Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Registration is Open!

Due to the high interest in this program (over 35 kids/parents signed up just to receive more information), and the relatively low number of kids we can actually handle for this program (NO MORE than 16, and that's pushing it), we have to have kids register to attend. Personally, I'm not a huge fan of registration as a rule, but in this instance, it's a necessary evil.

Here is the e-mail we sent to families who registered interest:

Thank you so much for your interest in the (Blank) Library LEGO Robotics Club! You’re receiving this e-mail because someone in your family signed up for more information. Below are the details of the club, as well as information as to how to sign up!

What: The (Blank) LEGO Robotics Club is an opportunity for children ages 7-14 to learn about robotics, and begin to build a foundation of STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art/Design, and Math) concepts that will benefit them both now and in the future. Oh, and it’s going to be fun!

Children will be building and programming robots using the LEGO WeDo and Mindstorms EV3 sets – inventing and innovating, completing challenges, and competing against themselves and others. They will be led by a team of volunteers from (Local) University, the University of (Local), (Local) Air Force Base, and others, with backgrounds in Computer Science, Math, and Mechanical and Computer Engineering. The club will be kept small, and each child will have the opportunity to get “hands-on” each week with both the LEGOs and the computers.

As the club progresses, there will be opportunities for children to explore other avenues of STEAM as their interests lead them. We already have commitments from community members and other volunteers to teach workshops and programs in computer programming, structural engineering, and structural design.

When: The (Blank) LEGO Robotics Club will meet every Monday at the ... Community Library. It will run from 4:30pm – 6:00pm. The Club will meet in October and November, break in December, and then start again in January.

The Details: The (Blank) LEGO Robotics Club will be based on a progressive-skills approach. This means that what children learn one week will be used in each consecutive week. What this means is that children need to attend as many Club meetings as possible – if they do not attend for a while, they will be very lost when they come back!

How to Sign Up: There is very limited space for this program. The only way to register is to respond back to this e-mail, or to call the library at (blank). Please include the name and age of each child you would like to register. After all of the spaces are filled, we will begin a wait-list for the program. Due to the progressive skills necessary for the program, if your child misses more than two meetings in a row, they may be removed from the club, and their spot offered to the next person on the waiting list. This is not done to punish anyone, but to ensure that the children attending the program are able to participate fully each time they attend.

Due to the overwhelming interest, this program will not be advertised outside of the (Blank) Community Library. Therefore, if you know of someone who may be interested in the program, please feel free to pass this e-mail along to them.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to e-mail or call at any time! We look forward to working with you and your children on this new, exciting adventure!


We're extremely excited to get started with the program, and our patrons are as well. Registration opened as I pressed "send on this e-mail," and within 5 minutes, we had 8 of the 16 spots filled. I think there is community interest!

I've been working on some cool Mindstorms EV3 projects to show off at our local university to hopefully drum up volunteers. I'll post some more about them soon! Thank you all for your support so far. As always, I'd love to hear your ideas, suggestions, comments, and whatever else!

Saturday, August 17, 2013

I'm still here!

Just a quick post to say I haven't forgotten about the blog! We're in a period of planning, and there's not much exciting to talk about. The program should be starting up in either mid-September or early October. As it closer, I'll start putting more info on here about what we're doing, and how!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The Fun Begins!

Our first set of the LEGOs arrived today - the four kits of LEGO WeDo. These kits are aimed at kids in 2nd-4th grade, though it seems as though it would be easy to scale the projects as young as Kindergarten (with help/supervision), and as old as middle/high school, due to the huge amount of customization and programming flexibility available.

We ordered a set of four kits. Each kit comes packaged with what you see below - a thick plastic tub attached to a box containing typical LEGO instruction (i.e., no words, just pictures) for TWELVE different projects! The set we ordered also comes with a Teacher's Guide (which turned out to be super useful) and the software necessary to program the projects.

Installation of the software was really quick and easy (so long as you have administrative access to be able to install software!) - it took less than 5 minutes from inserting the DVD to bringing up the blank screen.

