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About

Damien works with students and teacher from around the world, bringing the effective use of technology to the classroom.  

LEGO MINDSTORMS
Damien is a member of the MCP (Mindstorms Community Program), a small group of experts who collaborate with LEGO to make the MINDSTORM product better.

VEX IQ Robotics
Damien is a member of the VEX IQ Super User group, a small group of experts who collaborate with VEX to make the VEX IQ platform a better product 

 

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See where the DomaBot and RileyRover is being used around the world

Sunday
Oct092011

NXT Building Instructions

Over at www.theNXTstep.com we've been putting together a list of great robot designs that also have Building Instructions.

While the're not all going to be fantastic in a classroom situation, they might provide a good starting point or some inspiration for others.

Just click on the 'Building Instructions' at the top of the page.

If you know of any other good models/designs that have instructions, please let me know!

Tuesday
Sep272011

RoboCup Junior - Australian Championships

Over the weekend I had the great privillage to be a part of the 2011 RoboCup Junior, Australian Championships.  Each year we hold the National competition in a different part of Australia, and this year it was in Hobart for the very first time.

The venue at UTAS was fantastic and the local organisers did an absolutely amazing job of the whole weekend.  In total over 160 teams and over 400 students competed in the 3 different divisions; Dance, Rescue and Soccer.

I spent the majority of time in the rescue sections and with 45+ teams in Rescue and 35+ teams in Premier Rescue we certainly had our work cut out for us.  As usual I got more caught up with the comp rather than taking photos so here are just a few.

 I did however set up a small webcam and take a time lapse over the 2 days.  Below are a couple of videos from the weekend.

 

 

Rob Torok took a lot more photos and has done some excellent timelapse of the main venue, it is well worth checking out his page - http://robtorok.blogspot.com/2011/09/robocup-junior-australian-open-2011.html

On a sadder note, it was at this competition that I stepped down as Chairman of RoboCup Junior Australia after 3 years (who wuld have thought having a child would eat into your spare time?!).  I'm still staying very involved, just not in the top job :)

 

Friday
Sep162011

Sneaky Kids :)

One of my standard activities I run when I go to schools is 'Rescue Penelope the Polar Bear'.  We set a scenario where an earthquake has occurred at the zoo, buildings have fallen down (black cases) and lions and tigers and bears (oh my) are roaming the zoo grounds.  Poor Penelope is injured, but it is too dangerous to send a zoo keeper as they might be mistaken for the lions lunch.

Penelope in the lower left, robot starting position in the upper rightSo I notice a few kids start ducking into the next room with their robots.  'Right!' I think to myself, 'They should be in here working not stuffing around!'.  So I wander next door to spring them red handed when I find this.

Kid's mockupThey had done a mockup of my setup as they were so keen they didn't want to wait in line to do their testing :)  

I love the ingenuity of kids! 

Friday
Aug262011

The week that was - Scratch

Another travelling week for me this week.  Headed up north on Monday, for workshops Tue/Wed/Thu and then back late Thursday night.

This time, rather than the usual Robotics workshops, we were mixing in some Scratch workshops.  Grade's 5 and 6 both got Scratch workshops, with the 6's also getting robotics.  The Scratch lessons were broken into 4 sessions over 2 days with 100 kids in total, quite a busy few days.

Scratch

The more I use Scratch, the more I'm enjoying it.  It is so flexible (which also makes it hard to describe).  It was the first time I had run Scratch workshops with so many kids at once (31 in one class), so there was a lot of learning/improvising on my behalf along the way.

We were very lucky have a room with enough laptops for groups of two.  This worked extremely well, and I'll be interested to see how a similar workshop would go with groups of three.  Anyone have any experience?

The focus of the workshops was digital storytelling, so even though we touched on some of the interactive abilities of scratch, we stayed close to the 'motion' and 'looks' blocks.

So, how did I run it?

I started off with all the kids down in front of the projector with scratch open.  I wanted to quickly go through some of the terminology so kids would be familiar with what I was talking about.  We then broke into groups and moved to the computers.  

I used Chris Betcher's excellent starter activity to draw squares, followed by triangles.

http://chrisbetcher.com/2010/10/teaching-kids-to-think-using-scratch/

I added to it implementing the 'a' key to do an 'Awesome' shape, in this case a star by varying the number of repeats as well as the angle of turn.

Scratch Cards and sign-off sheetAfter that it was on to the scratch cards.  I gave the Grade 6's cards 1-9 and the Grade 5's, 1-4.  I also asked them to make a modification to each card, to see if they understood it rather than just copying.

This was moderately successful, as they were all able to easily replicate the code on each card, but I'm still not sure how much they actually understood.

 

 

 

 

The major project, taking up half the workshop time (workshops were 2.5hrs total), was to develop a digital story.  I was more than happy for students to choose their own, as I was keen just to get the skills across.  Once they go back to class, they then have more time to integrate it in with their current studies.

For the Grade 6's we talked about the 'Broadcast' block, and how this was our secret, behind the scenes, messages that each sprite could use to tell the other sprites when to talk.

For the Grade 5's we stuck to the 'wait' blocks and just hard coded times into all the conversations.

