Curricular Unit: Robot Design Challenges

Contributed by: GK-12 Program, Computational Neurobiology Center, College of Engineering, University of Missouri

A composite image of five line drawings and six photos. Line drawings of soccer field boundaries, straight race track with start/finish dashed lines, oval race track, maze route with five turns, square boxing "ring." Photos of two interlocking multi-toothed spur gears on old farm equipment, two impalas fighting with interlocking horns, girl working over a piece of paper with a pencil in her mouth, girl chasing a soccer ball down a field, screen capture of LEGO programming icons, and a LEGO robot (small plastic device on wheels with display screen, buttons, ports, cables and sensors) sitting on the floor.
Students explore the various robot design challenges
copyright
Copyright © (gears) 2002 Jared C. Benedict, Wikimedia Commons; (impalas) 2011 Muhammad Mahdi Karim, Wikimedia Commons; (girl with pencil, girl on field) Microsoft clipart; (screen capture) authors; (LEGO robot) 2006 Eirik Refsdal, Wikimedia Commons; (line drawings) authors. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Gears_large.jpg http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Fighting_impalas_edit2.jpg http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/images/results.aspx?qu=thinking&ex=1#ai:MP900442219|mt:2| http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/images/results.aspx?qu=soccer&ex=1#ai:MP900422170| http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lego_Mindstorms_Nxt-FLL.jpg

Summary

Through the two lessons and five activities in this unit, students' knowledge of sensors and motors is integrated with programming logic as they perform complex tasks using LEGO® MINDSTORMS® robots and software. First, students are introduced to the discipline of engineering and "design" in general terms. Then in five challenge activities, student teams program LEGO robots to travel a maze, go as fast/slow as possible, push another robot, follow a line, and play soccer with other robots. This fifth unit in the series builds on the previous units and reinforces the theme of the human body as a system with sensors performing useful functions, not unlike robots. Through these design challenges, students become familiar with the steps of the engineering design process and come to understand how science, math and engineering—including computer programming—are used to tackle design challenges and help people solve real problems. PowerPoint® presentations, quizzes and worksheets are provided throughout the unit.
This engineering curriculum meets Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

Engineering Connection

A photograph shows two boys working with LEGO NXT parts and pieces at a lab bench.
copyright
Copyright © 2012 Computational Neurobiology Center, College of Engineering, University of Missouri

Our world would be a different place without engineers and all of the technologies, devices, structures and systems they create—vehicles, phones, bridges, medical devices, factories, appliances and software apps—just to name a few. The best way to learn about design and engineering is to take on a design challenge, following the steps of the engineering design process. In order to develop optimal solutions, engineers must identify criteria and specifications for the problem, recognize constraints to solving the problem and then use math and science principles to come up with solutions. Engineers design and test their solutions to evaluate how well they address the problem, an iterative process until success is achieved. In this unit, students apply the information they gathered from previous units and the two lessons in this unit to design solutions for a number of engaging challenges.

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Educational Standards

Each TeachEngineering lesson or activity is correlated to one or more K-12 science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) educational standards.

All 100,000+ K-12 STEM standards covered in TeachEngineering are collected, maintained and packaged by the Achievement Standards Network (ASN), a project of D2L (www.achievementstandards.org).

In the ASN, standards are hierarchically structured: first by source; e.g., by state; within source by type; e.g., science or mathematics; within type by subtype, then by grade, etc.

  • Define a simple design problem reflecting a need or a want that includes specified criteria for success and constraints on materials, time, or cost. (Grades 3 - 5) More Details

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    This standard focuses on the following Three Dimensional Learning aspects of NGSS:
    Science & Engineering Practices Disciplinary Core Ideas Crosscutting Concepts
    Define a simple design problem that can be solved through the development of an object, tool, process, or system and includes several criteria for success and constraints on materials, time, or cost.Possible solutions to a problem are limited by available materials and resources (constraints). The success of a designed solution is determined by considering the desired features of a solution (criteria). Different proposals for solutions can be compared on the basis of how well each one meets the specified criteria for success or how well each takes the constraints into account.People's needs and wants change over time, as do their demands for new and improved technologies.
  • Generate and compare multiple possible solutions to a problem based on how well each is likely to meet the criteria and constraints of the problem. (Grades 3 - 5) More Details

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    This standard focuses on the following Three Dimensional Learning aspects of NGSS:
    Science & Engineering Practices Disciplinary Core Ideas Crosscutting Concepts
    Generate and compare multiple solutions to a problem based on how well they meet the criteria and constraints of the design problem.Research on a problem should be carried out before beginning to design a solution. Testing a solution involves investigating how well it performs under a range of likely conditions.At whatever stage, communicating with peers about proposed solutions is an important part of the design process, and shared ideas can lead to improved designs.Engineers improve existing technologies or develop new ones to increase their benefits, to decrease known risks, and to meet societal demands.
  • Plan and carry out fair tests in which variables are controlled and failure points are considered to identify aspects of a model or prototype that can be improved. (Grades 3 - 5) More Details

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    This standard focuses on the following Three Dimensional Learning aspects of NGSS:
    Science & Engineering Practices Disciplinary Core Ideas Crosscutting Concepts
    Plan and conduct an investigation collaboratively to produce data to serve as the basis for evidence, using fair tests in which variables are controlled and the number of trials considered.Tests are often designed to identify failure points or difficulties, which suggest the elements of the design that need to be improved.Different solutions need to be tested in order to determine which of them best solves the problem, given the criteria and the constraints.
  • Define the criteria and constraints of a design problem with sufficient precision to ensure a successful solution, taking into account relevant scientific principles and potential impacts on people and the natural environment that may limit possible solutions. (Grades 6 - 8) More Details

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    Do you agree with this alignment?

