How to get youngsters interested in STEM? Borrow robots from local library?

As a background, I'm since today working as an educator & tech lab support at our local university of applied sciences. I'll be mainly teaching computer science related subjects and project management to the becoming engineers.
Right before going to another appointment, my new boss gave me a vague task: The university would like to donor a few of "something" to the city library to hopefully raise more interest in STEM in youngsters around ~12-16 years. This would be one step in trying to secure that we have enough students (and the right ones) also in the future. This "something" would ideally be available for loans, similarly as books. Next waypoint for those still interested would be the local Makerspace community.

If you (or your kids) would be able to borrow "something STEM-related with proper start instructions and online material" for 2-4 weeks from a library, what could it be?

A robotic arm, a rover, ...?
How to program it, from own PC/tablet/phone, what language?

I don't want to put too many constraints as of now, but obviously this "something" would need to be sturdy enough and have as few pieces as possible (i.e. forget separate resistors, leds etc.).

Looping @Ken Gracey as well

In addition to hopefully solving this task, I'll try to sneak in some Propeller-boards into the tech lab, in addition to all the rPi's and Arduinos :-)
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Comments

  • Phil Pilgrim (PhiPi)Phil Pilgrim (PhiPi) Posts: 22,752
    edited 2020-08-03 - 17:06:35
    I'd vote for a Parallax S3 robot -- mainly because it's self-contained (i.e. no parts to lose), less destructible than other options, and programmable in Blockly.

    -Phil
  • I'd vote for a Parallax S3 robot -- mainly because it's self-contained (i.e. no parts to lose), less destructible than other options, and programmable in Blockly.

    -Phil

    Thx Phil, S3 is one alternative. If possible I'd like to support Parallax, but I need to be open for other manufacturers as well. E.g. iRobot has similar Root rt0 and rt1 robots (https://store.irobot.com/default/root/irobot-root-rt0/RT00020.html).
    Nice to have would be possibility to use Python or MicroPython, but that unfortunately drops out Parallax as of now, though I've understood MicroPython is under construction for P2
  • Hmm, SumoBot WX (https://www.parallax.com/product/32134) might be another option, although there are some parts which can get lost.
  • Don't know if one of the best things still exists anymore with the demise of Radio Shack, but I came across around 6/7th grade, the Radio Shack 65in1 kit. I don't think it had any logic devices on it as the later ones did, but it was a step up from the stinky P-box projects. If you can find such a thing out there now, the best thing about it would be the librarians would maybe have to keep a stock of extra wire lengths for the ones that would get lost. The lab manual and the 65in1 would all come back as the parts and spring clips for wiring the projects was a single hard (hard is a relative term I realize) assembly. Perhaps if such is not available, either someone could obtain the rights to the Radio Shack manuals and distribute as PDFs and maybe a kickstarter to create the kits for use with the PDF manuals.

    Yes, it is not really parallax, and not really code or digital, but there is no shortage of that. I used to think that code is a good avenue, no shortage of things to write for, but the real world is analog. If one wants to really rule the electronic world, become scary good with analog and all that that means. Anyone can hack code, build digital to a point, but seriously, to encourage someone to go down the math path to be really good at analog? That's accomplishing something.

  • Peter JakackiPeter Jakacki Posts: 9,707
    edited 2020-08-04 - 02:51:05
    It's a different generation and they have been spoilt technologically speaking. Why would anyone prepare a 3 course dinner or even cook breakfast if you had servants who did it so well and at your whim? So too with STEM, it is too hands on and even making an LED blink is hard work and just not impressive. What did you do at school today? - I was trying to make an LED blink, but I couldn't!

    Kids have smartphones, tables, laptops, desktops, and the Internet and its wealth of "how to's" and most of all they have it all prepared for them in the way of apps, and even apps to write apps.

    The thing is that I know people who have always had servants do anything and everything and while they live a life of privilege, they didn't learn any useful life skills at all, they are totally dependent upon the servants and would be lost without them. So too, the younger generation is dependent upon "servants", the technology doing it all for them. There is no motivation needed nor required nor forthcoming. Kid uses an app to write an app and is hailed as a "Genius computer whiz-kid". Another kid tries to blink an LED and is viewed as a failure.

    I don't know of any kid at all that is motivated enough to find out more. Are there any on this forum? Well, actually I remember one local lad whose dad used to motivate him to build bots that he entered in mouse maze contests etc. Dad though did practically all the mechanicals etc but he did use a Prop chip and I helped him out with parts etc. I wonder what happened to him?

    Just checked - he is founder and CEO of EANTE. Maybe it wouldn't hurt for me to contact him and find out what he thinks would get "youngsters" :smile: interested in STEM.
  • I have a Penguin that I haven't touched but I think something like a Toddler, KittyBot, or JukeBot would be a good attention grabber.

    A train of BOE-Bots or ActivityBots with the leader under Remote control would be another attention grabber.
  • Thx for the ideas and thoughts!
    What about RoboCup robots, any experience from that type of robot?
    Continuing to brainstorm with myself, what about some robot arm or similar being used to solve the Tower of Hanoi?

    Let the ideas flow!
    Genetix wrote: »
    I have a Penguin that I haven't touched but I think something like a Toddler, KittyBot, or JukeBot would be a good attention grabber.

    A train of BOE-Bots or ActivityBots with the leader under Remote control would be another attention grabber.

    Great idea, perhaps a couple of S3's following each other?
    I'm still thinking about the SumoBot WX competition kit as teaching the robots to fight might be exciting for the teens. Once assembled, perhaps there are no loose parts? Any experience from this new kit yet?
  • ercoerco Posts: 19,779
    edited 2020-08-05 - 03:39:15
    I've done two mini-Maker Faires, demonstrating a variety of robots and technologies. The clear winner is these stupid-simple $5 line follower kits from Ebay China: https://www.ebay.com/itm/313028990813
    Kids AND adults are absolutely MESMERIZED by them. Many people think my black line (I use electrical tape) is magnetic and it just blows their mind... "how does it know to follow the line?" I used to fight it, but it's a consistent winner. IMO the fact that there are just a handful of components on the PCB chassis is tantalizing. Everything is in plain sight and it looks so simple that people aren't intimidated. No coding, no processor, just two hardware comparators and switching transistors. Kids like to race the robots and try to fool them by moving the tape/line. If your company wanted to donate several soldering irons and a few dozen (or hundred) kits, I'm sure you could captivate a lot of kids and spark their interest in electronics and robotics. It's a great first "learn to solder" kit and there are many Youtube videos showing how to build these:





    High schools are using these, letting kids "race" their line followers:



    They work well in their stock configuration, and many hacks are possible to improve speed/performance.





    An article of mine details some hacks:

    http://servo.texterity.com/servo/201707/MobilePagedReplica.action?pm=2&folio=9#pg9

    Not high tech, but very doable for all ages and IMO a great gateway into our world. Blinking LEDs FTW!
  • Thx Erco, one can always count on you for ideas!
    banjo wrote: »
    ....
    I'm still thinking about the SumoBot WX competition kit as teaching the robots to fight might be exciting for the teens. Once assembled, perhaps there are no loose parts? Any experience from this new kit yet?

    Anyone has any feedback about the new SumoBot WX?
  • Eventually they will add an "A" to STEM - making it STEAM. "A" stands for Arts.
    Then, 1 by 1 the rest of the letters will be diminished to only allow for Art.

    This is what happened in Walsenburg, CO - who have a STEAM-based art gallery - but no STEM.
    CSU-Pueblo is going down this path.

    STEM is leading people to Art - not science, technology, engineering & math.
    I'm sorry, but this is what I have experienced.
  • There is a desperate need for attracting more people to STEM - I have recently written a few posts about the need and some of the responses being started to improve the situation.
    https://www.onlinecomponents.com/blogpost/257-post-lockdown-uk-promoting-engineering
    https://www.onlinecomponents.com/blogpost/258-umass-launches-new-engineering-diversity-program
    https://www.onlinecomponents.com/blogpost/256-where-have-all-the-engineers-gone

    Interesting have found as mentioned above that the younger generation may see STEM subjects as too hard - schools are not capturing the imagiation but maybe the recent Space X and our highly tech world may change this.
  • Phil Pilgrim (PhiPi)Phil Pilgrim (PhiPi) Posts: 22,752
    edited 2020-08-06 - 20:01:19
    Eventually they will add an "A" to STEM - making it STEAM. "A" stands for Arts.
    Then, 1 by 1 the rest of the letters will be diminished to only allow for Art.
    I observed the exact opposite when I taught a robotics class at the local high school. I encouraged my students' artistic expression and was rewarded with a heightened desire on their parts to incorporate creativity in their robotics projects. Art and technology are not mutually exclusive. Art fosters an open mind, which translates into greater creativity in technological endeavors. I'm totally for putting the "A" into "STEM", as an essential part of fostering the whole person in our students.