At this point, it was time to experiment! We plan on becoming quite proficient with both LEGO WeDo and EV3 before the program begins (in THREE WEEKS! AUGGH!), which means lots of time getting paid to play with toys...I mean, practice and learn.

I took the time to read some of the Teacher's Guide first, which introduces you to how to build the projects, what each of the four sensors does, and how to do basic programming. It's a really handy guide to have, and I feel as if it will be referenced also. It's also included on the DVD as a PDF, which is handy when I inevitably lose/tear/otherwise destroy the printed guide.

After doing some quick reading, I jumped right into one of the projects. I wanted to build a project that could show the capability of the WeDo, and that could be displayed to build interest in the program. To that end, I decided to build a crocodile/alligator whose jaws opened and closed.

The actual building took about 15 minutes (which is pretty good for me, since my visual and spatial literacy is non-existent).  This is what it looked like when it was finished.

Then it was time for the scary part - the programming. I used the suggested program from the instructions, and for some reason (most likely user error), it didn't work! So, as the kids will no doubt learn to do in about 30 seconds, I began to just mess around with the programming until it worked.

This is a picture of the set-up: the project has to be connected to the computer via USB cord, but it's about 4 feet long, which gives you some wiggle room if you'd like the project to be displayed away from the computer.

The programming, on the surface, is quite simple. All of the commands are encased in little building blocks, and you put them together just like a LEGO - start, turn the motor left or right, play a sound, etc. As you can see at the bottom of the picture, there are quite a few different commands that can be used.

After about 10 minutes of playing around, I was able to create an animal who, when I pressed the "e" key on the keyboard, would close its jaws, make a crunching sound, and then open its jaws again, repeating over and over until I pressed the stop button.

After another 10 minutes of playing around, I was able to ramp up the programming, and create an animal who, when something was placed in its jaws, would chomp down, make a crunching sound, and then open its jaws again, waiting patiently for its next snack. (Apologies for the video quality - I have no idea what I'm doing!)

We're really excited about where this is going, and can't wait for the rest of the LEGO Mindstorms EV3 to arrive TOMORROW! Check back again soon for the unboxing/experimenting/general playing around. Then, starting in September, the real fun begins!

Thursday, August 1, 2013

And so it begins...

At first, we are going to start slowly with the programming, both to get our feet wet, and to gauge the interest from the community.

So you know: none of us here have any idea what we're doing. We're a small operation to begin with (6 total staff), and all of us have backgrounds in the Liberal Arts. As a matter of fact, most of us actively and joyously ignored STEAM subjects in all levels of education. However, all of the staff is extremely excited about the program, and is willing to learn.

Fortunately for us, we will have lots of help. Already, members of the community have been coming out of the woodwork to help with the program - an engineer, a Computer Science professor, a former computer programmer, a high school math teacher. In addition, we have the pledged support of the Engineering Department at the local university - they will be encouraging their students in Electrical, Mechanical and Computer Engineering to volunteer their time and talents as mentors and assistants.

To begin, we will be offering a weekly "LEGO Robotics Club," (or some more catchy name - any ideas?). For the first few weeks, there will be demonstrations of the capabilities of EV3 and WeDo, as well as hands-on training and experimentation. As the group gains confidence, we will transition to a more structured program, following some of the STEM curriculum that comes with the kits, and offering the kids a chance to complete challenges and continue to build upon their prior knowledge.

In the future, we can see a number of paths this can take. We already have offers to teach various programming languages to kids who are interested. There is the possibility (probability!) of holding a Mindstorms competition, much like what Ann Arbor District Library has done with their Library LEGO League. There is also talk of creating a FIRST LEGO League team sponsored by the library. Time and experience will tell where we will go next!

Stay tuned, our unboxing, set-up, and most likely hilarious fail-filled first testing will be here soon!

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Coming Soon!

Our library recently used some long-forgotten donation funds to purchase sets of LEGO Mindstorms EV3 and LEGO WeDo. The intention is to create an organic program that integrates STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) concepts into library programs. Stay tuned for more information on how we plan to accomplish this, as well as pictures, videos, and more from the programs!

For those of you not familiar, this is one of the myriad robots that can be constructed from just the base EV3 kit!