This seemed to work well, and slowly over the course of the workshop, I introduced some tips and tricks to enhance their stories.

  • Glide block, to have the characters move around
  • Changing backgrounds to achieve scene changes
  • Changing sprite costumes to show when something about the character had changed (eg, putting on a hat)
  • Show / Hide blocks to make characters appear/disappear during their story

 

Overall both the teachers and kids were extremely happy.  I loved the Scratch cards as they gave all the kids something to do and something to aim towards (completing all the cards) which made supervision much easier.  I'm already looking at ways of incorporating this as a full time workshop that I offer.  In such a short time however, I was not able to get into much of the interactive capability, so I think a follow-up workshop would go down well with teachers.

  • Intro to Scratch - Digital Storytelling
  • Beyond the Basics - Create your own games

After talking informally with the kids, it seems the majority preferred the Scratch over the Robotics :)

Saturday
Aug202011

Domabot - Classroom Robot Design

This is a great robot to use in class. It is quick to build, and plenty of places to add attachments.

You can download the complete colour pdf (including additional attachments) - Here

 

Click to read more ...

Friday
Aug192011

New Blog layout

Yes I know it's been through a few iterations, but I'm now happy with the system I've got.  I'll be update far more often, with more emphasis on Technology in the classroom.

Sunday
Aug142011

BeeBot Activities

This was my first time using BeeBots with kids (as opposed to teachers) and with 22 kids, it was pretty noisy/chaotic/fun/exciting.

Make your robot drive out, turn around and come back

First real program ont he BeeBot - Forward, Forward, Turn, Turn, Forward, Forward.  Either a left orright turn is fine, and it was fun getting the kids to think about thier left and right hands.  It's also great to watch those kids that goforward, turn around and then go backwards, thinking it's the way to go 'BACK' to the start when in fact that once turned around, your robot needs to go forward.

Random Dice game

  • Roll a 1: Go forward
  • Roll a 2: Go Backward
  • Roll a 3: Turn Left
  • Roll a 4: Turn Right
  • Roll a 5: Hold your ear with your opposite hand
  • Roll a 6: Stand on 1 leg

Shape / Letter Map

Drive your robot spelling out the first two letters of your BeeBot's name.  Drive from one random shape to another.  I got these mats from Modern Teaching aids - www.teaching.com.au

 

How Wide / How Tall

One group member lies down with outstretched arms. Other members mark the fingertip locations (we used chalk) How many BeeBot rulers (15cm pieces of paper) does it take to travel from one fingertip to another? Measure first and test with the BeeBot. Do exactly the same thing to determine the persons height. (It should be the same as their armspan)

We quickly made up a heap of BeeBot' rulers.  Each 15cm long.  An A4 sheet of paper, cut in quarters and foldered up was perfect.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Map Making

Every group was given 4 BeeBot rulers and told to make a maze. Using chalk, we copied that maze to the concrete. With 8 mazes in a large circle, each group rotated clockwise to solve another groups maze. Rinse, Repeat

 Possible tracks based on 4 BeeBot rulers.

 

Friday
Aug122011

The week that was - Central QLD

Something a little different for me this week. The QLD government recognizes the difficulty remote school encounter, providing the activities that are readily available to their city schools counterparts. As a result, they have funds and grants available to bring activities like mine out to them. This last week I have spent out at a school, a 2hr plane flight and 5hr drive from my usual area.

It was the largest school in the area with an enrollment of 35, and we had other schools in the cluster drive in (1.5hrs each way in some cases) to do do the workshop. We were keen to involve the whole school, preps to grade 7, so it was decided that we would split the groups in to P-3 and 4-7.

Now the P-3's would struggle with the NXT's so I splashed out and got some BeeBots.

 

These cute little robots just have Forward, Backwards, Left and Right buttons on them and no computer interface, perfect for the littlies. I'll make a separate post about the BeeBot activities we did.

For the upper schools we concentrated on the NXT's and my usual workshop of getting the robots to maneuver to different locations. The kids also really enjoyed the Mexican Wave activity.

It was a great week, and the small numbers in each session made it possible to spend a bit more time with the kids and get a little further. The teachers were also fantastic, with country hospitality evident everywhere (it seems everyone in the town knew me and what I was doing there :D ). They were also very appreciative of the fact that I came out at all, as I get the feeling that it can sometimes be difficult to get people and activities out there.

Tuesday
Jan042011

NXT Crane Hybrid

Here is my version of a NXT-Crane Hybrid. Using the LEGO NXT Mindstorms system and the #8292 cherry picker.

 + 
 

Click the link for lots more photos and information

Click to read more ...

Wednesday
Nov172010

How to build a hexapod robot

This was a video I put together to show how a simple leg mechanism can be built with LEGO parts. Six of these legs combined then give a very basic hexapod robot.

In the video, I have 1 motor that turns both sides, but it would be possible to have separate motors to enable the robot to turn around as well. You just need to be careful and make sure each side is properly aligned. The photos below show how the rotational movement of a gear can be transformed into the 'walking' movement of a leg. Notice the motion of the foot (orange L piece) as the black gear turns around in an anti-clockwise direction.

Click to read more ...