First, I would like to say that I am so grateful for being given the opportunity to participate in the Distributed Mentor Project. I look forward to the challenges, opportunities and learning experiences.
Below are some highlights of my experience so far .....
As I guess you should know, this summer is the summer of weddings. I have a total of 8 weddings this summer. Everyone in the lab gets a kick out of the fact that I am always running to a wedding or coming from a wedding. If I happen to have a free night without a wedding the guys in the lab tend to get concerned. And so it began.... I had a wedding Sunday night June 1 in Chicago. I spent the weekend in Chicago by my roommate, who lives there. The girl who was getting married was a one of the girls who lived in my Barnard apartment this past year. (There were 6 of us in the apartment and now half are married.) Anyway, I flew back from Chicago first thing Monday morning to start work. I ran from Newark International Airport to the lab. I guess it was good that I already knew the Betsy and the lab. I didn't really need to adjust to a new environment. To ease into the summer plans I spent the first week sorting Lego pieces. You should know that this was no small job. I have estimated that I sorted something like 8000 Lego pieces from the very large pieces to the extremely small pieces. I decided that I had sorted Lego once and for all so we bought storage containers to organize the Lego. (It looks so pretty now!!!)
The second week picked up speed extremely quickly. At our weekly Monday meetings, I found out that I would be in charge of creating the material needed for a five-session robotics class. Each session was 1 1/2 hours and we would be going to two 6th grade classrooms in PS164 in Washington Heights. I designed a kit with instructions intended to construct a go-cart that can be converted into a tank-bot. (More details to come...) Florence and I went to the first two sessions that week. It actually went really well. The kids were really interested in the robots and they were eager to start to learn how to program them to do what they wanted. At the end of this week Kami, the other DMP student working with Betsy arrived. Also, when I have more time I will fill you in on the stolen robot.
The third week was actually a lot calmer. I showed Kami around the lab and began to introduce her and a couple of other students to the LEGO Mindstorm Kits and RoboLab. It turned out that Kami had already used RoboLab, which worked out great for all of us :-) Kami joined me this week in Joe's classroom. We introduced the kids to Robolab and they began to program the robot to do simple tasks. One of the tasks they had to do was make the robot go forward turn around and come back to where it started. We also showed the kids a video of dance competition from RoboCup Junior 2002. They were all fascinated by the idea of making their robots dance so we decided that for a final challenge we would have a dance competition. The different groups all worked on making up a short dance to display to the entire class. Talking about dancing robots, this week was a big week for the Robocup Junior team I am mentoring. They were in the lab every day finishing their robot for the Robocup Junior dance competition in Padova, Italy from July 4-7 2003.
This week was spent developing the curriculum for the STEP program that Kami and I are teaching in during the month of July. Additionally, this curriculum is going to be used in Playing to Win, another summer program, located in Harlem. This was also the big week of weddings. This week I literally had a wedding every other night. It was totally crazy. I did not get home any night this week before midnight. Also, I was working with my Robocup Junior team during every free moment I had because the competition was getting closer. Betsy, left for the Robocup competition on Friday because she is in charge of the junior competition and she is also involved in the Sony Aibo legged league.
This was the week that I left for Italy. I spent the first half of the week developing a survey for research purposes to be used when we started step. Additionally, Kami and I had to finalize what we were going to be teaching and make sure all the materials were prepared. We started teaching on Tuesday. The coolest part of the program is that 20 out of 23 of the students are female. I am really excited to have the opportunity to teach other girls about robotics and inspire them to pursue computer science in college. We have 23 students in total that are divided into 2 groups. The first group was really quiet and needed to be guided more than the second group. The second group was totally into the robotics idea and spent the first class designing and redesigning a tank-bot until they finally got one to work. Every group in the second class created a sturdy robot. I was fairly happy with how things went. Well, right after the class on Wednesday I ran to the airport to catch my plane to Italy. Right now I am in Italy at RoboCup 2003. It is completely awesome. I am amazed at all the robots and they complexity. More to details and especially pictures to come ... Plus I will let you know how my kids did in the dance competition.
