A few weeks ago I called up my two local middle school teacher-librarians to ask if they’d be interested in partnering up on an activity for Teen Tech Week. It turned out that they were having lunchtime events to celebrate Read Across America all week long. So we combined the two, and made one of the Read Across America days a tech day. I brought robots from the public library to the school libraries (each on a separate day) and stayed there for all three lunch periods. Students could eat their lunch in the library, then play with the robots.
I didn’t ask permission to post photos, so I’ve blocked out faces and other identifiers.
This cute little guy is Dash. You control him with an app. You can either code him, or just drive him around (which is what we did since there wasn’t time to learn to code him over lunch). Driving Dash around the hall during passing periods was a great way to lure kids to come check out our robots. (You can’t tell in the photo because of the circle heads, but students were looking at him with a mix of delight and bewilderment. Note the “wtf” hand gesture of the student in gray on the right.)
We discovered that when you put multiple Dash robots together, they talk to each other! Also, the girl in the blue sweatshirt in the above photo is one of the kids who discovered they could attach LEGOs to Dash to make “battlebots.” I’m not sure if Dash is intended to be LEGO-compatible, but it worked! (I do know, though, that Dash is definitely not cut out to be a battlebot. If he had a job, it would be something like helping children cross the street.)
We also had Sphero 2.0 robots. Several students said they had a Sphero at home (most often the Star Wars BB-8 version, which is a genius bit of marketing). Like Dash, Sphero is controlled with an app.
We used Play-doh to learn about circuits with Squishy Circuits (above) and Makey Makey (below). Squishy Circuits allow you to use conductive dough to build things and make them light up, set off an alarm, or run a motor. With MaKey MaKey, you can use anything that conducts electricity as a key to replace one of the keys on your keyboard. In the photo, we have dough for the keys left, up, right, down, and space. When you touch the dough, it’s like pressing the key. In this program, the keys play a piano.
Finally, we had both LEGO WeDo (above) and LEGO Mindstorms (below) available. Having both was great because those who weren’t experienced with LEGO robotics could jump onto the WeDo quite easily, while experienced users who wanted to show their stuff used the more advanced Mindstorms. We just got the Mindstorms last week, so I’m still learning the basics; a few kids knew more than me. I made “build a basic Mindstorm robot like in the instructions” one of the activities, which was actually a huge help in getting our new kits prepped for use.
The best part of this for me was that I got to interact with some kids who don’t typically come to the public library. I told them we’ll have more chances to use these robots at the library in the summer. I hope to see a few new faces in those programs!