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Robotics for dummies....

Posted by on Apr. 30, 2014 at 8:37 PM
  • 26 Replies

As many of you know I'm teaching a robotics class at my co-op. So I thought I'd give you ladies the low down on the amazing tools available for your kiddos interested in electronics...even if you don't know a mother board from a modem. So I'll be adding things to this post ;) 

happy learning!


by on Apr. 30, 2014 at 8:37 PM
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by on Apr. 30, 2014 at 8:41 PM
1 mom liked this

Thank you Shannon!

by on Apr. 30, 2014 at 8:42 PM

Step 1

First I would suggest learning a bit about electricity. A circuit is basically like the trains tracks upon which the train (aka electrons) travels. Understanding how it all works is a good first step. Check out this great website

by on Apr. 30, 2014 at 8:48 PM

Shannon, you so rock.  Thank you for doing this...I'm going to leave this post now and come back when I have time to spend on it....  I'm excited to see what you put up.  :)

by on Apr. 30, 2014 at 8:53 PM

Step 2

the next step to learning robotics/electrical engineering would be to learn about circuits and electrical components. Theses are the little bits and pieces in a circuit. Each contributes to the functioning of the circuit. Like I said before the circuit is like the train tracks, the little bits and parts are the direction signals and stations the train can stop at. (To stretch the metaphor a bit 

One of my favorite websites to teach kids about circuits is this.

by on Apr. 30, 2014 at 8:57 PM

Aww thanks I hope everyone gets something out of it :)

Quoting hwblyf:

Shannon, you so rock.  Thank you for doing this...I'm going to leave this post now and come back when I have time to spend on it....  I'm excited to see what you put up.  :)

by on Apr. 30, 2014 at 9:03 PM

Step 3

Understand that the majority of our world is based on electricity. In this day and age just about everything has a little circuit board...from the dryer, to the phone, to the computer. Brace yourself. But one of my recommendations is to find something old, even broken, and let the kids dismantle it. They are learning about the parts of a circuit....conductors, resistors, etc. Looking at a  pre-made circuit will allow the kids to recognize those parts in action. They don't need to break anything. Youtube is a fantastic device for learning how to dismantle machines. We recently dismantled the kids 3 DS, they loved that....and out desktop computer. Just find whatever device you are ok with them opening then go on youtube and search for a dismantling ____ video. Then you can help them do I it.....though you will most likely need to go to Walmart or the hardware store and get electrical screwdrivers. They are super tiny (sort of like eyeglass ones) and usually they have a magnetic tip. Electronics are notorious for having super small screws. 

by on Apr. 30, 2014 at 9:16 PM

Step 4

Start thinking like a programmer. One of the hardest parts of writing a program is the amount of details needed. Try this. Put a ball across the room. Wear a blindfold and have your child direct you to pick up the ball. Do ONLY what they tell you to do. If they say "bend over" that isn't sufficient information (bend at the knees, at the waist, 90 degrees, etc). It's harder than either of you think. I suggest your student take a couple of weeks and work on thinking like a programmer. This is great for reinforcing geometry - shapes, measurements and directions. One of my favorite tools for teaching this is CODE. I don't think your student will need more than 3 or 4 weeks working at this. Once they get to level 10 or 11 should be good. They can continue learning about circuit components all along. ;)

by on Apr. 30, 2014 at 9:52 PM

Step 5

Choose your

You don't need to spend a fortune for your child to get an amazing understanding of programming and electrical engineering. Seriously! Even if you buy electrical components they are super cheap. Definitely for less than $100 your child can learn a TON. Choosing your device is an important decision. It really comes down to two things : 1- your child's age, 2- your child's dedication to the topic. Here are my top 2 recommendations.

1) Arduino UNO - this is a simple circuit device. Great for younger learners, super beginners and those not too serious about the subject.  This starter kit comes with everything you need to build a large variety of circuits. The booklet that comes with it is so-so but there are tons of resources free on the web (some I'll get into in a minute). If your student wants an understanding of circuit components this is definitely the circuit for you. The board itself is only like $25, but I recommend the starter kit which comes with all the wires, LED's, etc you need for a variety of projects and costs about $50. (Link for this starter on Amazon is the first one at the bottom of this post).

2) Raspberry Pi- yum! Lol. This is an utterly amazing tool. It is the same as a computer, with plugs for your monitor, keyboard, mouse, etc. You can hook up a camera everything to this device. The only difference between it and a computer is there is no on board memory. You have to do everything off of memory cards. It's a bit more complicated, so efinitely for those more serious about computers, programming, etc. But just an idea of the types of things this baby can can hook it up to your tv in order to watch Netflix, Amazon prime...or even play Minecraft! You can set it up to be a programming computer, using Linux. You can set up tons of circuits, program it to ring an alarm when your plants get thirsty...etc. The board itself is again about $30 but I recommend the starter kit that comes with the wifi component, the case and all the tools needed. The starter kit is a little more expensive than the Arduino, it's about $74 on Amazon. (It's the 2nd link at the bottom of the screen).

there we some great demos of both of these products on youtube if you want to see what they can do. :) $54 $74 
by Silver Member on Apr. 30, 2014 at 9:56 PM

This is great!  Thanks so much!

by on Apr. 30, 2014 at 9:59 PM

Step 6

Download The program. If you chose the Arduino then I recommend downloading the program. From there the kids can practice writing 'sketches' that's their version of a program. The Arduino uses a simplified c++ programming language.

If you chose a Raspberry Pi you can still download the Arduino program in order for you student to practice making the circuits &/or sketches. At this stage there isn't a big difference between Linux and C++. But if you want to get right down to it it recommend having a couple of memory cards. On one you will download the basic circuit program, they call it NOOBS. On one you can download the media programming, they call it OPENELEC - this allows you to download the X Box store - where you can hook up your surround sound, play on your tv, download games like Minecraft, Netflix, etc. This allows you to use it as an interface used a lot in real life - the electrical components for an entertainment center. Or you can download the More complicated programming interface of Linux on another memory card allowing you to use the Pi as a computer. It really depends on how you want to use it. But the beauty is it's versatility in that you can use it for one thing one day and another thing the next day. 

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