Battle Bots!

Are you looking for an easy way to fire up your student’s imaginations and give them a real-life design experience?  Battle Bots is the perfect way to do both!

If you’ve never seen the TV show Battle Bots, do yourself a favor and check out some of the highlights:

What could be more fun?  Robots, sparks, danger all are sure to grab kids attention right? I knew my students would love a similar experience.  So last year I decided to have my student’s experience their very own version of Battle Bots.  I decided it would be best to start with some tools they were familiar with and build on their experience.  We used Spheros as our ‘motor’ and used the Sphero app to control them.  The frame that surrounds the Sphero is called a Sphero Chariot.  A handful of Legos, balloon and a bamboo skewer were all the additional bits they needed to make their Battle Bot.  I made this fun video to get them fired up:

Once the stage was set, I laid out the very basic rules.  Each team received a Sphero, a Sphero Chariot, a balloon, a bamboo skewer and as many Legos as they wanted.  The key item here was the time.  They only had ten minutes to design and build their bot.

Then we set the timer and our engineers went to work!

We battled in two rounds and had the winners battle it off in the final round.  You can see just how excited the kids were in the first round:

We continued the tradition and had our students battle it out again this year.  We even invited their teacher to participate!

The biggest take away from this experience was that the kids loved it.  Their enthusiasm was contagious!  They cheered on their classmates just as enthusiastically as they did their own and begged me to have rematch after rematch.  I think that having the kids use the same materials and giving them very little time to design amplified the experience. It also helped them believe that it was fair. They observed one another’s designs carefully and reconfigured for round two.

Once students have had this basic experience, the challenge level could be upped in several ways.  They could build their own chariot.  Students could try using different robotic platforms.  In our IDEA Lab, we have Wonder Workshop’s Dash and Dot.  Dash, like the Sphero chariot, has Lego connectors that allow designers to build an infinite number of designs.  I didn’t allow kids to use tape in our initial experience, this challenged them to use the Lego bricks to attach their balloon and skewer.

Before branching out to other materials, it would be helpful to have the kids set ‘ground rules.’  These videos are a bit over the top, but they would be great to get kids thinking about designs and how to ‘win.’

There are lots of fantastic examples of other educators doing great things with Sphero Battle Bots:

Spheros are waterproof.  Have your students design an amphibious battle bot.  Borrow a children’s pool and you have a whole new level of awesomeness!

Have you tried Battle Bots?  Share your experience in the comments.  I hope this encourages you and your kids to battle it out.  Start small.  Have fun!

Game of Drones

Screen Shot 2016-07-28 at 5.33.49 PMDrones.  What do you think of when you hear the word drone?  Do you think of Amazon dropping packages at your door, or maybe something a bit more nefarious?  I guess because I’m a tech geek, I think of how I can integrate curriculum with these zippy little devices.  Earlier this week I attended a workshop entitled Game of Drones at Quest Academy in Palatine, IL. Daniel Rezac, Director of Academic Technology at Quest was our host.  Greg Novosad, the owner of Go Drone X Extreme Drone Sports, was our expert guide.

As in all other forms of technology, the drone revolution is toward smaller, lighter and cheaper.  Greg showed us the state of the art drone from last year and this year.  It was amazing how much smaller, safer and lighter the current model was.  It was these models that we began to explore.  IMG_2601

Last year’s model; note the props which can easily take off a finger.


This year’s model.  Notice the size of the quadcopter on the left.  Each prop has a protective guard to protect fingers, etc.

We each took turns getting our bearings with these tiny little quadcopters.  We kept them low to the ground and practiced basic movements.


In this image, you can see part of the course that was laid out for us in the gym at Quest Academy and if you look close you can see the tiny drone I was flying.

The ‘game changer’ in my opinion was when Greg shared the First Person View Virtual Reality headset.  We each took a turn flying the drones with these headsets on.


The VR Headset showing my hand reaching for the quadcopter.

IMG_2660Me wearing the headset and trying very hard to fly my drone!

I found it very difficult to fly with the goggles.  I kept turning my head and hoping that it would react to my movements.  Unfortunately, the goggles only show you what the drone is seeing.  The weirdest thing was when I flew the drone across the gym and turned it back towards me.  I was seeing myself in the goggles.  Quite disorienting.


The view ‘inside’ the goggles!

Besides just having fun, we also brainstormed how we could integrate drones into our programs.  There was a lot of support around developing a club in our districts and then hosting various ‘events’ in our gyms throughout the winter months.  I was the only elementary representative and I know my kids could handle this type of thing.  I hope to be able to get some students interested and start meeting after school to hone our skills.

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I did some exploring of resources and found out that a brand new book entitled Drones in Education: Let Your Students’ Imaginations Soar has just come out.  For me, the most exciting thing about the book is that it is geared toward K-12.  Most resources around drones are geared toward older students.

I’m an early adopter of many drone platforms.  I presently have in my lab at least five different drone models from four different makers.  I’m most excited about a model that will be introduced to my students this fall, the Parrot Mini Drones.

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Parrot has partnered with Tynker to get teachers and kids excited about drones in the classroom.  Click HERE to try to win a Parrot Mini Cargo Drone for your classroom!

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Tynker works very much like Scratch and other programming tools like Tickle or Lightning Lab for Sphero or Ollie.

Parrot and Tynker developed some lessons to get kids coding and to take advantage of the natural curiosity and enthusiasm around drones.  Here a few highlights from the lesson:

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The whole lesson can be found here.

What makes these drones so accessible in my opinion is that you control them with an iPad.  Of course, they have ‘free flight’ modes where you basically move them about with the iPad being the remote control.  But the place where the real magic happens is when you add in a programming language like Tynker or Tickle.  This is where you can build step by step programs and then send the drones on missions.  To me, this is one of the most exciting ways to get kids thinking and exploring coding.  I can’t wait to get the Parrot Cargo Drones flying in our library.

I have collected a multitude of resources beyond what I’ve shared here.  You can access them on the Google Doc HERE.  If you have other resources I should add to the list, please send me an email with details!