sgmcclellan is currently certified at Apprentice level.

Name: Steven McClellan
Member since: 2004-10-18 18:34:11
Last Login: 2007-01-22 05:14:30

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I have been interested in robotics ever since I was a small child and have built many of them over the years since then. I am currently starting a robotics club at my local elementary school in order to promote technology there. This will give the students an opportunity to see the application of science and mathematics in action and hopefully help them gain a positive outlook on their future. I am interested in both hardware and software and have been programming in various languages (C/C++, Basic - VB, Pascal, Assembly) for the last 20 years. I would like to do more with hardware right now but after relocating recently to a remote area, there are no machine shops nearby. I would like to establish contacts with others in the field of robotics so that I can create some of the projects that have been in my design books for far too long.

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Well, I'm back after a number of years; I have not been idle though. The robot class really took off and soon we expanded the program to the lower grades as well as. Our sponsor has been good to us and has continued to fund our equipment needs. The students were really excited and the program was officially adopted into the curriculum. That's the good news.

The bad news is that I had to leave in order to make a living. Although I was not able to stay and teach the robot class we did find an excellent teacher to continue on. I would've loved to have stayed on but had to move on to greener pastures.

I have been actively pursuing a robotics career and have been working at a servo motor manufacturer (large servos, not the hobby kind). This has allowed me to continue working towards my goal of becoming a robot builder not to mention putting together some really cool Halloween decorations.

I've been so busy between work, the upcoming holidays and other things that I haven't had time to update the diary, but finally, here it is:

We finally received our robot kits, parts and other software and we have already had 3 meetings. At our first meeting, we didn't have any of the kits, parts or software so I had to improvise using my own materials. For the other two meetings we were able to work normally.

I would say that the children are pretty excited and they are a good group. After the first meeting, we decided to extend the meeting time from 1 hour to 1.5 hours. This will give us more time to work and try things out.

By the end of the second meeting (after we received our parts), the children had made their first robots and would've had them running all over the place except we didn't have our batteries yet. All in good time I guess.

By the end of the third meeting, we had received our batteries and we had programmed one of the robots to actually do something like travel in a square - mastering motor control and timers. We are using the basic tankbot design because it is easy to build and travels fairly slowly.

In meeting four, we are going to take a look at sensors - touch, light and rotation. Once we master those things then the fun stuff will really begin. The children will be turned loose to create a robot of their own design and programming in order to solve a class-defined problem.

The children came up with some pretty interesting problems and I look forward to seeing their solutions. We are going to divide up into teams of 2 or 3 and go to work. This program is so successful that the school has decided to offer a robotics class as a special class during normal school hours. I will need help from another parent or teacher when that happens though because this is not a paid position and I need to keep paying my bills.

Yesterday, I did my robotics club presentation and passed out the permission slips for the seventh and eighth grade children. The presentation looked good (my wife even did a custom logo for the club) and went very smoothly with good audience participation. The question and answer period brought up some very interesting questions and there was quite a bit of excitement. Of course there is always someone who asks "Can I build a robot to clean my room?" I was just like that a long time ago, but now I am working towards building robots for minimizing handicaps for people with disabilities.

The school really played up the "must" be there for every meeting and I think that scared off some of the fence- sitters and people involved in after school sports from wanting to join. I can understand their point of view though as I am the only volunteer and the meetings are subject to my schedule. Sports programs have a regular schedule. I am looking for adult volunteers to join the club so that we can begin to have regularly scheduled meetings. Anyone interested? Any sponsors out there so that we can expand the program?

We still have room in the class so we are going to open it up to the fifth and sixth grades. That may represent a bit of a challenge if there is a gap in the maturity level, but if it does we can always break the teams up according to age. Opening this up to the younger children also means that I will have another one of my children in the club.

Our theme for the year is the same one as the First Lego League which is "No Limits" (basically building robots to remove limits placed on people with disabilities.) Some of the children got really excited about that but what really surprised me was one of the teachers. The teacher asked me about robotic vision and was hoping that we would have one project along those lines. It turns out that that teacher has a relative that has impaired vision and would like to know more about ways to mitigate that handicap.

Tomorrow is our first club meeting and it should be really interesting because of a continuous string of mess-ups from the Lego educational division. We still don't have our equipment yet and while they promised to send it overnight, I don't have much hope that it will arrive. I live in a real remote area and overnight shipping really means two-day shipping. Oh well, I will have to use my personal equipment for the class.

OK, I met with the principal and we have the final go- ahead for the club. We are going to introduce the program to the seventh and eighth graders on Nov. 30 and have our first meeting on Dec. 2.

We will be meeting every Thursday for about an hour to get started. After we get going, I'm going to suggest that we meet every Tues. and Thurs. for an hour. If it turns out that we don't get enough interest in the seventh and eighth grades, then we will open it up to the sixth grade as well. We have enough equipment and support for about 15 students.

Hopefully, after our first meeting, I will have some robot related posts that I can add to this diary. I'm particularly interested in the student responses because this will open a new view of the sciences for them. We are also going to be writing down observations and keeping a journal.

Well, after a couple of weeks we finally received our grant. We ordered the robot parts and software for the robot club and have started working on the curriculum. The last step is to meet with the principal and have him OK the details. We will probably meet just once a week to start.

If anybody else is interested in starting a robot club at their school, I would be happy to share the information that I have. I can also provide you with some pretty compelling language for you to use in obtaining your grant. There seems to be plenty of money out there for worthwhile school programs so there is probably a grant in your local area just waiting for someone to apply for it.


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