WELCOME TO THE BRICKINEERS!
2017 SPRING CLASSES AND CAMPS
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At Brickineers, students engage in educational STEAM-based (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) learning programs using scalable VEX IQ Robotics technology! Our hands-on, authentic learning approach allows students to exercise their analytical and problem-solving skills while working in an atmosphere of creativity, friendly competition and teamwork. There is ample time during the week-long camp for students to explore and learn how to use the resources required to create and program complex systems. At the end of the camp, the students will showcase their engineering skills by pacing their robots through challenges on the official VEX competitions table. Daily activities will include Computer-Aided Drafting, Robotic Design and Construction techniques, Programming and Practical Challenges. Students will be encouraged to relate what we do in the camp to real-world applications and discover why knowledge of robotics fits in with their futures. But we don’t forget the fun aspect of learning! Robot Battles and fun projects such as ball launchers break up the routine and take the place of recess. It is predicted to be a very cold winter, so we may as well have fun indoors!
2017 Winter Classes and Spring Break Camps
Puzzle-Bots: Critical Thinking with Lego Robotics, class registration now active! Link
The plan is for a Lego Robotics beginner‘s class for 5.5 and 6 year olds only. It is not fair to lump these youngsters with older children as some require extra time due to their inexperience. My intention was to no longer teach these youngsters as my son has grown older, however, there is sufficient interest for me to continue. Gifted children can be recognized as early as 5 and there is little for them to do as far as formal classes go. Last year I had a gifted 5 year old teach 7 year olds in one class, and it struck me that there are no venues for such brilliant children. There are also 5 year olds that have the capacity but not the opportunity to learn, and I also enjoy working with them and sharing the joy of discovery. I will thus continue these classes for early learners this year. I encourage parents to join us during the builds, but their attendance is not mandatory – and some children wish to work alone. (If sufficient numbers are not achieved this class will be canceled.)
A new experimental class “Puzzle-Bots”, is now scheduled for my repeat Lego Robotics & Scratch students, however, new students in Grades 2 and up will also be eligible to join us with the understanding that it will be challenging.
Many of you know my son Michael who helps or participates in the classes. After discussing his progress with teachers and an educational psychologist, I have concluded that I need to start teaching reasoning skills in classes and camps ASAP. So far we have been engaged in building, (which is fun), learning about gears, (which is fun), and simple programming. All this is typical and in tune with the current buzz word STEAM. However, I find that very few of the kids that come to my classes are typical – most are very talented and can do more than just “STEAM ahead”. They need help with reasoning and thinking skills. I have already secretly embarked on ways to achieve the goal of teaching reasoning with Robotics during my last two sets of classes.
Last spring I asked children to modify their builds and choose different gears or places to attach motors, to improve a robot or make it different, and see if they could reason why their idea worked – or did not work. The kids were very warm to the idea of free build time that is actually restricted in a sense, as they had to modify a prebuilt model. They enjoyed tinkering and tried to outdo each other with innovative ideas.
In the series of classes this past fall, I created complex machine builds based on the designs of a Mechanical Engineer, and there were errors in the instructions, such as having a piston too short, which forced the kids to reason why the machine did not work and how to fix it.
Currently I am developing lessons, using these techniques, that I hope will help kids learn critical thinking while building and modifying Lego machines and robots. I am asking an educational Psychologist to help me. This is something that has to happen because I am not impressed with the standard robotic curriculum as it has not helped my son to learn how to reason – whatsoever !!! I know he is only 7 (almost 8), but interestingly that is the age that most good chess players learn to play chess. So using anecdotal evidence I would say that I can start teaching reasoning skills to 7 year olds, and older, and I will try this in February.
I will present new lessons in Sunday afternoon classes again at BRCA, and I hope you will join me. I will have a short 4 or 5 class schedule starting February 5th where we will see if reasoning can be taught during a robotics class. As per last class, parents are welcome to help. What happens after this depends on our success. I am also open to any ideas.
