KAMLOOPS - It started as something to do during the lunch hour but in a short time the lego robotics class at at a local middle school has morphed into a popular elective for Grade 8 and 9 students.
David Coleman, a science teacher at Brocklehurst Middle School, is always amazed by his students’ creativity and problem solving skills, even calling their ideas ‘stellar,’ but is most impressed by their dedication to the class.
“Look around, do you see anyone not doing anything? You have 28 kids in here right now that are all engaged and working on engineering basically, whether they know it or not,” Coleman says.
Recognizing a need in the school, Coleman started the robotics club at Brock six years ago.
“We have a lot of kids here that have high anxiety. (Lego robotics) was an activity to give kids a place to go at lunch and make connections. Those kids really blossomed and they made friends and it was such a cool thing,” he says.
When the lunch club grew to 20 kids, Coleman suggested lego robotics could be an elective class. He was able to secure funding to purchase materials has been teaching the ‘mini engineering’ course for the last two years.
In addition to building and designing their own creations, students learn substantial computer programming skills. Each machine is powered by a ‘brain’ that must be programmed how to move, for how fast and how long, and when to stop.
“You add wheels and motors and you can tell the brain let’s go forward for ten seconds, or let’s go forward at 100 per cent,” Coleman says.
While the class last year attempted to build something that actually walked, ‘robotics’ means anything that moves. Coleman gives his students challenges and they’ll create a design to meet the challenge. Last week they competed in a tug of war and had to build a machine capable of pulling. The week before they had to build something that could reach top speeds.
“We did a drag race down the hallway. (Two students) actually had to run after theirs they went so fast,” Coleman says.
This week’s challenge is to build something that’ll climb up an incline. Coleman has taught the concept of torque and the difference between big gears and small gears. Most of the students work in pairs, or groups of three, and share a plastic tub of lego parts.
“Every kid has the same (tub), but the ideas that come out are hugely different,” Coleman says.
During a recent visit to the school, student Graydyn Robertson is seen making multiple attempts up the incline, each time creating a steeper and steeper angle. He explains the modifications made on his vehicle as adjusting 'fractions of traction back,' describing his method as 'traction by fractions.'
“He blows my mind. I don’t understand a word he just said,” his teacher laughs.
Robertson’s vehicle is able to climb an incline 1.3 metres high, but he isn’t satisfied with the machine’s capabilities until the gradation is measured using Pythagorean theorem.
There is a lego robotics competition for students every year in Abbotsford. Coleman has never entered a team before, but is completely confident in his student’s abilities.
“I think I’ll have a team there this year.”
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