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Robotics Website: Additional Information

I know some of you are starting out or contemplating a robotics course for your children and would love some additional information. My boys linked me up with the website that is the publisher of the Lego NXT books we have been using.

Here is the website:
http://nostarch.com/catalog/lego

This is the book my son is using right now to the robotic hand:
Lego Mindstorms NXT: One Kit Wonders

Remember you can find all my Lego Mindstorms entries by clicking the “robotics” tag on the bottom of this entry.

Weekly Wrap-Up: Tough Week

Are you proud of me? I am posting two weeks in a row.

This week was the week that all moms of homeschooling high schoolers dread. The week before the SAT. The reality has set in for Mr. A and he is nervous. I think what he needs from me the most is my support and assurance. This has meant extra one on one time with him going through areas he needs a little help with. Mr. A is such a different sort of thinker and this makes taking multiple choice type tests very hard. We have had to work on test taking skills more than filling him full of information. His difficulty lies in the fact that he over thinks each question. This has been something we struggled with as we used the SAT Study Guide the last few months.

We have not specifically built our learning around the parameters of the test so there are a few holes which have been brought to light by using the SAT Study Guide. I am not all that excited about it because we are taking the test not to score high enough to get into a college but rather as a life learning experience in preparation for perhaps future college classes if he chooses or employment tests. He is also hoping to apply for a few local scholarships so he will have some money to pay for classes he needs to get him where he wants to be so the SAT seems to be the next order of business.

We worked through the IEW High School Essay Intensive DVD over the last few weeks and he did awesome on some practice writing prompts. I mean *awesome*. That was a real boost for him but he has still needed the pep talk from me a few times this week as he anticipates the actual test on Saturday morning at 8:00 AM.

I try to remind him:

  • You are not going to know everything.
  • You are not expected to know everything.
  • There are going to be really hard questions in the math section that seem impossible, skip them.
  • There are going to be vocabulary words you don’t know, eliminate and guess if you can narrow your choices down to two.
  • Your dad and I are proud of you no matter your score if you do your best.
  • We are taking this test for the experience of completing a serious test.
  • Relax and take it one step at a time.

I think what is adding to his stress is that he has an exam in his aviation ground school this week as well. Although he knows a lot of the material, he is learning that he has to work at the details and that means time studying the text and then working with his study group. This is where the good study habits are paying off.

robotics frustration
Now here is something else that is frustrating him this week. His robotics project is just plain stumping him. This is the first time since we started using Lego Mindstorms that he has come up against a project that he is really needing to dig deep for. Here is a very short video of him testing his program.


He is back to the programming to try to get the project finished by next week. He is really counting on his logical thinking to make this one work. We shall see.

physics
Physics this week included another lab activity. Mr. A decided the directions were not very well done. He ended up making the activity work and was able get the parallel circuits to work and then add in the resistors. Lots of math this week in his physics too….not his favorite week in physics.

Geography map
Map is from the Trail Guide to World Geography Student notebook

Geography was interesting this week as we blended a study of Saudi Arabia and Islam. We have studied about Islam before so we didn’t need to cover the basics. They focused more on how Islam influences the culture of Saudi Arabia and its current events in the news. I am finding it fascinating how my boys so easily blend in a study of world culture, religions, geography, politics, economics (0il), and relationships while doing research. This is exactly what I was hoping for.

research
Both boys are deep into their research for their “super essay” project. Topics are set and they are now working on picking subtopics and gathering information. Next week they will start the actual writing.

designing floats for an rc plane
So after school, how does Mr. A. spend his free time? You would think he would run the other way from any project that includes math. Nope. He is trying to design and build a set of floats for his RC airplane. This involves taking the plans for a set of floats and adapting them to fit his airplane. He told me this morning that, “All that math is paying off finally.”

Quick recap of other subjects:

  • Literature-started reading Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde.
  • Math-Planned out the rest of our year and made some goals.
  • Bible-Using our chronological listing of Bible reading, we started reading the Psalms associated with the 1 and 2 Samuel chapters we are reading.
  • Art and music-Just another week of casual viewing and listening. I was informed that Mr. A does not like Renoir’s style or his choice of subjects. I can handle that….we all do not have to like everything.
  • Life skills: They helped their dad cut down a tree using a chain saw. Mr. A drove my car with me in it on the freeway and I did not freak out. Completed annual labwork and physical exam…their liver numbers are stable which is good news.

