Wednesday, May 27, 2015

LEGO Mindstorms: Robot Battles!

I previously blogged about my basic LEGO Mindstorms program and then my Obstacle Course Challenge.

For my last program in the series, I wanted to give the tweens some hands-on experience and focus more on building/designing a robot then programming. So what better way to do that then with some robot battles?

How I Did It:

With the help of my awesome IT department, we took our 6 Mindstorms robots and created a "driving base" robot. That way, each team of 2-3 tweens would have the same starting base and could add on from there. I found some good driving base instructions here.

At the start of program, I gave the tweens a very short crash course on the LEGO Mindstorms software for those that needed it (around 10-15 minutes). Then I let them get to work building a robot. They had about 90 minutes to design a robot that would win in a head to head battle with another. So I reminded them that speed didn't matter - durability and strength did.

I taped out an "arena" using masking tape and a hula hoop as my stencil. I told them the rules we simple:

  • I would draw 2 random group numbers out of a bag to face off
  • They would start at opposite ends of the circle
  • The first robot to be pushed out of the circle or fall over loses
  • The winners of the first set of matches would face off in the semi-finals until we had one robot standing

What Didn't Work:

I am going to level with all of you and admit my failures: I was not as prepared for this session as I should have been. I didn't think to look up possible designs ahead of time. I thought they could just search for a design they liked and we would figure it out together. However, for some groups this step took way too much time and cut into their building time. What I would do next time is have some ideas printed out and/or some websites handy for them to find a good, easy design if they didn't want to just make up their own.

The other failure of mine was that I didn't anticipate that they would all want to use the remote beacon to control their robots. I hadn't practiced programming the remote ahead of time, so when it didn't work I wasn't entire sure how to troubleshoot the problems and some groups had to forfeit because their robot design relied too much on remote control. The next time, I would make sure I had worked with the remote and was comfortable with it way ahead of time.

We also ran into the robots running out of battery power. Word to the wise: always have extra AA batteries with you to do a quick swap if needed.


...when all was said and done, the tweens had a fun experience designing a robot and definitely want to do it again!

Here are some videos of the matches!

Thursday, May 21, 2015

LEGO Mindstorms: Obstacle Course!

A few months ago, I shared my tween LEGO Mindstorms program on the ALSC Blog. Because it was so popular, I wanted to offer more classes based on different challenges/themes. I chose to try an obstacle course with them.

What I Did:

The first thing I had to figure out was what the obstacle course would look like. I found a lot of different links with ideas:

Carnegie Mellon Robotics Academy
LEGO Robotics Blog
Sidney Memorial Public Library

Then I took a mash-up of the kind of obstacles I likes and created my own course out of poster board and electrical tape. Here's the final result:

Please forgive the lighting, etc. I didn't realize I would be blogging about this until way after the program, so I had to take a photo of the course board in one of our study rooms. It's also a bit raggedy from the tweens stepping on it.

In order to complete the entire course, the tweens had to:

  1. Start at the bottom right corner and move forward
  2. Stop in the red box for 5 seconds before proceeding (they could use their color sensor with yellow or red, or just calculate the distance to move in order to complete this step)
  3. Go around the sharp corners using 90 degree turns
  4. Move around the curves in between the soda cans without knocking any over (this was one of the hardest parts for them to figure out)
  5. Turn the corner and then navigate to the blue line to pick up a small tire (not pictured)
  6. Back up and turn to keep moving forward to the finish line
I told them to just get as far as they could and that there wasn't a penalty for not completing the entire thing. This was more about experimenting and learning how to program the robot to move.

I also gave them the option of just trying to navigate around the challenge pad that came with the Mindstorms kit if they were robot novices and felt more comfortable trying that. I think the tweens really liked having options.

The basic layout of the program was this:

  • I spent the first 20 to 30 minutes giving a quick overview of the LEGO Mindstorms software and how to program a robot to do basic movements.
  • Because we only have 6 Mindstorms kits, the tweens had to work in groups of 2 or 3 to program the robot to navigate as much of the course as they could finish in the remaining 90 minutes.
    • I gave each tween the same robot pre-built to use. Letting the them build a robot on top of everything else we had to cover for this session would just eat into too much time.
  • I went around and answered questions and generally helped the tweens figure things out for the rest of the time and gave hints as needed.

