The Gifted Enrichment program took our grade 8s to Orchard Park Secondary School for four days of robotics design challenges in early December. Orchard Park’s astoundingly successful competitive First Robotics Team 2056 is lead by Prime Minister’s Award winning teacher Stan Hunter.
Stan assembled a crew of Team 2056 volunteers to demonstrate their most recent robot which they built for the 2016 competition, and which won second place in a world-wide competition. In this design challenge, Team 2056’s robot had to drive over obstacles, pick up balls, shoot them into a target, and then scale a wall. Some of this was accomplished with a human operator, and some of it was automated by the robot itself. Our grade 8s were suitably impressed with the complexity of the 2056 machine.
For their challenge, the grade 8 students were grouped into small teams and given a Vex robot kit and a laptop computer loaded with Modkit. Vex is a modular system for building small robots that can move about on their own and make decisions based on sensor inputs. Modkit is the interface used to create the code or program that the brain of the robot uses check various sensors and activate a range of drive controls.
Our students chose one of three challenges for their design, all of which involved the construction and coding for a robot using at least two sensors inputs. There were Orchard Park students from grades 9 to 12 present to work with each group. On some days, we also had Orchard Park Team 2056 alumni who were now students at University of Waterloo’s Computer Science program. Mentorship between students was a high yield strategy at this maker space.
While not all of the student-built robots were able to complete the challenge, all of the students had a rich experience writing code that had to interact with inputs and outputs from the robot’s brain. Design thinking, critical thinking, collaboration, and creativity were central to the experience of each student. Almost all of our grade 8 students indicated that they had never written code at the beginning of each day. By the end of every robotics day, all students had gained experience and confidence in a 21st Century technology through 21st Century teaching and learning.