Monday, February 25, 2019

Robotics and Programming with Snap Circuits

This semester, we're studying Robotics and Programming. The spine for this unit is the Girl Scout Robotics badges for Cadettes and Seniors, and the Cadette/Senior/Ambassador Think Like a Programmer Journey. Our main manipulatives are LittleBitsOzobot BIT, and Sphero, although we're bringing lots of other tech into the unit, as well.

Here's what we did for Step #2 of the Cadette Programming Robots badge:
This Snap Circuits activity also meets the requirement for Step #2 of the Cadette Programming Robots badge. For us it's an extension and enrichment, but if you didn't have access to LittleBits but wanted a click-to-assemble option, Snap Circuits are readily available and more affordable. Here are some of our favorite sets:

Since my kids have been playing with Snap Circuits since they were preschoolers, this project was a review of what makes a circuit and a chance for the kids to reinforce the concept by applying it to Snap Circuits. They've been making circuits with Snap Circuits for MUCH longer than they've known what a circuit is, so the activity is a helpful reminder that although some of the vocabulary is new, they're long familiar with the physical setup.

And besides, any excuse to play!

As usual, Will set about making the most elaborate circuit she could manage, and Syd set about making the most annoying circuit she could manage. Somehow she figured out how to turn the fan into a helicopter that would launch itself after a completely unpredictable time pretending to be just a simple fan.

If you don't get hit in the face with something unexpected, then your kids probably aren't having enough fun!

Story Time: Last week, the kids and I volunteered at the Children's Museum in a new-to-us capacity, as volunteers for their regular homeschool classes. We helped with a morning and afternoon session of an engineering workshop, and it was super fun and I hope they invite us to do it again.

As part of the workshop, Will led an activity about determining the correct surface for structures, I led an activity about human inventions that were inspired by nature, and Syd led an activity on communication challenges. Syd's activity was actually identical to one of the suggested activities in the Multi-level Cadette/Senior/Ambassador Think Like a Programmer Journey that we're also working on in this unit, so it was pretty cool that she not only did it, but LED it for two hours!

Anyway, after our part of the workshop was finished, the leader invited us to stay for the all-group activity. She guided all the kids through making light-up LED keychains using pre-cut clear acrylic forms, button batteries, and an LED. We got to scratch decorations into the acrylic, then insert the button battery and LED  into pre-cut holes. After all of our circuitry work, my kiddos immediately knew how to get the LED to light up, of course, but what came next was even cooler.

The leader gave us circle stickers and instructed everyone to use those to tape the LED and battery to the acrylic keychain. She noted that this would make the LED stay lit constantly until it burned out or the battery died, and if we didn't want to do that we could just peel the sticker off and stick it back between the lead and the battery.

Workable, but awfully inefficient, don't you think? I thought that surely I could figure out a better method, and with a little futzing and troubleshooting, I managed to tightly roll a sticker and stick it to the battery so that it pushed the lead away, but not so far that I couldn't simply press the lead back to the battery a little further down. I covered the whole thing with a sticker and there! I'd made my own pressure sensor! Now to light up my keychain, all I have to do is push the sticker button.

All excited and proud of myself, I turned around to show my kids, in case they wanted to do it, too, only to find that they both wanted to show me how they, too, had each turned their LED keychains into pressure sensors that would light up only when they chose. AND each kid had done it in a different way!

If they understand circuits well enough to create their own physical modifications to a circuit to solve a problem, then I think that they understand circuits.

So you know what we're going to do next in Robotics?

We're going to build a functioning hydraulic arm out of Girl Scout cookie cases!

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