Our goal for WMSI Mobile STEM Lab is to excite kids about creative problem solving through STEM curriculum. As a new program, however, we weren't sure exactly how kids would react to our sessions. Would they be exhausted after a full day of school? Ready to go home?
Our fears were unfounded. I pulled up to Mrs. Corrigan's STEM Lab at Gorham High School at 2:50PM and was promptly greeted by 6th graders waiting to carry the gadgets for our session inside. They excitedly greeted me by name and asked the most important question of the day: "what are we building this time??"
We started our session with the usual question. "What creative things have you designed this week?" Ten hands shot up. Our STEM Explorer kids are into tinkering. I told them about the challenge for the day (building a robot that moves without wheels). They were stoked. I then told them about something to consider: "how do we make sure our robot leg thingies grip the floor enough to move?" FRICTION! How do we increase friction? This can be answered with a simple equation:
Friction = (stickiness of foot thingy on floor) x (weight of the object)
I asked the class what designs they could use to increase friction.
"heavy as a dinosaur!"
"put the robot on carpet!"
Physics was relevant over the next hour and a half as STEM explorers dove into the design with smiles. We started with a partner brainstorm session. Students drew out their proposed designs, followed by grabbing the LEGO pieces necessary to build their creature.
I loved these STEM Explorers' approach to the engineering design challenge. Pairs of students found the simplest way to achieve the build first; then they found flaws with that build; finally, they changed the design to solve those problems.
Several groups of students had good movement designs but their builds wouldn't move forward because they lacked the necessary friction. We dusted off the friction equation. Students used a mix of "adding mass" techniques as well as rubber LEGO pieces to increase friction. Some even decreased the friction of the EV3 controller their motors were pulling! (above). Robots began to move, dance, and jump across the floor! Thanks, physics!
Of course, with any science or engineering task, not all great ideas immediately work. One group (below) had an innovative four-legged creature built and programmed, a challenge considering the fact that each leg had a motor to be coded to work in synchronized movement; however, their build did not have enough support and quickly fell apart. For their hard work, they won the Penguin Award - a 3D printed penguin that symbolizes daring ideas. When penguins are on an ice sheet and need to get back in the water, one brave penguin needs to enter the water first to make sure their are no seals stalking below. The two daring penguins braved the cold water of new ideas and will have that design figured out soon!
Of course, it wouldn't be a WMSI STEM Lab without our Youth Leaders adding amazing teaching support as well as some cool designs of their own! (below).
We finished the session with an all out robot dance party! A couple students even added some dance moves of their own.
Still glowing from with the pride of a build well done, I told the STEM Explorers about our next session: "Robots that use sensors to make music."