My library system recently got a couple kits with 5 Lego Mindstorm Robots, and I jumped at the chance to do a program for my Maker Monday group. Overall, this was a huge success, although there are definitely a few things I would change next time.
This was a bonus Maker Monday, so I advertised the heck out of it to make sure I got kids to come. I held it in the middle of May, which has proven to be a tricky month to get kids to after school programs; they are just so busy this time of year. This was a 2 hour long drop in program, and my hope was that I would cycle through kids on teams since there were only 5 robots to play with. This was the reason I didn’t sleep the night before; I was afraid that either no one would show up or that I would get 50 kids all at once.
39 kids showed up, which is HUGE for Maker Mondays, especially since the Park & Rec after school program didn’t send any kids to the library. Most of them arrived in the first 10-25 minutes, so there wasn’t a whole lot of turnover. They did pretty good working in teams, and split themselves up by age/friend group. I had a couple kids with experience working with the robots, and they were mostly good at teaching their groups. There was a little bit of taking over since they knew what they were doing, so next time I would group them all together in their own group and let them move beyond our intro challenges.
I talked briefly about robots and programming and the Mindstorms to the group as a whole, and we played human robot where the kids had to give me really specific instructions to move me from point A to point B. Then I let them at it! Task one: Come up with a team name.
I had a tiny bit of experience with Mindstorm, and our teen librarian was also somewhat familiar with them, so we walked around and showed each group how to operate the basics of programming the robots on the computer. From then on, it was trial and error.
This was the part I was most worried about, but it went surprisingly smoothly. Since the groups went at their own pace, we were able to troubleshoot as need be, addressing both group dynamics and also helping if a team was completely stuck on what to do next.
The teams had 4 challenges to complete, and then I made up secret challenges if they needed more. Some of them worked on the first two challenges the entire time without getting frustrated, some moved on and were happy to just make the robot move in silly ways. One group programmed their robot to play the Imperial March from Star Wars. I was so proud.
With about a half hour left, I called for a Robot Arena and everyone brought their robots to the middle of the room and let them loose. Luckily there were no casualties (one kid left early totally bored because he thought there would be fighting robots at the program…) and we filmed the results.
After this, I casually dismissed the group and invited everyone who wanted to stay and keep playing as we cleaned up. Next time, I would advertise only an hour and a half program and I would offer snacks. This was a really long time, and some of them were getting tired and frustrated (aka, rowdy) by the end.
BUT, the kids overall had fun, I saw lots of new faces (One kid came up to the desk and said, “I’m here for robotics club,” and I thought, “oh crap, I hope he’s not disappointed…”), and I even made the front page of the paper, so you know, now I’m famous: