PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — Like sumo wrestlers, two LEGO® robots made their way around an oval ring, grabbing, swatting at each other, and trying with great gusto to push the other robot out of the ring to win the match. Ten young boys — third, fourth, and fifth graders — at the Paul Cuffee Middle School in Providence cheered on their creations, watching in delight as their aggressor responded to pre-programmed commands and light sensors to make their way around the ring in pursuit of the opponent. At each turn, parents and volunteer instructors joined in the cheering at the school’s cafeteria on Friday, July 20th. It was the culmination of a three-week pilot program designed to pique children’s interest in engineering and computer science.
Brown students Mike Lazos, a computer engineering concentrator, and Raymon Baek, whose concentration is in mechanical engineering, helped the students design, build and program robots for four hours every day during the three-week summer program. According to instructor Baek the program was a tremendous success.
“The kids were very bright and went beyond our expectations,” Baek said. “We always finished the planned curriculum a lot quicker than expected, which kept Mike and me improvising to stay ahead of the students.”
|Keeping a step ahead|
Instructors Raymon Baek, left, and Michael Lazos
were surprised at how quickly students mastered
material. In the final battle, the instructors’ own
robot was thrown for a loss.
The students had to be creative about using sensors to follow a zigzag path through the obstacle course, navigating through various boxes, capturing colored balls from a central area, and bringing them back to their starting points. The Panthers easily won the obstacle course because they built a robot that had a robotic arm that pulled nearly all the balls back to its starting point in one trial.
|To the victor, the spoils|
The robot designed by the Demons of Nothingness
outlasted all competitors.
As for the battle arena, the Demons of Nothingness won because their robot was very bulky and stable. “Mike and I decided to surprise them by introducing our own robot that we assumed was invincible,” said Baek. “We had the three robots fight it out in the ring. To our surprise, our robot was pushed out of the ring and the Demons of Nothingness reigned victorious.”
During the three-week program, the instructors gained some insight about the challenges of teaching. “The boys loved to build, but the programming, which required them to sit still and concentrate was a challenge. They need to get up and run around every so often to burn off some energy,” said Baek.
In this pilot effort, all participants including the students, teachers, learning concept, and execution proved to be a perfect match.