    This standard focuses on the following Three Dimensional Learning aspects of NGSS:
    Science & Engineering Practices Disciplinary Core Ideas Crosscutting Concepts
    Define a design problem that can be solved through the development of an object, tool, process or system and includes multiple criteria and constraints, including scientific knowledge that may limit possible solutions.The more precisely a design task's criteria and constraints can be defined, the more likely it is that the designed solution will be successful. Specification of constraints includes consideration of scientific principles and other relevant knowledge that is likely to limit possible solutions.All human activity draws on natural resources and has both short and long-term consequences, positive as well as negative, for the health of people and the natural environment.The uses of technologies and any limitations on their use are driven by individual or societal needs, desires, and values; by the findings of scientific research; and by differences in such factors as climate, natural resources, and economic conditions.
  • Evaluate competing design solutions using a systematic process to determine how well they meet the criteria and constraints of the problem. (Grades 6 - 8) More Details

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    This standard focuses on the following Three Dimensional Learning aspects of NGSS:
    Science & Engineering Practices Disciplinary Core Ideas Crosscutting Concepts
    Evaluate competing design solutions based on jointly developed and agreed-upon design criteria.There are systematic processes for evaluating solutions with respect to how well they meet the criteria and constraints of a problem.
  • Analyze data from tests to determine similarities and differences among several design solutions to identify the best characteristics of each that can be combined into a new solution to better meet the criteria for success. (Grades 6 - 8) More Details

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    This standard focuses on the following Three Dimensional Learning aspects of NGSS:
    Science & Engineering Practices Disciplinary Core Ideas Crosscutting Concepts
    Analyze and interpret data to determine similarities and differences in findings.There are systematic processes for evaluating solutions with respect to how well they meet the criteria and constraints of a problem.Sometimes parts of different solutions can be combined to create a solution that is better than any of its predecessors.Although one design may not perform the best across all tests, identifying the characteristics of the design that performed the best in each test can provide useful information for the redesign process—that is, some of the characteristics may be incorporated into the new design.
  • Develop a model to generate data for iterative testing and modification of a proposed object, tool, or process such that an optimal design can be achieved. (Grades 6 - 8) More Details

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    This standard focuses on the following Three Dimensional Learning aspects of NGSS:
    Science & Engineering Practices Disciplinary Core Ideas Crosscutting Concepts
    Develop a model to generate data to test ideas about designed systems, including those representing inputs and outputs.Models of all kinds are important for testing solutions.The iterative process of testing the most promising solutions and modifying what is proposed on the basis of the test results leads to greater refinement and ultimately to an optimal solution.
  • Students will develop an understanding of the characteristics and scope of technology. (Grades K - 12) More Details

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  • Students will develop an understanding of the relationships among technologies and the connections between technology and other fields of study. (Grades K - 12) More Details

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  • Students will develop an understanding of the attributes of design. (Grades K - 12) More Details

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  • Students will develop abilities to apply the design process. (Grades K - 12) More Details

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  • Designed objects are used to do things better or more easily and to do some things that could not otherwise be done at all (Grades K - 5) More Details

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Unit Overview

This unit is composed of two lessons and five activities related to the integration of sensors and motors with programming logic in LEGO robots to perform complex tasks. The unit is the fifth in a series and follows Humans Are Like Robots (unit 1), Our Bodies Have Computers and Sensors (unit 2), What Is a Computer Program? (unit 3) and How Do Sensors Work? (unit 4).

Throughout this unit, each group of (2-4) students requires all or portions of the following items:

Alternative: LEGO MINDSTORMS NXT Set:

Note: This activity can also be conducted with the older (and no longer sold) LEGO MINDSTORMS NXT set instead of EV3; see below for those supplies:

  • LEGO MINDSTORMS NXT robot, such as the NXT Base Set (includes programmable NXT intelligent brick; 3 interactive servo motors; sound, light, ultrasonic and 2 touch sensors; and many other components and instructions)
  • LEGO MINDSTORMS Education NXT Software 2.1 
  • computer, loaded with NXT 2.1 software

Unit Schedule

Each lesson and activity is designed to take one to two 50-minute sessions, for a total of ten 50-minute sessions for the unit. See Table 1 for the suggested order to conduct the lessons and activities.

  1. Lesson 1: What Is Engineering and What Is Design? (1 session - 50 mintues)
  2. Activity 1: Maze Challenge (2 sessions - 100 minutes)
  3. Lesson 2: What Are Gears and What Do They Do? (1 session - 50 mintues)
  4. Activity 2: Hare and Snail Challenges (2 sessions - 100 minutes)
  5. Activity 3: Sumobot Challenge (1.5 sessions - 75 minutes)
  6. Activity 4: Line-Follower Challenge (1.5 sessions - 75 minutes)
  7. Activity 5: Robot Soccer Challenge (1 session - 50 mintues)

Contributors

Sachin Nair, Riaz Helfer, Pranit Samarth, Satish S. Nair

Copyright

© 2014 by Regents of the University of Colorado; original © 2013 Curators of the University of Missouri

Supporting Program

GK-12 Program, Computational Neurobiology Center, College of Engineering, University of Missouri

Acknowledgements

This curriculum was developed under National Science Foundation GK-12 grant no. DGE 0440524. However, these contents do not necessarily represent the policies of the National Science Foundation, and you should not assume endorsement by the federal government.

Last modified: February 8, 2019

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