In the Providence Middle School, fourteen 7th and 8th Graders are working busily on their capstone project for the semester: the Intro to Engineering Final Challenge! Every semester, the students in this elective are given a game-style challenge to complete, which involves designing, building, and programming a robot using LEGO Mindstorms EV3 sets.
This semester’s challenge is being played out on a large elevated plywood platform, 8 ft by 8 ft. Mr Meadth spent a happy few hours putting this together in the science lab.
Each team of two students must create a robot that can sweep the platform clear of various pieces of coloured “debris”; imagine a small robot whose task is to permanently keep a rooftop helipad clear of windblown trash. Two robots are running in each round simultaneously, and whoever pushes off the most debris wins.
Special note: the pieces of “debris” we are using are the game pieces designed by Eva last year for her high school Educational Design project! Naturally, they are printed on our mod-T printers, which are still running strong (and now only $299 on their website!).
There are significant challenges associated with this project. How do you keep the robot from falling off the edge of the platform? How do you actually have the robot find the scattered debris? Does it run a blind search pattern, or does it try to use sensors to actively search? What kind of locomotive means does it use? Tracks or wheels or something else? What if it bumps into another robot?
Let’s introduce our competitors this semester:
Isabela and Lily with their wheeled wonder–note the absence of rubber tires
on the front wheels to allow sideways slippage when turning
Christine and Sofi with their light and fast Pretzel Bot
James and Dylan with an imposing bulldozer–note the ultrasonic sensor on the
front to look for debris
Zach and Alan also went with a tracked design, and a large superstructure on
top for style points!
Ma.kaha and Cameron put their colour sensor way out in front to detect the edge
of the table–not falling off the table is critical to success!
Asher and Sam have an armoured design that looks just plain scary
Masato and Isaiah did some late redesign work to try to bring down their weight–
the robot with a lower weight gets the advantage of being placed first
The students will be presenting their completed designs to the rest of the class this Friday. The actual competition will take place in the Boys & Girls Club gymnasium on Monday and Tuesday at 1:00 during regular class time. Parents and friends are welcome, and it promises to be a lot of high energy fun!
After some humble beginnings to the semester (Newton’s Laws, basic structural mechanics, and gear ratios), we have had a string of exciting projects in our middle school engineering elective. Within the last few weeks, students have built railway bridges, designed high-torque crane systems, and are now writing code for simple three-wheeled robots.
Mr Meadth stands watch over the first train journey of the day–all is well!
The Bridge Challenge had students demonstrate their understanding of structural rigidity. The students were told that triangular structures are inherently rigid, and can’t change shape without breaking. They also identified the bridge as being primarily subject to bending loads, in which case it is best to build a bridge that is tall.
(For all you engineers out there, they learned to use a cross-section with a high second moment of area!)
Another bridge with an underslung truss system
Asher and Christine carefully plan out their triangular structures
From here, we looked at the interplay between torque and rotational speed. Anyone who has ridden a bike with gears or driven a manual shift car understands that different gear arrangements really do produce a change in outcome–you shift down gears to pedal up a steep hill. Our middle school students calculated various gear ratios, and also felt the hands-on difference, thanks to Jake’s Educational Design project from last year.
Zach and Isaiah feel the increase/decrease in torque for a 3:1 ratio
The lessons in gears were put to the test in the Crane Challenge, where students used the EV3 Medium Motor to raise as much weight as possible. The structure had to be strong enough to hold the weight (think triangles and rigidity again), and the gear ratios had to be reduced down one or two or even three times. Bottom line: a slower crane is a stronger crane!
Zach and Sam added a few “characters” to their
impressive submission, and were able to
raise 800 grams (almost 2 lb)
Lily and Isabela and “The Giraffe”; they raised
a total of 300 grams
Currently, students are working with a basic robot called the “Robot Educator”. This three-wheeled design is built from instructions, and is for the purpose of learning basic programming skills. The students are learning to tell the robot to move forward/backward, turn around, raise and lower its front trap, and make noises. They are also finding out about loops and conditions and switches, which help make programs more sophisticated. All of this experience will be used later in the semester as the teams design, build, and program their own robot.
Seven Robot Educators, lined up and ready for action!
We had two exciting experiences recently in the high school Academy. Firstly, in the 9th/10th Grade Foundations of Engineering group, we decided to take a break from the rigours of trigonometry to see some robotics in action. Scott Gary, a Providence parent, brought in his Battle Bot–The Piecemaker!
The Piecemaker has competed in several events about fifteen years ago, including “Robot Wars” over in London. The robot enjoyed mixed success, going against such fearsome competitors as Bunny Attack, Hannibal, and Techno Trousers.
Scott pulls off the cover to show the internal workings of The Piecemaker;
Jakob and Samy have eyes on the flamethrower!
Alec and Colby watch as Scott describes the
internal wiring, which was actually less complex
than the robots we will be building next month
The Piecemaker is controlled by a regular remote-controlled aircraft setup, which sends signals to the powerful wheelchair motors at the wheels, and also to the metal cutting disc on the front. Scott showed us a worn-out disc from previous competitions; the fuzzy debris from other robots was still stuck on the blade!
