Some of our favorite robot lesson plans…
You can certainly build working robots in your classroom, using Lego Mindstorm:
- LEGO 8547 Mindstorms NXT 2.0 Robotics Kit
- LEGO MINDSTORMS NXT One-Kit Wonders: Ten Inventions to Spark Your Imagination
- The LEGO MINDSTORMS NXT 2.0 Discovery Book: A Beginner’s Guide to Building and Programming Robots
While Mindstorm is usually used in competitions, iBotz and OWI kits are another option:
For younger students, Gearbotics from Learning Resources is an accessible alternative:
- Learning Resources Gears! Gears! Gears! Illuma Bot FX
- Learning Resources Gearbotics Sonic T-Rex Motorized Set
We also really like the recyclable robots from Toysmith. Students might be inspired to build their own nonworking models of robots from recyclables, too.
But if you don’t need real robots that move, you can design robots from just about anything. Simple shapes cut from paper can be used to create collages, recyclables can be put together to make models, or you can use candy on cupcakes:
No reason you couldn’t do the same with vegetables on crackers, by the way. Cream cheese would keep the veggies on the cracker till snack time.
The cute little robot at the top of the page may be our mental image of robots, but it’s very far from the reality. Most of the robots currently in use don’t look anything like people, don’t talk, and are very useful but not very playful. Here are some real-life robot resources:
- Robots.net is a central clearing house for robotics news. At this writing, you’ll find lots of information there about President Obama’s new national robotics initiative.
- How Stuff Works robots page compares humans and robots, with lots of examples. Get out your Venn diagrams and have students develop their own comparisons.
- Our Robots Classroom Theme Ideas page has a bunch of links and resources.
Not only can you use Venn diagrams to compare humans and robots, you can also compare real robots to fictional ones. You can make lists of jobs robots currently do. You can find the kinds of places where robots work, and contact similar companies in your community to see whether they use robots in those jobs.
For older students, have the class develop a research question and have students list the relevant resources they find in a Google Doc. It’s a good way to practice citing references, and you’ll have a collection of resources for a class discussion or debate on the question you choose. Finish up with a writing assignment. One you might like for middle school is The Pros and Cons of Automation.
The New York Times also has an essay for older students about violence against robots, with discussion questions. Cruelty toward robots doesn’t come up much in fiction, or in predictions about robots, but it’s showing up in real life as robots become more common.
In Isaac Asimov’s novel I, Robot, there is a set of rules for robots (laws, in the book):
- A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
- A robot must obey any orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
- A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
This great story is also available on DVD if you want to refresh your memory without reading, but we like the book for middle school or high school students.
Discuss the Robot Laws in relation to modern robots now in use. Then use them to develop a set of rules for your classroom. We think the process of determining the most basic rules will be useful for your students, and three rules will be way more effective than 55.