VEX classes are not planned until break time. After my last VEX class I have concluded that one or two hour classes with beginners are not that fruitful. Half the last class does well, the other half needs much more time. This bimodal distribution is classic and is present in all beginning technology classes in colleges. My experience confirms that children should immerse themselves in a week long robotics camp first, before tackling short classes. I would like to build a cohort of children that can continue taking weekend classes once the preliminary learning has been completed during the camps. My view is that foundational learning always takes longer and should be continuous. Once foundations of knowledge and experience are set, intermittent learning in the guise of weekend classes makes much more sense. So those who are waiting for advanced weekend classes, please wait until fall. I do not intend on having beginner weekend classes for VEX robotics and RobotC again, but I will have beginner and advanced camps.
All classes will be at the Bridgeland Riverside Community Association Hall (BRCA), 917 Centre Ave NE. Calgary, AB T2E 0C6.
Thank you for your interest and please use the contact form for any questions!
Still don’t think robots will replace workers? Sweating Robot Robotic Revolution
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Description of Weekend Classes
Lifelong learning: fun to learn, fun for life.
Preschool, Grades 1, 2 & 3. Junior Brickineers We will build and program robots using Lego bricks, gears, sensors and motors. We will then use the Lego WeDo drop down visual programming environments to make them move, react and make sounds. Learn and apply programming concepts and improve all the various skills necessary for building and modifying robots. Please keep in mind that over simplification of physics concepts can result in lifelong difficulties in understanding them in the future. Junior classes are experiential and do not rely nor promote formulas that rely on over simplification.
Grades 4 to 7. Senior Brickineers: Build, program and modify more complex Lego robots and machines and use Scratch, the programming language from MIT, to control them.
Grades 4 to 8. Robot Engineer 1 and Robot Engineer 2: Learn more complex principles of Robots and programming using VEX IQ Robot Superkits. The programming concepts are directly transferable to Mindstorms, so anyone with a NXT or EV3 can join the camp! Develop confidence in analyzing and solving problems, then implementing solutions using RobotC graphical and natural language programming. Please navigate the main menu to read and select the class or camp for your child.
Read a recent article about Robotics Education: Stop educating students for jobs that won’t exist.
Google Robots and the End of Manual Labour Boston Dynamics
This is the year of “Robot Replace Human” in China, which is trying to overcome the rest of the world in robotic automation by 2017. Shown is the California plant of Tesla where a production line uses 542 robots to make cars.
The sleek six-axis Universal Robots UR5 boasts a one-hour setup time right out the box and can be trained on a new job in about 30 minutes. The result is a system flexible and robust enough to fulfill the short-run requirements of most small and medium-sized manufacturers. (Universal Robots)
“After just a few hours of training and configuration, the RSS’ UR5 was up and running on its first simple project: feeding materials to a tube bender. With manual labor, this was a three-day job. The robot completed it in four hours.” From Industryweek.com. Does anyone think that unemployment for unskilled and semi-skilled labour is going to go down?
Baxter the robot worker. It is slow, to prevent injury, because it works next to humans.
Programming Insights in a VEX Robotics Summer Camp.
Two Brickineers won first and third prize at the Lego Competition on February 6th. Brickineers also showed off a ‘motorized and computerized’ DC SuperHero Jokerland Lego build: Jokerland
Background on the new class format.
Brickineers classes are now organized along grades and will incorporate new research based ideas on learning.
Carnegie Mellon (CMU), the University of Pittsburgh’s Learning Research and Development Center (LRDC), conducted a two year study in middle school (grades 6, 7 and 8), during which they found that most teachers across hundreds of schools miss the “key STEM teaching moments that a robotics project places into a real-world context”. The researchers found that: “Students are haphazard in their design process and mathematics is avoided, and guess-and-check strategies lead to weak solutions and poor learning.”
The researchers advise that focus be placed on a narrower set of mathematical principles to teach fractions, ratios and proportions, and that engineering design methods should be used. These mathematical principles are foundational, however, they are difficult to learn and many students do not understand them even in high school and university. According to the research: “Robot math demonstrates specific mathematical principles in a focused-applied setting. Students apply ratio, proportion, conversion of units, and measurement when they program their robots; the robot math context is much different than what is being taught in the mathematics classroom and assessed”.