    IOW, the inclusion of Art in STEM education does not diminish it but, rather, enhances it.

    -Phil
  • Peter showed us a mirror. We as the developed Nations are United in being served. The hungry kids will win the Future.
  • Eventually they will add an "A" to STEM - making it STEAM. "A" stands for Arts.
    Then, 1 by 1 the rest of the letters will be diminished to only allow for Art.
    I observed the exact opposite when I taught a robotics class at the local high school. I encouraged my students' artistic expression and was rewarded with a heightened desire on their parts to incorporate creativity in their robotics projects. Art and technology are not mutually exclusive. Art fosters an open mind, which translates into greater creativity in technological endeavors. I'm totally for putting the "A" into "STEM", as an essential part of fostering the whole person in our students.

    IOW, the inclusion of Art in STEM education does not diminish it but, rather, enhances it.

    -Phil

    That may be true for your class, but if you look at the Art & Slime supplies at Walmart - and also see a lack of science kits, then you may understand what is going on.

    Something has diminished when finding a place for people to excel in science. In the long-term, STEAM is being used to undermine math & science learning - and supplant it with Arts. Simply to drag the lowest common denominator along. One by one, it will become SEAM, then SAM, then MA, then A.

    Hasn't anybody seen the movie Idiocracy? In regards to STEM to STEAM - it doesn't take 500 years to dumb down the population.
  • "...if you look at the Art & Slime supplies at Walmart - and also see a lack of science kits, then you may understand what is going on..."

    A search on Walmart.com for "stem kits" loads more than 1,000 hits, including a bunch of stuff by Parallax. Same with Amazon.

    When the #1 and #2 retail entities in the USA are absolutely brimming with STEM gadgets, a conspiracy is hard to conjure.
  • frank freedmanfrank freedman Posts: 1,729
    edited 2020-08-08 - 03:22:05
    But not in the stores. Hobby Lobby has a better selection in the B&M stores. Hence Phil's observation. Online? Out of sight, out of mind.

    Just as an aside, there used to be a place called Kiddie World off SanThomas and Stevens Creek back in the day. Probably was a good toy store, but what I remember was a section that would have made Edmund Scientific proud!
  • ercoerco Posts: 19,779
    I have seen STEM further expanded into STREAM, adding Reading & Art, here in CA.

    Seems to me like reading is implied, but someone felt the need to make it official and lengthen the acronym.

    I say lets add Health for good measure.

    SHTREAM, anyone? Yessshhhhh, that's what she said.
  • yeah, the three R's of education:

    reading, riting and ritmetic...

    Mike
  • I'd vote for a Parallax S3 robot -- mainly because it's self-contained (i.e. no parts to lose), less destructible than other options, and programmable in Blockly.

    -Phil

    And we decided to try... drumroll please ... Scribbler S3 x 2! Unfortunately not direct from Parallax though, due to the only available shipping option (UPS) would've costed $262. Mouser Europe got the business from us this time.

    Now we'll continue to search for some type of robust RPi-based (or similar) platform where only certain pins would be available for use, probably with a separate breadboard or similar hiding away the RPi itself. The idea is that library/makerspace visitors would be able to try a few different simple circuits (e.g. led, servo, temperature sensor...) and program them in Python. While the S3's could be borrowed home, the RPi-platforms would stay in the library.
    If anyone has some ideas for the RPi-platform, let them come!
  • banjobanjo Posts: 350
    edited 2020-09-18 - 17:51:09
    Not a figure 8, but scribbling instead. Guess the name of the university where I work!

    Hopefully the link to the YT video works. Sorry for the shakiness, did not have time to charge the battery for a proper video cam.



    Edit: Duh, don't click on the red YouTube play button to link/embed a video. Just paste the YT link as plain text to embed the video, or add it as a link with the link button.
    Easy is it? Perhaps, not according to my logic though.
  • nice!

    next step: Pen lifter with servo.

    cool,

    Mike
  • Thx, yup, have pondered about a pen lifter, using a servo or would a solenoid work?
    Anyhow, this is not very highly prioritized now
  • banjo wrote: »
    Thx, yup, have pondered about a pen lifter, using a servo or would a solenoid work?
    Anyhow, this is not very highly prioritized now

    Solenoid would work well if done right.
  • Thx Publison! Need to take a look at how it's done.
  • Unfortunately Chris's video is down since he closed his website.
  • I have found its hard to get them into much of anything if they don't already have a interest in something, and usually that is related to their friends or peers.

