That’s an error message I got from the Lego NXT programming environment just now. I take it as a sign to give it a rest. I mean, it’s an insane error. Either the computer is gong crazy or its calling me crazy or it is just impressed and using slang. All signs point to me writing in English for the rest of the night.
Class was pretty interesting today. The guys (8 guys in the class) all built the first model pretty quickly, which was supposed to go navigate around a set of couches that I built up into a maze. Some used ultrasonic sensors some used touch sensors.
I got scared pretty quickly. Cause this took less than 2 hours. What I was figuring was going to take the day.
So I upped the ante – rolled with the punches. Said that it was too bad I didn’t have any tape to draw an oval/arena on the carpet, so that we could see who could clear it out the fastest. But, we could use the ping pong table. We’d have a competition to see who could knock the most balls off the table, without their robot falling off the table.
The edge of the table has a thick white line around it. Can be used by the light sensor (dark table == okay, white stripe == danger!) to determine safety. I thought maybe this would keep them calm until the end of the first day, then I’d panic and figure out what to do for the rest of the week tonight.
Well, they got all super creative, with this part. Which was their downfall. Creating spinning, clawing, instruments of ball clearing, with sensors all over the place detecting where the next balls were. And very little effort on trying to keep their robot on the table.
At the end of day 1, no one has really done it. One group has even taken their robot completely apart (3rd time so far) to rethink things. I’ve chatted with them about the successes and failures of their previous models, so that maybe they can redirect their efforts this 4th time.
Another fellow in class wants to program his robot in C instead of the graphical language that is available. C’s fine, and there are a couple of nice environments for it, but in general, it is a bit of overkill to not use their graphical environment, unless you’re doing some low level work or need finer granularity control or writing your own sensors or motor control algorithms. Anyway, this dude was persistent, so I told him where to look.
And he kept on downloading the version for a different brand robotics kit. Then was asking me what’s wrong with it. We had the conversation at least twice, possibly 3 times. In the end, I tried to convince him that if he’s having trouble downloading and installing the environment, perhaps he’s not ready to program his robot in C. That message didn’t get received either.
So I can’t fault the class for enthusiasm. I think it’s natural for 13-16 year olds to just do what they want to do. I’ll bring my kit in tomorrow and maybe school them a bit, by showing them how to build a robot to do the task. We set 11am as the competition time, but then they thought about it and preferred sometime after lunch.
We’ll try that. See how it goes. I’m pretty flexible in class. Making stuff up as I need to. Catherine’s asking me if I’m worried about class. Not really. They’re just punk kids. Can they tell I’m making it up as I go? I dunno. Does it matter too much? Not really. They’ll get out of the class what they want to get out of it. I’ll help them as much as I can (not including teaching them how to install, then program in robot C though) and then we’ll call it day.
At dinner, she was asking me if I would do it again. I don’t think I would. I feel guilty with that answer – because, why not? Well, they aren’t paying me enough for one. Besides the 8 hours a day of working the class, there’s 2-3 hours of prep for each day that’s necessary. That’s a lot of time and when do the per hour rate of what they’re paying me, it is micenuts. “But, Cris, you’re not doing it for the money”, I’m sure you’re thinking.
And you’re right. I’m not really doing it for the money. But helping these kids ain’t that rewarding either. I see these kids as opportunity rich and helping them, ain’t that big a deal. Sure, their parents maybe should spend some time and build these kits with them, but if they don’t want to, they can just pay someone else to do that with their kids. That’s fine. Just that being the person paid to spend the time with their kids doesn’t make me feel that good inside. Underprivileged kids though, that’d be different. I’d feel like I could be making more of a difference, that the steps we’re taking would be bigger, relatively speaking.
Others I’ve spoken to can see how there is a difference between working with the privileged versus underprivileged , but they don’t feel it would be significant. To me, it is a very significant difference. Working with the kids at Bishop Elementary means more to me than kids at a Standford summer school. Maybe it is because it is yearlong versus a week. Or maybe it is because it is a younger, more malleable age. Or maybe it is opportunity rich versus opportunity poor.
Or maybe I’ll change my mind after a few more days.