During the weeks of preparation students aren’t sure of their design and many teams are working to design a robot for an competition they haven’t played in. Most of the robots start as what we call a “push-bots” (or a rolling rectangle) that is driven much like a remote-controlled car.
The students enter the first league event wide-eyed and under the pressure of competition. This is where they gain a great deal of experience. Some aren’t prepared and their robot falls apart or their batteries aren’t charged. Others are realizing that using the controls and maneuvering a robot on the field isn’t as easy as it looks. Regardless of the outcome they have had a chance to see other robots in action and return to the center with new plans and design changes so they can be successful at the next event.
Now after the second week of league play they start realizing that the robot can do more than simply be driven around. Each match starts with 15 seconds of autonomous control (where the robot drives itself to earn a 10 point bonus). The students want to teach the robot so they begin to learn programming and design the steps for their autonomous control.
As I was saying at the beginning this transition is amazing. Middle school girls and boys with no programming and no mechanical skills are taking this opportunity to create something from scratch. Only three weeks into the program they have expanded their vocabulary, their creative skills, and their ability to collaborate.