Nature study: Completed the Outdoor Hour Challenge for Dandelions and started preparing for the Cattail Challenge.

Boys at the river making a rock bridge
Took a hike to the river…the water was freezing and the guys were building a rock bridge for me to get over to the island without getting wet.

At the river on the rock island
I ended up wading over and freezing my toes off!

River with lupines
Four weeks to go and counting….not that any of us are keeping track. 🙂

Barb-Harmony Art Mom

P.S. I just finished writing this post and I wanted to add for those that are still reading that I have felt extremely inadequate this week in many areas. I normally consider myself a “math brain” but this week I have found my nemesis: truth tables. I just plain don’t get them. I also am a total zero when it comes to helping with physics…..most of the time I can help my son reason his way through his questions using the text and teacher’s guide. This week was a lot of extra work to get him over the hump. I am also no help with their robotics and up until now it has not been an issue. This week I saw their frustration and wished I was better equipped to help them. I know that I don’t have to have all the answers. I also know that by my not being able to bail them out when they have problems that they have learned to figure things out on their own or find ways to get more information so they can figure it out. So maybe my not being the know-it-all has its benefits.

I will just keep telling myself that.

Lego Mindstorms NXT

I have received a lot of email about our robots and what we particularly use with the boys for their robotics course.

This set is quite expensive but it has proved to be a winner as far as teaching skills that we set out to offer to the boys. We used our economic stimulus money last year to purchase the set and the boys have worked with it every week to build a variety of robots.

You do not need anything else to get started with building cool robots. It does use six AA batteries but they seem to last a long time in the robot. I guess it would depend on how you are running your motors, but I think we just put in our second set of replacements.

We worked our way through the Unofficial Lego Mindstorms NXT Inventor’s Guide during the first term. My boys had used Lego Mindstorms (original version) in the past both at a Lego class they took through our homeschool group and then later on with a borrowed set of the orginal Lego Mindstorms. They were not complete beginners when we started this school year and I think that helped. I asked them about how hard it would be to get started with just the NXT robot and the book and they think that most people who are interested in this sort of thing can self-teach the programs.

The boys completed all the robot builds in this book during the first term.

I have watched these boys be frustrated and ready to give up on certain building projects from the book. I have also watched them pull it together, sticking with the process. I love watching the way they brainstorm a solution to a project and then sketch out the steps on paper. They then take the ideas and put them into a model that they can test out to see if it completes the required task. Most of the time their first tries do not work and they have to them go back and brainstorm the solutions. Was it the robot design that made it fail? Was it a flaw in the program? Did they miss a step along the way?

I see their logic skills, their reasoning abilities, their perseverance, and so much more all at work as they build their robots. These robots are a lot of fun as well and as their skills and knowledge increase they are starting to put their own special touches into their robots. Both boys have the same tasks to complete but they build totally different robots that eventually do the same thing. Their imaginations are building along with the ability to complete a set of complex jobs with the robot. I love it. Technology and art all wrapped up into one course.

We only had time during the second term to build the first three robots in this book:
Explorbot
Stringbot
SnapShotbot

I gave them the opportunity to be finished with this course at the end of the school year but they have requested a few additional parts so they can make different kinds of robots. This has spurred on new building designs and ideas.
Tracks and sprockets

Their older brother, who is a computer/robot guy, purchased a mini GPS and camera that they have mounted on a robot. I have no idea exactly what they plan on doing with the GPS on the robot but it is fun to watch them experiment with it around the house.

They are going to work over the summer just free designing robots but next year we will go back to the Mayan Adventure book for additional projects to build.

Future plans?

The reviews for this book look like it will be something the boys can use to step it up to the next level.

This blog, NXT Step, has been a great source of creative ideas for my boys. You can find all kinds of stuff here to get your creative juices flowing.

This video has captured their interest and has given them some great ideas for fun projects to build in the future.

Pirate NXT Theater
If you watch until the end of the video, it shows you “behind the scenes” and you can see how they made all the parts work together. Awesome.

My husband and I decided that this is the sort of course that might look sort of insignificant on a transcript, but Lego Mindstorms NXT has been a fantastic investment in our boys this year. The enthusiasm for this has made it worth every penny we have spent.

If you want to see all the entries I have written that include something about robotics, just click the “robotics” tag at the bottom of this entry.

Barb-Harmony Art Mom

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