Robotics is a field that is growing exponentially world-wide. Just take a look at the robot-controlled home vacuums, lawn mowers, and a growing number of home applications for robots.
What was once the domain of industry is now making great strides in the consumer market.
Programming and controlling robot-driven devices are becoming more sophisticated, yet can be accomplished through the use of less-expensive and readily-available technology.
Just ask the students enrolled in the pre-Advanced Placement Computer Science program at San Antonio’s Reagan High School.
What the Program is About
Reagan High students taking part in a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) day event presented the results of their project to control small robotic vehicles through programs written on small graphic calculators.
Guided by the calculator-based programs, the robot cars responded to commands to move forward, back up, spin in circles, and more.
Texas Instruments organized robot coding workshops at 11 San Antonio schools, with hundreds of students participating. TI’s program works with students to utilize TI calculators for programming their TI-Innovator Rover robot vehicle. The workshop is intended to introduce participants to the fundamentals of the technology. TI’s president of TI Education Technology, Peter Balyta, stated “We want to light that spark and we want to fuel the fire in them to pursue STEM.”
From all indications, the program is a huge success, with over 1,200 San Antonio students involved in working with TI education technology consultants to develop programs that generate eye-opening results.
Texas Instruments initiated the program in 2017, introducing the Rover as their first robotics project targeting high school and middle school students. This is a hands-on experience that utilizes TI graphing calculators to drive the vehicle’s movements.
Competition is Key
Part of the driving force behind students’ participation is the element of competition. Students were challenged to use the drop-down menus on their TI calculators to generate commands that make the bright blue Rover cars move, dance, and yes – crash.
Even without prior programming experience, students can readily create programs directly on the calculator, communicating with Rover through the TI-Innovator Hub.
This interactive learning experience inspires students and teams to develop programs that put the Rover through exercises that make the activity challenging, rewarding, and most of all – fun.
During the STEM day activities at Reagan High School, students enjoyed participating in a dance challenge where the Rovers moved to the music alongside students, through their programming efforts. Deborah Rice, STEM coordinator for Judson Independent School District, emphasized the multiple benefits of the workshop:
- Hands-on setting
- Opportunity to practice problem-solving skills
- Develop math skills
Rice alluded to the fact that ‘Right now, they don’t realize how much math they’re doing.’
Rachelle, a member of the school’s robotics club, was obviously pleased with the experience, stating that she had never done any programming other than on a computer, and enjoyed how coding can be both complex and simple at the same time. “Everybody can learn,” she said.
Teacher Katie Brown challenged the students in her pre-AP Computer Science class at Reagan to apply their skills and ideas to create a variety of Rover movements.
Demystifying Robotics and Programming
Through participation in this innovative TI technical education program, educators and students alike can utilize real hands-on, visual, and fun experiences to gain appreciation for technology and enhance mathematic and programming skills.
Rover and TI graphic calculators combine to provide a platform that challenges students to collaborate on programs to make the car follow geometric patterns and perform a variety of movements. Rover is equipped with a color sensor, LED display, rechargeable battery, gyroscope, distance sensor, and even a marker holder that can be utilized to allow the vehicle to draw on paper.
It’s Not the First Time
This is not the first adventure into the world of using graphic calculators to control robots. As far back as 2010, NASA developed a series of exercises – Calculator-Controlled Robots: Hands-On Mathematics and Science Discovery – introducing the capability of such tools to control robots with a series of ‘missions.’
The development of the Rover and Hub significantly enhances the experience and brought about a more challenging yet fun experience focused toward the classroom. Sponsorship by Texas Instruments and TI participation in the workshops makes these STEM activities unforgettable and exciting for students.
What Did the Students Learn?
Through participation in these robot programming workshops, students benefit in several ways:
- Increased knowledge of robotics
- Develop new programming skills
- Interaction with advanced calculator technology and robot vehicles
- Collaboration with other students that inspires teamwork
- Application of mathematic principles
- Having fun while learning
Perhaps Balyta sums up the experience best – “The gears are moving, the wheels are turning, and when that’s happening, kids are learning.”
Feature image via EAI Education