I'm sad I forgot to take some videos of the robots movie through the course. A couple of teams came really close to completing the entire thing!

How It Went:

All in all, this was a really fun program. And because the course I created is kind of generic, I can modify it to include different challenges/obstacles the next time!

Have you ever done a similar program? What kinds of obstacles/challenges did you include?

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Storytime - Bunnies


Muncha! Muncha! Muncha! by Candace Fleming - This is one of my perennial favorites for preschool storytime. It's a cumulative tale about 3 rabbits that keep sneaking into Mr. McGreeley's vegetable garden and stealing his crops. There's lots of opportunity for participation too!

The Little Rabbit Who Liked to Say Moo by Jonathan Allen - A little rabbit loves to say, "moo" but the other animals try to set him straight on what animals say what. A good story to practice animal noises. It has a funny little twist at the end too!

Flora's Surprise! by Debi Gliori - A rabbit named Flora decides to plant a brick in a flower pot in order to grow a house. Her other family members don't believe it'll work, but there's a nice surprise of a happy ending for Flora.

What Does Bunny See? by Linda Sue Park - This is a good rhyming book about colors for toddlers.

Snow Rabbit, Spring Rabbit by Il Sung Na - I use his books every chance I get, and this is a beautifully illustrated short book about changing seasons. It would be good for baby storytime too!


(Tune: B-I-N-G-O)

There is a rabbit that I know
And bunny is his name-o!
And bunny is his name-o!

Then, instead of clapping as we turn over the letters, we hop! The preschoolers loved this one so much, they asked to do it again.


Did You Ever See a Rabbit?
(Tune: Did You Ever See a Lassie)

Did you ever see a rabbit
A rabbit, a rabbit
Did you ever see a rabbit that hops so fast?
Hops this way and that way
And that way and this way
Did you ever see a rabbit that hops so fast?

Continue with:
...hops so slow
...hops on one foot
...hops backward


Little Rabbit

I saw a little rabbit go hop, hop, hop. (hold up two fingers and go hop, hop, hop)
I saw his long ears go flop, flop, flop. (place hands above head and flop at wrists)
I saw his little eyes go wink, wink, wink. (wink eyes)
I saw his little nose go twink, twink, twink. (wiggle nose)
I said, “Little Rabbit, won’t you stay?” (make beckoning motion)
But he just looked at me and hopped away. (make two fingers hop away)

Sleeping Bunnies

See the little bunnies sleeping 'till it's nearly noon
Come and let us gently wake them with a merry tune
Oh how still
Are they ill?
Wake up soon

Hop little bunnies, hop hop hop!
Hop little bunnies, hop hop hop!
Hop little bunnies, hop hop hop!
Hop little bunnies, hop hop hop!
Hop hop stop!

Now I had wanted to do this with either the ukulele or a parachute, but I'll fess up and say I chickened out to both at the last minute. However, if you are braver than me you can find a wonderful uke tutorial from Miss Mary Liberry and a write-up on how to use a parachute with this song from Anne at So Tomorrow.


Rabbit Masks

I just cut the middles out of paper plates, then pre-cut ears and whiskers. Then the kids could glue the ears/whiskers on no problem. However, there were slight problems. Next time, I would cut the ears out of cardstock so they were stiffer and stuck straight up better. Also, glue did NOT work on the craft sticks to attach them to the paper plate. Luckily, I had scotch tape handy, which worked much better.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Anime Club: Yonkoma Manga Workshop

Since my May anime club meeting fell on the same weekend as Free Comic Book Day, I decided to teach the teens how to create what's called Yonkoma Manga, or four panel gag manga.

Azumanga Daioh is the master example of gag manga.

I found a couple of good sources that helped me create an instructional Power Point and handouts for the teens:

Wikipedia (yeah, I know)

Then I found a four panel comic template on Deviant Art and printed out a bunch of sheets for the teens to draw on.

From: Deviant Art

First, I went over my short presentation to give them the basics of how to format their comic panels, then I let them free draw while we ate a snack and watched some anime.

Overall, this was a great, low-prep activity to do with the teens!

Storytime - Mothers


A Mother for Choco by Keiko Kasza - Kasza's one of my go-to authors for preschool storytime and this one doesn't disappoint! It's a sweet story about a bird looking for a mother who looks just like him. But he learns that a mother isn't about what you look like, but what you do for your child. It made me a little misty-eyed.

