The first time you deploy anything in the classroom, much less something involving lots of small moving parts, I can guarantee that things won’t go as planned but if you planned well you’ll be able to see all the areas you need to fix/change the next time you do the lesson/unit. I’ve been waiting over a year to give my students a chance to do some hands-on learning with the EV3s, mostly fretting over how I was going to share eight LEGO robots with over 400 students spread over 21 classes and survive the experience. Today was the end of our first four-week attempt and boy did I learn a lot about what NOT to do next time (with the next group of 5th grade students beginning next week).
Number one, do not attempt to have groups bigger than pairs working on each robot. Actually, I originally thought that one couldn’t do robots with anything other than a 1:1 setup, but I learned that learning pairs was a much better ratio when I helped do Dash & Dot and M-Bot robots with Full Sail Labs before beginning my Las Vegas robotics experiments. And this past session confirmed that with groups of three (and some groups of four) there are just too many idle students with far less focus on getting the job done. I had been hoping I could spend the four fifty-minute sessions broken down to having students build the robots for the first week, learn how to program the robots the second and third sessions and have a little robot competition session/robotic olympics for week four. Of the seven teams building robots this time only one finished a basic (non-sensor) build and did one program and the other six ended at various levels of incomplete robots and almost no programming. Yeah, we’re not doing that again.
So the adaptation from this past four weeks, is to lower the number of group members to 1:2 (one robot per two students) in classes with 23 students. Thus I’m going to split the class in half with half of the class working two-weeks on the build/programming while the other half does online research on robots on the web & some media work on the subject. The second two-weeks I will flip students doing the hands-on robotics with the students doing online work. I’m hoping that the greater focus will allow students to get through the build and programming much quicker with less distractions from non-participants. At the same time, those working online will need to be virtually self-sufficient because I won’t be able to address their questions while working with the hands-on students.
I wish we had much more time to just explore, but sometimes more can get done when one is seriously limited. When we did robotics at Full Sail we had over 30-hours to explore, so I have to be a lot more lean and directed with the 100-minutes I have available to expose my students to robotics. Watching my students these past few weeks, I’m thinking that part of the difficulty that can be addressed is giving them experiences following build directions with other LEGO projects before attempting robotics (next year). Many got so confused when they ran into a simple SPIN direction (blue arrow) that indicated that they were supposed to turn the robot around to do the next step(s). This threw off several groups. So, more hands-on with other directed build projects should help them when they do this EV3 build. So, between now and next Wednesday I need to prep for the next group of students (disassemble robotics and make sure they have all the needed parts in their kit) and develop the media/online research component for the non-hands-on students. Nothing stress-tests any classroom unit or technology like a classroom of students. My lab hardware and I have the scars to prove it.