Use basic programming to control robots you make from craft materials!
|Class Dates||April 1- May 6, 2022|
|Class Size||3-12 students|
|Class Times||Fridays at 1pm Eastern / |
Learn how to program robots you build yourself out of cardboard and crafts materials! It’s a great way to explore how software and hardware work together in robot design. No robotics or coding experience required!
As you develop your projects, you’ll learn basic programming concepts like loops, logic, variables and math, and functions, as well as mechanical linkages and other engineering techniques.
You’ll be challenged to use those concepts to create your version of each week’s project, and encouraged to work together with the class to make them better.
A new challenge each week!
Following the “Sense-Think-Act” definition of a robot described in my book BOTS! from Nomad Press, the class will explore topics like:
- how to connect and program microcontrollers, lights, sound, sensors, and motors
- basic programming concepts like loops (repeat and while), logic (if/then/else), math (greater/lesser/equal), variables, and functions
- mechanical linkages and cardboard engineering techniques.
Classes last between 60 and 90 minutes. Printable materials and links to real robotics research are provided to help you dive deeper into each topic. There will be time during class to ask questions, discuss problems, and share new discoveries in the world of robotics. In between classes, students will have a challenge to work on and document with photos, videos, and/or written notes.
Here’s a sneak peek at the kinds of projects you’ll be making:
A note on supplies:
Cost of electronics is around $65 through online electronics retailers like Adafruit or Amazon. See the Supply section for more details. Note: World-wide supply chain issues can mean long waits for electronics. It is highly recommended to order your supplies as soon as possible. Contact the instructor if you need help finding materials!
If you already have the Adafruit electronics parts savings bundle, all you need is some additional servo motors!
Classes take place on Fridays from April 1 through May 6 at 1 pm Eastern/10 am Pacific.
Each live class lasts between 60 and 90 minutes.
Students are expected to work on their own design between classes and document it with photos, videos, and/or written notes.
What to Expect
Each week, we’ll go over new building techniques and coding concepts. We may discuss connections to familiar mechanisms and view slides or videos about commercial and research robots. The rest of the class time will be spent working on a basic design that demonstrates the newly-introduced material. In between classes, students are expected to answer a challenge or prompt and document their work with photos, videos, and/or written notes. On the last week, students will get to share their work with the group and see what their classmates came up with!
In order to have the maximum time to work on each week’s project, it’s important to have all supplies ready before class begins. (See the Supplies page for more information.)
This class works best when students are on camera and use the microphone to ask questions or participate in class discussion. It is particularly helpful when trying to help a student troubleshoot a problem with their project. That said, I understand that everyone doesn’t want to be on camera all the time, and I will do my best to accommodate individual needs and preferences.
Projects in this course require the ability to cut, tape, and measure (or judge amounts). For the coding activities, you’ll need to connect the programmable board to your computer with a USB cable and move files from the download folder to the attached device.
- Students will be introduced to the idea of using simple materials like cardboard to prototype working models.
- Students will practice engineering design skills like researching, prototyping, testing, trouble-shooting, iteration, and documentation as they build, improve, and enhance their models and share them with others.
- Students will learn the basics of electrical circuits and electronics.
- Students will learn to create basic computer programs.
- Students will learn to improvise, take risks, develop the confidence to explore new areas, and test out their own ideas and designs.
In addition, students will learn the following concepts as they work on their projects:
- Introduction to the Circuit Playground Express microcontroller
- Input (sensors, buttons)
- Output (sound, signals)
- Sensors: Sound, light, touch
- How to calibrate sensors
- Graphing sensor readings
- Servos (motors)
- How to run two servos at same time
- Continuous servos
- Adjusting code and/or design to steer
- Adding external input and output
- MakeCode intro
- Downloading code
- Servo blocks
- on start, forever, while
- if/then, > <
- input, output
- Control (run at same time)
- Attaching electronics
- Anchoring servos
- Linkages — Translating swing motion to linear, etc.
- Wheels and Legs
- Stationery (paper clips, beads, etc)
- How to cut circles
- Accordion fold
- Treads – peeled corrugated
- Adjusting Sensors
- Creating bump sensor bumpers
- Shade for light-sensing
- Cone for sound sensor
Supporting Your Learner
Adults are encouraged to stand by during class if they believe their students may need help with building, coding, or working with the computer. Written instructions are provided to make it easier to follow along.
Required and Suggested Supplies
A list of the electronics required for this class — which are all re-usable — is below. The cost is around $65.
In addition, you will need crafts and recycled materials to build the body of your robots. A craft knife is helpful for cutting holes that fit the components. Removable adhesives like glue dots and Velcro dots make it easier to remove the electronics and re-use in the next project.
- computer with USB port and internet access
- one (1) Adafruit Circuit Playground Express microcontroller board with USB data cable and battery case
- six (6) alligator clip to male header jumper wires in different colors (such as https://www.adafruit.com/product/3448)
- one or two (1-2) 9g micro servo motors (such as https://www.adafruit.com/product/169)
- one or two (1-2) micro continuous rotation servo motors (such as https://www.adafruit.com/product/2442)
- two (2) plastic wheels to fit micro rotation servo (or servos with wheels)
- (optional) conductive tape, copper or nylon with conductive glue (such as https://www.adafruit.com/product/3961)
Note: You can re-use the programmable board and accessories after the class is done for making other kinds of robots as well as games, e-wearables and more! Check the free learning resources online, and watch for more SEA Online classes, coming soon.
If you already have, or plan to get, the Adafruit electronics parts savings bundle, you will need to add one additional positional servo motor, two rotational motors, and wheels.
Requirements for Coding Activities:
We will be using free, online Microsoft MakeCode software. It works best using the Chrome browser.
To download the code to the programmable board, you will also need a laptop or desktop computer (not a tablet) that can be connected to the board with a standard USB data cable (see the supply list for details).
Many families find it useful to watch the class on a second device while working with MakeCode on their computer. However, it is possible to Zoom and code on the same computer at the same time!
Live sessions work best with a camera and microphone. Parents will need a Zoom account (free).
Kathy Ceceri, B.A.
Kathy Ceceri is an award-winning writer and educator, and the author of more than a dozen books of hands-on STEAM activities for kids and teens. Formerly the Homeschooling Expert at About.com (now ThoughtCo), she wrote the Hands-On Learning column for Home Education magazine and taught her own two children at home from kindergarten until college.
Kathy’s workshops and activities are designed with the non-expert in mind. They introduce basic concepts in science and technology, and give students the skills and information they need to troubleshoot their projects and build upon what they’ve learned. Additional background material and resources look at the diverse people behind the inventions and put them into context in the larger society.
We offered Kathy’s DIY Buzzing Game online workshop last month and it was great! The kids had such a good time. Really creative!
Lara R. Cohen, Youth Services LibrarianTeacher: Kathy Ceceri
I just wanted to say thank you for teaching this class. My son enjoyed it so much and learned a lot. He is really into motors and circuits right now and this class was a great help to his robotics learning.
Parent of student in Build BOTS classTeacher: Kathy Ceceri
My daughter is really enjoying your class. We’ll sign up for anything that you do, as you are an excellent teacher.