HOT OFF THE PRESS, MY ROBOCUPJUNIOR TEAM JUST WON 3RD PLACE :-) !!!!!!!!
HAVING A BLAST IN ITALY!!!!!!
I just got back from Italy. The trip was an unreal experience. It was my first time ever attending a conference and there was so much to take in. Monday, I started teaching in STEP again. Changing gears and getting back into the routine of things was hard, but after a day or two things were back to normal. This week Playing to Win (P2W) started. P2W is a community center in Harlem that used our curriculum. Two of my friends, Mike and Phoebe, taught in this program. Kami and I discussed how to implement the curriculum we developed for STEP in P2W. We provided Mike and Phoebe with equipment and the materials they needed. We also gave them some basic training so that they would not be caught completely off guard. In the process of making our materials available for other programs, Kami and I discussed ways to organize our resources. We decided that making a website would be the most effective way to present and share our stuff with others. In STEP we began to teach IF/ELSE and Loops. For students that have no formal programming skills these concepts are fairly difficult to comprehend. To ensure that all the students firmly understood these building blocks we spent two lessons on if/else and loops. I presented the concepts in terms of power tools. Until now we had only introduced simple programming (i.e. motors, wait for time, stops etc...) and basic touch sensors. While I was away Kami taught the wait for push and wait for release icons in ROBOLAB. With the knowledge the students had until now, they could create very limited programs. In order to enhance their programs they needed to add power to their programs. Here is the power tools hierarchy (in descending order) 1) Loops - allow a program to repeat numerous times 2) IF/ELSE - allow the program to make a decision between two options 3) Wait fors - program waits until one condition happens. After breaking down these concepts the students had an easier time deciding when to use loops, if/elses and wait fors. Additionally we stressed how to translate challenges from English into programs. On a different note, I started summer school this week. I am taking a World Literature class in FDU (which is in NJ).
On Monday morning Mike, Phoebe, Kami and I met to discuss how to package the material we developed. We spoke about our experiences and what resources would be beneficial for students and teachers. The main goal of the meeting was to draft a schema for a comprehensive and user-friendly website. The basic structure of the website would have two components, a student side and a teacher side. The teachers would have access to lesson plans, handouts, handout solutions, common problems and a discussion board. The students would have access to handouts, tutorials, example programs and a web-board. Our final goal was to have a finished product that could be used by any teacher. We set our goals high and began to work on accomplishing them. I undertook to develop all the additional resources needed to enhance the curriculum while Kami worked on documenting the lesson plans we created. Additionally this week we introduced the light sensor, which added another level of complexity. Not only did the students have to understand wait fors, if/else and loops they also had to understand thresholds. Using the light sensor raised a common robotics challenge of light sensitivity and variation. The light sensor would read different values depending on whether the window shade was opened or closed :-) However, by the end of the week everyone was so excited because their robots were following a circular track!!!
Also, Mike and Phoebe found that they had to adjust our curriculum in P2W because each lesson was 2 hours instead of 1 1/2 as in STEP. Their students also preferred to work on bigger challenges rather than many small challenges.