Scott takes The Piecemaker outside to fully demonstrate its destructive capacities!
The students were allowed to operate the robot… be assured that the rotary cutting
disc was disconnected first!
Scott attempted to light the flamethrower, but the wind just wouldn’t cooperate…
Low-res proof of former glory: The Piecemaker (middle right) goes head-to-head
with Bunny Attack (left)
This week, the members of the 11th/12th Grade group, Advanced Engineering, took a walking field trip to the nearby Santa Barbara Forge & Iron over on Gutierrez Street. The business is owned and operated by Dan and Andy Patterson, who are newly related by marriage to our own Mr Hurt. Sadly, two of our group of six were out sick, and they were missed!
Dan met us, and began by showing a few of the projects that he currently has on the boil, and how he uses Trimble SketchUp to plan his designs after taking the initial site measurements. Tys and Sarah Jane spent much time last year learning SketchUp, and Kylie and Caleb recently had their first exposure to the CAD program. It was gratifying to see the exact same software in action at a thriving Santa Barbara business just blocks away from the school.
Dan opened the tour by showing some SketchUp projects
Dan was also able to show us around the shop, which is filled wall to wall with fascinating industrial machinery. Workers busily hammered away at iron and steel, drawing it out into custom-made features destined for various local businesses and residences.
Tys, Sarah Jane, Kylie, and Caleb look on as Dan demonstrates the various
co-ordinate axes of the drill press/lathe
This particular piece is destined for a local museum, at which we hope our students
will soon have opportunities to volunteer… more on this later!
Sometimes you just gotta hammer away on
a good old-fashioned anvil
And sometimes you use a jet of energized plasma on a computer-controlled machine;
the students gratefully finished their tour with this huge piece of equipment
Many thanks to Dan and Andy and everyone at Santa Barbara Forge & Iron for their warm reception of our students. Their creative passion, combined with hands-on skills and applied mathematics, are an inspiring example for us. Thanks again also to Scott for bringing in The Piecemaker.
Stay tuned for more projects and field trips and guest speakers! The year is just getting started.
After weeks of hard work designing, building, and programming a Mars rover, four middle school teams headed out to the gym to put it all to the test. These robots were created entirely from scratch–no instructions, no plans, just the student teams and their own wits! The goal was to create a remote-controlled robot that could collect four 3D printed “Mars rocks” as quickly as possible, using whatever means necessary.
Team 1 (Sam, Cole, Nik, and Pedro) went for an asymmetrical design, driven by two strong rubber wheels in the back. An arm with a claw lowered down on one side to scoop up the rocks, bringing them up and over to drop into a large hopper, with more than enough capacity for all four rocks.
Team 1 presents their design to the class
Team 3 (Conner, Brennan, Isaac, and Tessa) decided to maximize speed and agility above all else. They gave their robot a very simple platform on the front, with a swinging arm to contain a single rock at a time. This meant that they would have to exit and re-enter the circle each time to extract their rocks.
Team 3 shows their simple but fast design
Team 4 (David, Samy, and Belen) went for a longer model with more than enough internal capacity for four rocks. Completely unique to the competition, they designed a “paddle wheel” on the front to sweep the rocks right into the belly of the robot. This all made for more difficult turning, but an efficient collection method.
Team 4 shows the longest design in the competition
Lastly, Team 26 (Todd, Ashlynne, and Deacon) designed a big, bulky robot with both caterpillar tracks and rubber wheels. Team 26 was the only team to employ two computers onboard, to account for their large number of motors. A robot arm reached over the front of the robot to close onto the rocks, before lifting them up into the hopper behind.
Team 26 shows the class their hybrid machine
After a day of presenting and time trials, the students played it out in the gym, with parents and fellow students cheering on. Each team scored at least one victory against someone else, although by the end of the first day, it was clear that Team 3 had an obvious speed advantage. With each round of play, they perfected their technique to get faster and faster!
Mr. Meadth and the crowd look on as Team 26 positions for another run;
Team 4 paddles its way forward unhindered
Brennan and Conner from Team 3 close in on another rock; Todd and Deacon
from Team 26 try to co-ordinate their efforts
Samy from Team 4 takes a turn at the controls while David
and Belen look on
On the second day of competition, the students knew it was time for the eliminations. Team 26 and Team 4 had given the shakiest performances up to this point, although both had won a victory against each other. Fighting for the best of three saw a victory in 1:03 for Team 4, then a victory in 1:15 for Team 26. With scores tied, Team 4 pushed through in their fastest performance yet, with an astounding 0:54. Team 26 eliminated!
Samy, holding three, anxiously waits for the fourth rock to
be collected by David
Ashlynne, having positioned Team 26’s robot, looks on as Deacon steers it
toward the goal
In the next elimination round, the bulkier Team 1 faced off against the more agile Team 3. In a quick series of best of three, Team 3 established dominance, putting their fastest time on the board of four rocks in 0:30. Team 1 put in a valiant effort, but could not keep up and was eliminated.
