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Parallax Recognized for Contribution to Education

  • By: Ken Gracey Published: 29 May, 2013 0 comments

Parallax is Formally Recognized for Educational Contribution

Today was an exciting day – Parallax, myself, and a special science teacher Trent Kirschner were recognized at a Tahoe Truckee Unified School District (TTUSD) Board Meeting for the contribution we made to the North Tahoe Middle School and North Tahoe High School technology program.

This is my second year of volunteering in the middle school, usually an hour every day on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday unless business travel or other obligations prevent me from being there.

The support from the school and community has been quite amazing. Two principals, a librarian, a science teacher and a math teacher have joined in support while learning all about a robotics program, even attending a Parallax Propeller Educator’s Course around our new Propeller C Learning System. And the community provided almost $5,000 of funds to buy hardware [things not made by Parallax] through the “Excellence in Education” program.

Why am I doing this? Most importantly, the rewards of working with the students are huge – they love the subject and you can see it in so many ways. They set up their laptops and electronics hardware the minute they get to class. They’re interested in hearing about the project and getting to work as quickly as possible, even the students who have been known to reject other subjects in school. And for Parallax, there’s no better way to test your products than in front of students and a teacher who are learning to use them. Appreciating the user in this way is a close-up reality check that validates a good plan or verifies a failure. This is especially enlightening if you’re part of the team who made decisions about the hardware they’re using. I’ve had many design meeting flashbacks.

District’s Chief Learning Office Thanks Parallax and Trent Kirschener, Science Teacher

Last Fall I made a presentation to a local technology group about how I was volunteering in the school. In the audience was the new Tahoe Truckee Unified School District’s Superintendent Dr. Rob Leri, also titled Chief Learning Officer. Dr. Leri’s presentation followed mine, and the first thing he stated was that he had already used Parallax Boe-Bots in his prior school district. They were also part of his PhD research paper Effectiveness of an Eighth-Grade Constructivist-Designed Physical Science Robotics Instructional Program. And, he had participated in US First and Project Lead the Way. I was humbled, surprised, and impressed at the same time. I didn’t know that school district leaders had this kind of experience!

Last night Dr. Leri and the school board gave a special recognition to Parallax, Trent Kirschner, the science teacher who has adopted the program and myself. The school Principal Teresa Rensch introduced us and talked about the program and how the subject captivates the students so well.

The middle school program has now moved from elective to a standard offering, linked up to feed the high school Engineering Technology program. The two schools are joined together so we’ve got a seamless program of electronics, design, assembly, robotics and programming! 

About the North Tahoe Middle School Robotics Program

We handle a new batch of 25 8th graders every 12 weeks for about 45 minutes a day. Many days are lost to a minimum day schedule, breaks, or California-mandated testing, but we make the best of the remaining time. The program is designed to provide an overview of robotic in education, almost a topical survey to see interests among different parts of the program. After success and failure, this is how we designed the middle school robotics:

  • Programming the S2 Robot (5 weeks) - This is the first introduction to robotics using a graphical programming tool to load a S2 robot o control sensors and motors. We loosely follow the Neil Rosenberg “Robots for Beginners Workshop” student workbook, and have a competition at the end of every week.
  • Solder an S2 Robot Badge (2 days) - Middle school students want to build something – anything! To recognize their graduation from the S2 robot we teach them to solder using an S2 Robot Badge.
  • Program a BASIC Stamp 2 (2-3 weeks) -  We keep this quite simple and pull examples from What’s a Microcontroller? The projects are relatively simple, focusing on LEDs, a pushbutton and maybe a seven-segment LED.  
  • Solder a Solarbotics Herbie Mouse Bot (2 weeks) -  I’ve built many electronic kits with kids, and I’ve settled on Dave Hrynkiw’s Herbie the Mousebot kit. This little mouse has a small amount of build difficulty, but it works really well as a high-speed light follower with bump whiskers and a snappy tail. Building it is a real test for students, requiring dexterity, reading, attention to detail, identification of electronic components, and teamwork. We carefully debug the robot’s sensors, adjust out mechanical interference, and show our best soldering abilities. Our success rate is about 90%!
  • RoboFriday -  We try to make Friday as interesting as possible. While this would be difficult for a teacher to share without a volunteer like one of us, it’s also a favorite part of the program. The kinds of things we do include connecting motors to power supplies, lighting many different kinds of LEDs, hacking apart an S2, flying quadcopters and dropping eggs off of them, and first-person-view navigation of larger robots through the school (MadeUSA, for example).

If they enjoyed the course in middle school, they can take the adjoining high school “Engineering Technology” program, a STEM-based course in design, prototyping, fabrication, programming and assembly. I’m trying to add a laser cutter and CNC router to their program before Fall 2013.