This was the fifth and final week of STEP. Kami and I decided to end the program with a "big" challenge that incorporated all the skills they had learned in the program. After completing the line following challenge, each group competed in the cup challenge. In this challenge we randomly placed 5 cups inside of the "arena". The goal of the challenge was to push the cups out of the arena as fast as possible. The one condition was that the robot could not leave the border of the arena, which was designated with a black line. It was so great to see the students get into the competition. They were tweaking their algorithms to make them faster and cooler. Some groups even went back to their kits and added more LEGO pieces to their robots. They created a massive sweeper. One team managed to clear the cups in 3 seconds. Bottom line was that it was a lot of fun. Finally, we had them store their line following program, the cup challenge program and a third program of choice in their robots to show their parents and classmates at the completion ceremony of STEP. On "graduation" day we administered a post-test that I developed, which was designed to evaluate the change in interest and ability in each student as well as to receive general feedback. At STEP's goodbye luncheon the head of the program gave us teaching awards for our participation in STEP. Dean Taylor, one of the Barnard deans, came to goodbye luncheon. Dean Taylor was the one who got me involved in STEP and it was really nice that the she could see what the students did over the summer. (The best part of the whole day was that we got free STEP T-shirts :-)
This week was focused primarily on evaluating how things were going in P2W. There were two undergrads that were not directly involved in the curriculum development that were teaching our curriculum in P2W. The curriculum had to be slightly modified for P2W because of the age and type of students in the program. There were more behavioral challenges in P2W that Kami and I did not have to deal with in STEP. This week Kami went to P2W to get a feel for the differences in the classrooms while I went to the Queen's Museum of Science. The museum was running a weeklong workshop on robotics and wanted our help structuring the workshop. The museum was the first place to implement my idea for magnetic Robolab icons. A common problem with teaching Robolab is how can you effectively teach it without a projector. This is a major concern because many classrooms don't have access to computer projectors. The answer is to blow up the ROBOLAB icons; however, when you do this, the icons become extremely blurring and unintelligible. Photoshop, Image Ready or any other program designed to fix these problems did not help. The answer became to recreate the icons. I spent a good chunk of time recreating the ROBOLAB icons in Microsoft Power Point. I took all the icons we used in our curriculum and built them shape-by-shape. It was an intense process but well worth it. The icons were a hit in the museum!!!! The museum was an invaluable experience because I was able to see how the professional staff develops workshops. Their contribution to the curriculum development process was the idea of a workbook. This inspired me to create a companion workbook to be used with our curriculum. To find out more read next about what happened next week.
This week we began preparing for the GK-12 workshop. This workshop was designed for teachers who want to use robotics in their classrooms. The GK-12 program is NSF funded program to help integrate technology into the classroom. This workshop was where we were going to present our work, to be reviewed and used by people in the field. (Scary thought!!) We worked really hard to pull together all the resources and materials in time. Kami and I discussed what resources would be beneficial to future teachers and students using our curriculum or more generally LEGO robotics. I designed a ROBOLAB Tips and Tricks and a ROBOLAB cheat sheet both of which would be included in our new workbook. I was busy working on the workbook, which I wanted to have ready before the workshop began when all of a sudden the lights went out. My first thought was that it was a good things I just saved my files. At first I thought there was only a problem in Columbia, but them a friend of mine working in Midtown called and asked if we had lights. I thought it was weird that she would know that Columbia had no lights so I asked her how she had heard. She said to me, "Rachel, the entire Times Square is dark!" Now, I really began to panic. How was I going to get home? My first reaction was to go to the grocery store on the corner to stock up on food. I went food shopping in the dark. People were running for water, candles and non-perishables. Everyone was just scared. When I got back to the lab, I called my mom. She said I shouldn't leave the city. I didn't know what to do. Then Betsy came and said we should come to her house. Kami and I went to her apartment. I should just note that she had moved in the day before. It was really nice of her to let us crash at her place for the night. At about 6 am the lights went back on. We went back to Columbia but the campus was closed. We lost about a day and half of preparation time for the workshop but there was nothing to about it. Betsy told me that I should go home and I was definitely not going to complain.
This was the culminating week of the summer and it was intense to say the least. Kami and I had to work really hard this week to finish preparing all the materials while presenting to the teachers everyday from 9am to 4pm. Two days into the workshop we finished the workbook and handed it out to the teachers. All of our resources were very well accepted. It was a great feeling to hear all the compliments from the teachers about our work. Every teacher wanted to know how he or she could get a set of the magnetic icons. Additionally, they did not want to write in the workbooks so that they could copy them and give them to their students. We covered the same material we did with the students; however, we added our personal experiences. The workshop was a tremendous success. Whereas last year there were only 3 teachers who wanted to integrate robotics into their classroom, this year there are 25 teachers interested.
This summer was a great experience. I learned a lot about myself and what it means to teach others. I am really proud of the work that I have done and I hope to continue to work on this project throughout the year :-)
Thank you DMP for making this experience possible!!
Thanks to yaddi for her
help designing this site!!