My Monster Mama Loves Me So by Laura Leuck - A cute story about all of the "gross" things that a monster's mama does for him. The preschoolers had fun saying "ewww" to most of the story.

Dinosaur vs. Mommy by Bob Shea - For preschoolers, the fun is saying "Dinosaur wins!" and roaring loudly. For toddlers, the fun is more for the parents. For instance, when the author asks who wins when mommy tries to take a quick shower or fold laundry, it got a chuckle from the grown-ups.

I Love My Mommy by Giles Andrae - Cute story for toddlers about the reasons a child loves his mommy. Great big, bold illustrations by Emma Dodd too!


Five Little Monkeys (w/ monkey mitt)

Five little monkeys jumping on the bed (hold up 5 fingers and bounce hand up and down)
One fell off and bumped his head (gently bop head)
Mama called the doctor and the doctor said (make "phone" with hand and hold up to ear)
"No more monkeys jumping on the bed!" (shake one finger as if scolding)

Continue with 4, 3, 2, and 1


Skinnamarink a dink a dink
Skinnamarink a do
I love you!
Skinnamarink a dink a dink
Skinnamarink a do
I love you!
I love you in the morning and in the afternoon
I love you in the evening and underneath the moon
Skinnamarink a dink a dink
Skinnamarink a do
I love you! 


Mother's Day Cards

I found a cute poem about handprints, so I typed it out 2 to a sheet and then cut them out with scalloped scissors. The day of the craft, I had the kids glue the poem to one side of the inside of the card and then trace their hand on the other side (some kids needed me to trace it for them). Then they could decorate the front and back however they wanted.

Storytime - Trains


How to Train a Train by Jason Carter Eaton - This is a cute story that reads as a "how-to" guide for training a train to be your pet. My preschoolers enjoyed this one.

All Aboard the Dinotrain by Deb Lund - Dinosaurs + Trains = Instant Storytime Hit!

Clickety Clack by Rob Spence - This is a cute cumulative story about a train that gets more and more and MORE crowded! This one is fun to have the kids say "clickety clack" with you as they move their arms like a train.

A Train Goes Clickety Clack by Jonathan London - Great short story all about trains. Perfect for toddlers!

Freight Train by Donald Crews - This is a great one to do as a flannel story and is short enough for babies or toddlers.


The Wheels on the Train
(Tune: The Wheels on the Bus)

The wheels on the train go clickety-clack
Clickety-clack, clickety-clack
The wheels on the train go clickety-clack
All through the town!

...The whistle on the train goes choo, choo, choo!
...The conductor on the train goes "All aboard!"
...The people on the train go bumpity bump

Adapted from source

This Little Train (w/ flannel)
(Tune: This Old Man)

This little train, painted black
It comes chugging down the track 

With a “Choo-choo; Toot-toot”
Hear the whistle blow
This little train goes chugging home.

This little car painted blue
It has seats for me and you
With a “Choo-choo; Toot-toot”
Hear the whistle blow
This little train goes chugging home.

This little car painted yellow
It shimmies and shakes like a bowl of jello
With a “Choo-choo; Toot-toot”
Hear the whistle blow
This little train goes chugging home.

This little car, painted green
It’s the fanciest car you’ve seen,
With a “Choo-choo; Toot-toot”
Hear the whistle blow
This little train goes chugging home.

This caboose; it is red
It will take you home to bed
With a “Choo-choo; Toot-toot”
Hear the whistle blow

This little train goes chugging home.

I'm a Little Choo Choo Train

I’m a choo-choo train, (bend arms at sides)
Chugging down the track. (rotate arms in rhythm)    
First I go forward, (rotate arms forward)
Then I go back. (rotate arms backward)
Now my bell is ringing, (pretend to pull bell cord)
Hear my whistle blow. (toot into closed fist)
What a lot of noise I make, (place hands over ears)
Everywhere I go! (stretch arms out at sides)


Name Trains

Thanks to Storytime Katie for this craft idea! I cut out red Ellison train engines and then made yellow squares that were about 3" by 3". I taped together 2 pieces of white cardstock that we 11" x 14" each. The day of the craft, I had the kids glue their train pieces to the paper, then write each letter of their name on a square and color the background however they wanted. It's a great craft to build writing skills and name recognition.