Team 1 scoops up their second rock in the elimination round
Conner from Team 3 positions the robot as Brennan gets ready to make a run for
the pink rock
The very long Team 4 and the very quick Team 3 went through to the final round, for another best of three. Tensions were high, and Team 4 started off strong. Team 3 went straight into their typical repertoire: run in, grab, get out, repeat. Like a well-oiled machine, Team 3 took home a victory in 0:50. In the second of three, Team 4 came close to victory, but Team 3 once again won with 1:12–notabley, not as fast as Team 4’s best time. However, a third round showed that, without a doubt, Team 3 deserved the grand prize!
Team 4 (left) and Team 3 fly into action in the final round
Already holding two, Team 4 (left) narrowly misses their next red rock, while
Team 3 closes in on the teal one
The winning students were awarded with gift cards and one of the rocks they had fought so hard to collect. Smiles all round, and we’ll see what the Final Challenge had to hold in store next year!
Mr. Meadth congratulates Tessa, Conner, Brennan, and Isaac for a job well done
All the students with their robots at the end of the tournament
Providence School launched its Engineering Academy this school year, and it has proved to be a great success. Overseen by Mr. Rodney Meadth, this four-year high school program gives participants a broad experience in the various fields of engineering, with an emphasis on practical service and project-based learning.
In carrying out assignments with real-world applications, students designed an orphanage for partners in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, taught a science lesson to younger students, and produced custom-designed 3D-printed educational items requested by the school’s teachers. Examples of these include geometry volume demonstrations, chemistry molecular models, pyramids and ziggurats for elementary social studies, and even the Academy’s own promotional USB drives. They also connected with professionals in the Santa Barbara area, including Moog Space and Defense Group, Praevium Research, and architect Jeff Shelton.
The science lesson taught to the 4th Grade earlier this year; the catapult will feature again in a hands-on activity at the Science and Engineering Expo!
Engineering Academy students are acting as mentors for Providence’s first Middle School Science and Engineering Expo. The Expo showcases a variety of hands-on demonstrations and exhibits, all relating to a theme of space exploration. Aimed at families with upper-elementary aged children and older, guests can interactively explore robotics, chemistry, navigation, interplanetary science, and more.
The Providence Science and Engineering Expo will be held at the schoolâ€™s Upper Campus on 630 Canon Perdido Street on May 3, from 4:30 pm to 6:30 pm. Entry is free, refreshments will be served, and families with children are encouraged to attend.
Middle school students explore the theme of space exploration, coming up with a conceptual design for a Mars habitat
“I’m excited to show people what we’re doing with STEM here at Providence, because it’s something unique,” says Meadth, who is co-leading the Expo with the middle school science teacher, Nate Alker. “We have a strong engineering and science experience, from a Christian perspective, in the context of the liberal arts. This means that our students understand not only the ‘how’ of science, but also the â€˜why’.”
The Providence Engineering Academy is currently accepting applications for next year at all high school grade levels (9-12). Those interested should contact Rodney Meadth at email@example.com. Browse this blog site to read more stories of projects undertaken and grants awarded and to download a copy of the application packet.
Much of the funding for our high school Academy comes in the form of grants, generously donated from a wide range of community sources. Our middle school elective is no different. The 7th and 8th Grade students explore a diverse range of engineering topicsâ€”structures, gear ratios, sensor technology, and coding to name a fewâ€”and they need technology to do it! Our middle school classroom is well stocked with laptops and LEGO Mindstorms EV3 sets to help them accomplish this.
This semester, the middle school elective is pursuing a space exploration theme (this ties in with our Science and Engineering Expo on the 3rd of May, here at the Upper Campus). In keeping with this theme, the students are learning about navigation; specifically, how do you write algorithms that can guide a robot to a particular destination? How do unmanned spacecraft and planetary exploration robots find their way?
For this navigation unit, we needed to supplement our existing EV3 robots with extra add-ons. We decided to invest in infrared sensors, which are paired with small beacons (both pictured). The beacons either act as a hand-held remote control for the robot, or they can broadcast a signal for the robot can home in on. Both modes involve careful crafting of navigation algorithms that make decisions based on sensory input.
The simple Robot Educator, shown with the infrared sensor attached (the
red/black shape mounted in its center) and two infrared beacons
Mr. Meadth is a member of the AIAA (American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics), and so was able to apply for an AIAA Foundation Classroom Grant to purchase these needed resources. Twenty different schools were selected for this grant of $250, which is aimed at teachers doing hands-on STEM activities that relate to aviation or aerospace, and we are glad to announce that Providence was one of them. We now have enough sensors and beacons for an entire classâ€”thank you to the AIAA Foundation!
Left to right: Ashlynne, Brennan, and Todd
show the robots, all with IR sensors attached
The middle school students will continue to learn the finer points of using these and other sensors for the rest of the semester. Their final project will be to design and construct their own version of a Mars rover, which will compete in an open-invitation event in early June. We’ll keep you posted on this exciting long-term project!
Don’t forget to follow this blog to get all the latest on the middle school and high school engineering activities, and please send your questions and comments to Rod Meadth at firstname.lastname@example.org.