As I search for ways to keep Matthew interested in learning (not an easy thing to do), I spend lots of time searching for online lesson plans developed by minds better than mine, to use for various kinds of lessons. For example, I located some really interesting lesson plans on the American Revolution that include videos, art and biographies, as well as science-related lesson plans on NASA's website, designed to give budding scientists and engineers the chance to practice problem-solving. One of my favorite NASA lesson plans is the "Lunar Nautics Mission" set of lesson plans that allow kids to use their imaginations and knowledge to imagine what it would be like to design a colony on the moon.
Occasionally, however, I can't find exactly what I'm looking for, and end up developing my own lesson plans that combine internet resources and hands-on activities for what is (hopefully) a fun learning experience. I plan to outline those lesson plans on this blog.
Disclaimer: Lessons and links on this blog are free for anyone to use. However, I am not an teacher of school-age children, so most of my lessons are designed with Matthew in mind, and may or may not follow individual state standards.
For instance, over the next several weeks Matthew will be exploring the field of robotics. The lesson began last week with the creation and use of a robotic arm based upon this NASA robotic hand activity, and then the use of a mechanical robot claw for more experimentation.
As part of that lesson, Matthew experimented and recorded 1. the items he could and could not pick up with each "hand," and 2. the things he could and could not do with each hand. He postulated that the use of an opposable "thumb" on the claw and the makeup of its stronger materials meant that it could pick up more, and heavier, items and it could perform more diverse tasks. We then discussed the differences between the mechanical hands, and how each one could be made better (ie, stronger materials, more fingers, mechanism that would allow better manipulation, etc.). The final activity was the creation of a Venn diagram, showing the differences and similarities between the claw hand and the human hand.
This week's lesson is a bit more involved. Since Hexbugs are the ultimate tiny robot, I built a lesson about Hexbugs using the "original" hexbug. The original hexbug, shown below, is a bit larger than the Hexbug Nano, but is capable of sensing a wall or sensing a sound, and accomplishing a reverse right turn in response.
For this lesson, we are going to start with the design protocol information on the Hexbug website. The design information shows how changes are made to prototypes during the design of a product like the hexbug. Then we are going to view this brief hexbug "autopsy" on How Stuff Works to find out exactly how this little critter senses and moves. Because our hexbug's shell is transparent, we will be able to view the parts of the bug and manipulate some of its parts ourselves.
Once Matthew understands how the original hexbug works, we are going to look at sample modifications that have been made to the hexbug's original design, and how those changes work. There is quite a bit of information at Hexbug's website on modifications that can be made (by someone with a lot more skill than me!) but with good explanations that are worth a look to show that all robots can be improved with a little imagination and creativity.
For example, there is information linking to the Applied Inspirations website on how to give the hexbug a brain. The benefit of looking at this particular modification is that the entire process of planning and implementing the modification is shown, allowing a more detailed look into the design process.
The lesson will end with Matthew recording in his science folder five facts about the hexbug that he did not know, and creating a Venn diagram exploring the differences between the hexbug and a real bug.
I anticipate that this lesson will take approximately 1.5-2 hours, and can be broken into two shorter lessons.
EXTENSIONS: This particular lesson also lends itself to several extensions, including:
1. a look at the Nano, the original hexbug's baby brother, including its design brief and a simple modification that will allow it to "swim";
2. the formulation and creation of Lego habitats for each hexbug, and modifications of those habitats based upon observation of what kind of habitat works best for each robot's strengths;
3. the building of a solar robot that is entirely powered by sunlight, including both the modifications made to the robot to allow it to move without a battery and the differences between solar energy and battery energy;
4. and finally a look at Nasa's Mars rover, and how NASA engineers have to operate "on the fly" to modify rover programming if the rover gets stuck on another planet.
More on each extension later.
Searches on YouTube and Instructables.com for "hexbug" or "hexbug hacks" yield great video and modification instructions results such as solar power, light activation, and increased speed.