The wheels on the bot go round and round
A Lego Robotics class at North Tahoe Middle School is providing junior high students with one of the most complex and comprehensive science curriculums in the district.
The science course is based on an international program that immerses students in advanced technological concepts.
Funded by a $4,000 grant from the Excellence in Education Foundation, this science class is no toy-tinkering lab. Students in the Lego Robotics course ” which is focusing this year on nanotechnology, the selected international topic ” are responsible for building moving, workable robots; programming the computer chips that make them run; researching uses for nanotechnology; and presenting a final research project to a panel of critical judges.
“I’m a researcher, and our group’s presentation will be on nano-engineered foods that change color if the food spoils,” said eighth-grader Alexa Andrews. “The group comes up with questions and I e-mail them to professors at universities ” there was one in Switzerland and another in Missouri. We’ve been asking about the chemicals that could be used and if there would be possible side-effects.”
The curriculum used by North Tahoe is the same used around the world. The mother program ” FIRST LEGO League International ” was developed Dean Kamen, the inventor of the Segway Human Transporter, as a way to combine an educational context with hands-on challenges that culminate in an annual international competition.
“It’s one of the most engaging high-order thinking project’s I’ve ever seen for kids,” said teacher Mike Kahlich. “These challenges would be difficult for college students, but the amazing thing is that these kids can do it. I think that most middle schoolers are greatly under-challenged.”
In the robotics portion of the class, students are required to build and program a robot that can complete a nine-point obstacle course in less than ten minutes. The machine and it’s challenges are meant to represent nano-sized robots and their theoretical capabilities.
This year’s regional qualifier is only a month away, so Kahlich’s students are preparing to buckle down and perfect their robots. If all goes well, they could be competing at the FIRST LEGO League World Festival in April at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, Ga.
Anyone interested in assisting a Lego team at North Tahoe Middle School should contact Mike Kahlich at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Nanotechnology is an umbrella term that covers many areas of research dealing with objects that are measured in nanometers ” one billionth of a meter.
The goal of nanotechnology is to manipulate atoms individually and place them in a pattern to produce a desired structure. The next step will be to develop nanoscopic machines that can be programmed to manipulate atoms and molecules at will.
The first products made from nanomachines could be stronger fibers and a new generation of computer components.
“I’m finding quite an industry in nanotechnology,” said Lukas Holst, an eighth-grader at North Tahoe Middle School. “I imagine that someday we will be able to use nano-size robots to repair things in our bodies.”
Nanotechnology may have its biggest impact on the medical industry. Patients could drink fluids containing nanorobots programmed to attack and reconstruct the molecular structure of cancer cells and viruses to make them harmless. Nanorobots could also be programmed to perform delicate surgeries at a level a thousand times more precise than the sharpest scalpel.
“Nanotechnology is amazing ” everything is so small so you can do so much more,” said seventh-grader Ashlee Vikse. “Scientists have been working on a lot of medical stuff and I’m researching vocal chord reconstruction.”
FIRST LEGO League is an international program for children ages 9-14 that combines a hands-on, interactive robotics program with a sports-like atmosphere. Teams consist of up to 10 players with a focus on team building, problem solving, creativity, and analytical thinking.
Each September, a new Challenge is unveiled to FLL International teams around the world. Teams then have eight weeks to strategize, design, build, program, test and refine a fully autonomous robot capable of completing the various missions of the FLL International Robot Game using LEGO MINDSTORMS technology.
Teams also search the web, talk to scientists, visit libraries and develop compelling presentations based on the FLL International Research Assignment, which relates to a problem or opportunity facing the world today.