My thoughts about “guess-and check” strategies are that they are very important in education and engineering, if the “guess” is based on problem solving experience, or on logical reasoning. Children by middle school years would be better prepared for the future if engineering problem solving strategies were taught earlier in their education. For example, a teaching moment occurs when a guess-and-check strategy bears fruit, and the student is asked to explain why it worked, and why the other strategies did not work. The formation of a guess-and check strategy is central to the scientific method and subsequent reflection is extremely important in learning, not only during the school years, but for lifelong learning. Schools for the most part, do not test reflection or problem solving strategies that students create for their own style of learning. Tests are focused on memory and standardized problem solving strategies. I think that robotics is a subject that can enhance the kinds of learning that schools avoid, as teachers are forced to reach strict minimal objectives handed down by school boards and governments, and work in classes that have far too many students of differing abilities.
In my experience in Brickineers classes, children in grades 1 to 6 cannot be expected to solve robot math problems using fractions, ratios and proportions because the Alberta math curriculum does not begin proper coverage of these topics until grade 6. Robot math problems, however, can be presented graphically in different ways, and the children can experience ratios by observing and feeling the ‘strength’ and speed of rotation of motors, gears and robotic appendages. The focus for children in grades 1 to 3 in Brickineers courses is to begin the process of reflection based on play, while learning to build and program robots. They will be asked to explain their reasoning using prompts and descriptions of how the robots work. Logical thinking is supported by exposure to programming and control of the robots as well as by their design.
Children in grades 4 to 7 will continue to learn the value of reflection, and will be able to visualize the ideas of of ratios and proportions based on geometric relationships. They will be asked to write their reflections in organized fashion using tables, figures and charts. They will prove they understand programming concepts by writing down program steps, pseudocode or flowcharts, and by using variables in programs and equations. More complex robotic builds will be offered, and new designs or design modifications encouraged, based on logical “guess and check” strategies. The concept of logical and arithmetic algorithms will be introduced with more complex programming based on MIT’s Scratch programming environment.
Children are all not the same, and it is difficult to use age as an indicator for classification, which is why grade equivalent knowledge is suggested as a guide. It is advised that children with grade 1 to 3 knowledge be registered in Junior Brickineers classes, and children with grade 4 to 6 knowledge register in Senior Brickineers classes. Robot Engineer classes are open from grades 2 to 7. Please refer to the Alberta Curriculum guidelines: http://www.learnalberta.ca/content/mychildslearning/grade2.html for more information on what the standards are for Alberta.
Parents should bear in mind that children in grades 1, 2 and 3 enrolled in Lego or VEX robotics classes, will be involved in experiential learning which is difficult to test, explain or demonstrate. Parents should not put undue pressure to provide measurable results, but they should be comfortable with the idea that experiential learning has taken place on many levels, which standardized testing would not show. Children in these grades do not have the arithmetic knowledge to solve robotic problems or the communication skills necessary to explain what they did in detail. The children can, however, begin to feel at least on a visceral level, if unable to understand on an intellectual level, as to how things work and why arithmetic knowledge and communication skills are important for their future.
New video on visualization and the VEX IQ!
Click to see the movie about Visualization and the VEX IQ!
As Lead Brickineer (and an engineer), Wolly Barabash brings two decades of instructional experience in electronics, computer and robotics engineering at the college level, and a decade of high technology work experience into the classroom. He believes that “strong trees require rich soil” – a metaphor for: “meaningful activities and a rich environment help children grow intellectually strong”. The Lego and VEX Education curriculums, with freedom to modify, is well suited for fertile imagination and unbounded creativity.
After enrolling his own son in various classes and camps around Calgary, Wolly decided that they were not meeting the family’s educational goals. He has embarked on this Brickineers journey to provide high quality experiential learning for his son Michael, and to extend the experience to other children in the community. Michael is in Grade 1 now, has completed many of the builds, and attends most of the classes as an assistant helping other children build and program the robots. Sometimes Michael changes roles and builds the robots along with the class as a participant. Brickineers is very much a family effort, and we invite other families to join and help improve the learning experience with suggestions and advice.
For any questions please use the contact form below or call 587-966-5346 (LEGO).
Thank you for your interest and support!
We look forward to building with you soon!
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