Deptford High School for 17 years. With the arrival of LocoRobo Academy this fall, my method of instruction has changed dramatically.

I have been using LocoRobo’s Robotics and Coding platforms in my classroom for the last two years with the mission of developing an engineering curriculum. The new LocoRobo Academy lessons provide comprehensive instruction material that students can work with at their own pace. This allows me to use that core instruction as a basis for defining and delimiting  related engineering problems. The students spend class time developing possible solutions, evaluating from evidence which one to adopt, and optimizing their solution. As early as Lesson #1, I began to see how engaged and creative students become when they are empowered with foundational knowledge and the support of a teacher who has time to enhance the lessons in response to the student’s experience in real-time.  

Teaching coding and robotics with LocoRobo Academy            Teaching with LocoRobo Academy

Last year, my students preferred to use the GUI environment as their first choice for programming. In the first LocoRobo Academy Voyager Module, “Control LocoXtreme Lights,” students immediately see the advantage of Python, specifically the use of variables, in creating custom LED patterns. It is crucial that my students realize that Python offers them a rich environment for algorithm development while the GUI interface can be used for quick testing and prototyping. That prototyping aspect is huge. For example, the student can use the GUI to quickly create a program to move LocoExtreme, convert the program to Python, run the program, but then realize the motion’s distance must be consistent and won’t work as the robot’s batteries drain. They will know to consult the API online dictionary to determine the correct syntax and arguments for a setup wait () command which will control the motion via the robot’s motor encoders.

Now back to the 1st Lesson, “Control LocoExtreme Lights.” The accompanying video instructs the students how to connect to the robot and get up and running. Inserting the dongle, starting the communicator, using the GUI, downloading the program, naming the robot… it’s all explained so I can concentrate on seeing the big picture and troubleshooting issues so each student can achieve success with the task as quickly as possible. Some students experimented with Python syntax to create color definitions: redColor = (255, 0, 0). I did not mention this nor is it explained in the Student Worksheet.  I was exuberant! I had these students share their discovery with the class. We talked about documenting and maintaining code, something that this variable definition lends itself to quite beautifully.

Students asked why a red color was “255”. I then developed a lesson about RGB color codes. Next they asked what was “ff” and how did that represent ”255”. I then saw the need to develop a lesson on numbering systems: first base ten, then binary, octal, and finally hexadecimal. We determined how many unique numbers can be represented in these bases and how to convert a binary data stream to octal or hex. We also discussed how we might encrypt these data streams.

After completing the lesson, I created a performance assessment to create a color wave on their LED array. For example, all lights are red, then the first or top light turns white, and the white lights spread “pushing” the red lights off the array, then the red light starts from the bottom pushing the white lights off until the original red pattern is restored. My students had fun with this. Everyone in the class was able to do it. After the gifted learners completed the task, I had them program a “robot turning signal”. Those kids had fun with this task as I assisted other members of the class with the “wave” performance assessment.

The LocoRobo Academy allows me to get my students writing code and developing algorithms on day one. I am very excited as a teacher! The curriculum possibilities are so rich, and this is just Lesson One. Thanks LocoRobo!

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