Robotics Forever!

“I love being here! I want this to last forever!”~New Bosque 6th grader after the first session with his robotics team.

I can relate to this student’s passion for designing, building, and programming robots. There are times when an idea for a mechanism pops into my head; I make a quick note and drawing of the idea and start grabbing the materials to prototype the mechanism. Time can seem to disappear as I build, test, fail, rebuild, test, break, rebuild, test, fail, and, with persistence and help from Google and my fellow engineers at Bosque and around the world, perfect my mechanism. No other issues in my life seem to matter, and I experience the beautiful state of “flow.”  
What I have described is the design process or design thinking. There are many versions using different terms, but the general process is the same:
  1. Define a problem
  2. Brainstorm ideas to solve the problem
  3. Create a solution to the problem
  4. Test your solution
  5. Repeat steps 2–4 as needed
I would add a step 4a: Fail

Design thinking is not new. It has been used by humans and animals since we evolved and is the basis for all innovation and problem solving. The design school at Stanford University,  Stanford, is an example of how universities embrace, research, and teach design thinking to help students solve real-world problems.

The design process is used in every subject taught at Bosque School and in every career or project in the world. Robotics provides a powerful laboratory for learning and practicing the process. Design thinking is at the heart of the challenging, experiential education we strive for at Bosque school.

On a VEX robotics team, 6th–12th graders are presented with a game for which they are challenged to create a robot and programming that will solve the game problems and score points. They must learn how to express and document their ideas, listen to teammates’ ideas, and compromise or convince their teammates to accept their ideas. Next, they must work together to build a prototype out of metal, nuts, bolts, gears, wheels, chains, and lines of code. Then the team will test its prototype and, almost always, watch it fail. The team members will then make changes to address failures or inadequacies, and repeat the process until they are satisfied or until they are required to compete against other teams with different ideas.

A robotics-build session is a raucous event filled with discussion, argument, laughter, meticulous attention to detail, flying balls, and flipping game “caps.”  It may seem chaotic, and it is sometimes chaotic, but it is a living, dynamic design thinking space.

When the students are competing in a tournament, the design process continues; but there are additional variables of time, stress, and pressure as they work together to fix unforeseen problems or implement new ideas that are inspired by competition—in time to put a working robot on the field for the next match. The students on the teams also have the added element of observing other teams and robots and negotiating with their competitors to form alliances in the final, single-elimination portion of the competition.

Bosque School is the only NAIS school in Albuquerque to offer competitive robotics. The Bosque School robotics program began with an idea and a family donation to purchase a robotics-competition kit. We have grown and thrived because of parent volunteers and donations and the commitment of the Bosque School leaders to offering experiential learning programs to our students. Students who participate in Bosque School’s robotics program get a complete design thinking/experiential learning course that is an essential part of a challenging education and a successful, fulfilling career.

The Robotics teams are funded in by the school operating budget and also by the Annual Fund. Please support this incredible program by making a gift to the Annual Fund here. In the notes section, please comment "Robotics."

Barak, M. & Zadok, Y., Robotics projects and learning concepts in science, technology and problem solving, International Journal of Technology and Design Education (2009) 19: 289.

Dym, C. L., Agogino, A. M., Eris, O. , Frey, D. D. and Leifer, L. J. (2005), Engineering Design Thinking, Teaching, and Learning. Journal of Engineering Education, 94: 103-120. doi:10.1002/j.2168-9830.2005.tb00832.x