Archive for September, 2012

Dead NXT bricks – bummer

September 30, 2012

I am bummed.  Three of my eight Mindstorms bricks have no screen.  After a bit of Googling there appears to be an issue with some little capacitors in the bricks.  I have a local electronics guy trying to fix them.  So it is back to Small Basic and drawing houses with my Programming I class.  Drawing houses in Small Basic does not sound like much of a project but I can hit many of the programming basics in the project.  For loops and sub procedures are the first things to be hit.  I can also talk about objects, methods and events.  The biggest learning objective is the logic required in planning the house.  Very rarely do I get a kid wanting to make something simple.  They all start competing to build the coolest looking house with trees, fences and pets.  This all takes thought and planning.  I get a lot of “Can I do this…?” and my reply is usually “Probably.  Look in the documentation and tell me.”  I have found over the years that if I give the kids a project like this they will take it places I would never dream of.  I do not do a lot of lecturing in my programming classes.  It has a tendency to put the kids to sleep.  Not that my lectures aren’t brilliant and exciting, it is the fact that programming lectures have a built in “When is he going to shut up and let me try things?” factor.

Yesterday I introduced the idea of sub procedures and braking the program into functional modules.  They had already been working on their houses for a day and a half so most of the kids had a pretty reasonable house built.  The first comment I get is “Can I redo my house?”, and not “Do I have to redo my house?”

Typically I start Programming I with Scratch but this year I have a bunch of ambitious sophomore and junior boys (no girls this time) who are really into it.  I will come back to Scratch later with the Kinect.  I want to see what they can dream up.

The Zoo, Mindstorms and App Inventor

September 19, 2012

These first few weeks of school have been a zoo.  The elementary school is trying to go techy.  All the teachers have iPads now (although most are dust collectors) and the 6th grade is going 1-1 with iPads.  The elementary principal is trying to get the teachers to use more tech in their classroom.  All of this requires tech time: troubleshooting, software and app research and purchasing.  I teach half time and tech the other half.  It is not working well.  Oh well, when things go to crap maybe the scheme will change.

My Programming I class is trying to do Mindstorms robot kits this semester.  I got tired of Scratch and Small Basic every Programming I (I get bored easy teaching the same thing year after year) and I had enough kits for everybody so I thought I would give it a try.  The kids are really getting into it.  Of course we are just building tri-bots at the moment so things might change when they have to program.  I will be using the NXT-G language initially but I do want to transition to RobotC eventually.  I do not like NXT-G at all.  Guess I am just a line code guy.  RobotC is just easier to work with and has a lot more versatility.  The problem is I do not own licenses for RobotC.  The trial license is good for 30 days so I am going to try and fit the RobotC part of the course into that window.  Should be fun.  Money constraints at a low budget private school make things a challenge at times.

Of course as soon as you start relying on tech to teach with the tech starts dying.  We already have two bricks (out of eight) without working screens.  Hopefully the local electronics guru in town can fix them.  I cannot afford new bricks.  The best laid plans, etc, etc.  I may be back to drawing houses with the Small Basic turtle.  Nothing wrong with that as far as learning programming goes but just not quite as fun for the kids.

My Programming II/III are diving into App Inventor.  I want to see if we can get a Tic-Tac-Toe game working.  I am plagiarizing the heck out of Alfred Thompson’s Tic-Tac-Toe blog post for Windows Phone.  I am still a little tweaked at Microsoft for ending his blog.

I had better go fix stuff.  Lots of stuff.