    You can buy or provide them with all the needed equipment and instructions, and it will go unused if their friends aren't interested in it, and possibly they won't pursue it due to peer pressure, and will pursue the peer pressure things.

    I know one youngster who did exactly this, and only pursued the programming language his friend was making a game with. But that never goes far because his friend only talks about it and tries to get him interested just for bragging rights. "look what I did, but i won't teach or help you do it, and next time we meet i will brag more about what i did"

    Its a hard thing to do when you are dealing with peers, so try to get a group of young people involved and you might find a bit more success at STEM.
    I purchased a youngster a blocky prop starter kit, and myself, so I could teach them, they weren't interested because their friend insulted it and them over it.

    Self driven interest is really a big need to make things happen, they can have all the equipment, teachers, and resources all at their fingertips, and it all can be destroyed by their peers. This is why educators need to pay attention to students attitudes, comments, bullying, and peer pressures almost more than the educational materials. And come down very hard on those that do this, suspensions.

    Once you make it clear that will not be tolerated at all, then it will pave the way for peer pressure to take a back seat to interest and curiosity.

    Games are a good way to get them interested, so integrating minecraft with real world actions, like having a real switch be able to trigger a minecraft switch, etc... Games were the first thing I was interested in, then I had to figure out how to get more memory in dos to run a better game.... etc...

    Money works too, candy, snacks... etc. lol
  • Peter JakackiPeter Jakacki Posts: 9,707
    edited 2020-09-21 - 01:27:19
    Kids are kids, and there will always be some that have "attitude" and exert peer pressure, but the real problem is not really them. It doesn't help that the kids think that this kind of behavior is right and support it by acquiescing though. If you were to suspend anybody and everybody that had an attitude or a comment or appeared to be bullying or exerting peer pressure, you'd run out of students. My wife is a science teacher and so I speak from second first-hand experience. Society has to ingrain respect for parents and teachers, but they have failed and indeed encourage disrespect through all forms of media and pseudo-peer pressure, that is, where marketing and media get the kids to think that this is what all the cool kids think, at the expense of parents and teachers etc.

    But fortunately my wife teaches at what some people call "the refugee school" where kids come from families that have entered as refugees, so English is not their primary language. Most of these kids start out fine as they have that respect, but then mixing with the wrong friends and taking in antisocial attitudes, and all that gets flushed down the drain. They in turn infect other kids, just like covid19 does, so you can't blame or punish the kids, or patient zero, blame the virus. Without that respect you can't teach them, they have too much attitude but really are totally freaked and need to and have to look cool to their peers. Who did that? The virus stemming from this me-first society and culture, not the kids.

    If you don't tolerate other views and opinions and then speak and take action against those ones, then who is actually the intolerant one? There is no way in the world that everybody can think totally alike and have the same views and opinions. I even have a twin brother that thinks and acts totally differently. Who draws the line and where? But this so called tolerant society ends up tolerating disrespect and anarchy in the guise of righteous intolerance to intolerance. Accountability for actions, not thoughts and opinions.

    I have tried to help many young ones over the decades and I had one very very bright boy that I gave an old scope to and other equipment as well as boards and parts and tried to involve him in some projects for teaching purposes. Alas, while he does very well with all kinds of HLLs, he just doesn't have that embedded programming desire embedded in him. Sure, he will code up an RPi to interface to a phone app, and implement a database, but that is about as embedded as it gets.

    Now that I've said that, there is a huge huge difference between this Internet generation of kids and all those that came before. Before the net if we wondered about something, then it took a lot of effort to find out about it, and in the process we learn, and learn "how to learn". It's like feeling hungry in the middle of the night, but back then you couldn't tap your app to get Uber Eats to deliver Korean BBQ chicken at midnight, you had to either continue yearning for it, or make it yourself or whatever.
    Kids today are not hungry like that anymore, nor yearning. The Internet has delivered a huge gushing waterfall of information and help and so the kids never go information hungry and in the process never yearn to know, or develop that drive that has driven all the generations before it. So the Internet is a blessing, and a curse.

    There are some kids that do have that drive. Why? If we find that out, it may help. We have all the information, all the equipment, all the help, we just need the drive. Maybe something like a hands-on workshop competition where it's just the kids themselves, not anybody else, that get to show what they are capable of when put on the spot and driven by a goal. But besides the cooperation of schools, you have to have some big carrot there, and besides a title, and an award or trophy, you would have a prize that would involve STEM gear to drool over, and a trip and guided tour to "Parallax Land" for the winner and some runner-ups. Make that a yearly competition so they have a continual goal.



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