Instructional Material: STEM Robotics 101_Classroom Management_Course Level Resources

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First Days of School

If STEM Robotics is a CTE (Career and Technical Education) class, then making this distinction with students gives a segue to establishing a classroom environment that is more consistent with the career world than other classes.
Since Robotics is a STEM class, the career environment presented here is that of a professional working in a high-tech company.

When a professional Scientist, Technologist, Engineer or Mathematician hires into a new company, the first thing they experience is an Orientation session which equips them to work within the company culture. Topics covered during Orientation usually include the company's Mission Statement, Goals and Values, Rules and Expectations, and security issues including creating a I.D. card for the new employee. Similarly, at CTE STEM class may also establish its own classroom culture, reflecting that of the professional STEM career world. One such example is presented below.

Mission Statement
A Mission Statement is a concise summary of purpose. The "Growing Consumers of Technology into Creators of Technology" PowerPoint poster is one such example.

Goal and Values
The Goal and Values PowerPoint is intended to be both an animated presentation and a poster. Companies may have multiple Goals, but for simplicity, the Robotics classroom one presented here has a single Goal: Group Success through Individual Achievement - the twin ideas that everyone in the class will succeed at becoming a Creator of Technology (the Mission Statement) and we will maximize this success when every student contributes their best work and seeks/offers assistance when needed.

Another key part of a company's culture is its Value system which supports its stated Goal(s). The animation in this presentation is intended introduce the Robotics Classroom Values and explain the deliberate tension which they create:

  • Results: In the High-Tech career world, results matter - period. While ideas, skills, effort and passion are vital to achieve consistent results, they alone are not enough unless they produce desired results. If a company does not make money it will go out of business and everyone loses their job. So getting results needs to be valued.
  • Quality: Short term results can sometimes be achieved by sloppily throwing things together, but Quality work is essential long term success. Quality work needs to be valued.
  • Process: Short term results can sometimes also be achieved by taking short cuts, but following prescribed Processes is necessary to get consistently great results. Process needs to be valued.
  • Timeliness: Time-to-Market is a vital concept in the High-Tech world - if your competitor beats you, they can define the market and keep you in constant catch-up mode (think iPod, iPad, etc.). There is always a deadline, so Timeliness needs to be valued.
  • Risk Taking: If you always do the same things, the same way, with the same people it won't take long for an competitor to out-innovate you. Successful companies take calculated risks when they feel the potential (uncertain) payback is worth the investment. Getting outside one's comfort zone is essential for growth, so Risk Taking needs to be Valued
  • Fun: Great companies create a great place to work. A Robotics class needs to value Fun as student learn and apply the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math to become a Creator of Technology

These six values may seem like a lot to take in and apply, but they are not arbitrary. They are built on the concept of Creative Tension. If, for example, we had a company that only valued having Fun, Taking Risks and getting things done really fast (the lower three values), how long do you think such a company would stay in business? In order to maximize a Goal, a supporting value system needs to be constructed of opposing forces:

  • Results & Risk Taking are at odds, since the most predicable way to guarantee a result is to do everything the same way you've done it before - however, little or no innovation would occur. Conversely, taking excessive risks jeopardizes the likelihood of getting a result.
  • Quality & Timeliness are at odds, since Quality means sweating the details, and that takes time.
  • Process & Fun are at odds, since its a lot more fun to skip boring procedural steps and a get to the fun result - but would you want to fly on a plane where they the skipped the boring inspection steps?

Finding the sweet spot that balances the opposing Value forces is the best way to guarantee maximizing your Goal.

This Classroom Values Self-Evaluation provides a tool for students to check their progress against these values.

Rule and Expectations
The Rule and Expectations PowerPoint is also intended as both an animated presentation and a poster. Again, while High-Tech companies may a many Rules (and resulting Expectations) the Robotics Classroom set presented here has a single Rule: Respect. By exploring the four aspects of Respect (for Self, for Others. for Teacher/Student, for School) a set of Expectations emerges. The presentation is meant to seed a class discussion by presenting three Expectations for each facet of Respect and then soliciting other examples (or counter-examples) from the class. Virtually any misbehavior that arises in a Robotics Classroom can be shown to be a odds with this Rule and these Expectations.

Job Application
Candyce Burroughs and Ray Gutierrez from Washington Middle School in Olympia, Washington created this Robotics Engineer Level I Job Application.  It is intended as get-to-know you/yourself exercise for new students. It may also be given to students at the end of the course (as a Level II application) for students to document their growth from the class.

NXT Kit Contract
Candyce Burroughs and Ray Gutierrez from Washington Middle School in Olympia, Washington created this NXT Kit Contract.  It is intended to be used to document usage expectations and responsibilites for students and parent/guardians.

I.D. Cards
Security is taken seriously at High-Tech companies. One measure they take to help ensure security is to issue photo I.D. badges for each employee. Eventually the students will be creating an identity for each of their team-pairs (name, logo, slogan, I.D. badges, etc.) that we'll treat as robotics start-up companies. However, forming optimal team-pairs can take some trial-and-error over the first few weeks of a new class, so you may not be ready to jump into this activity right away. The following is an idea for I.D. Badges for the first days of school (adapted from Scott LeDuc, Capital High School, Olympia, WA) which can serve many purposes:

  • judge students' ability to follow instructions
  • judge students' computer skills
  • allow students to do some self-reflective learning
  • help the teacher learn student names more quickly
  • allow the teacher to better understand their students as individuals
  • provide students an icebreaker to use we paired/grouped with students they do not know yet
  • create a professional STEM environment by having everyone wear I.D.Badges

The activity involves using a web site to create playing cards with the student's photo embedded in them. A Yu-Gi-Oh card site is used here, but others are available.

The students identify their personality type and learning style through surveys. The two suggested here are targeted at 7th graders, but there are many more sophisticated ones available on line for advanced students. In this example, students are also asked to list their hobbies, interests, sports, etc. and "If you were a Superhero, what would your power be?". This creates a unique snap shot of each student for the teacher, and provides a script for shy students to use when meeting others for the first time. Some teachers also print a second set of cards to serve as random student selection tool (pulling a name from the deck) which not only gives the teacher new student's picture and names, but also a quick insight into the unique individual they are interacting with.

The I.D. Card Maker Instructions PowerPoint provides a sample screen shot to walk students through, step-by-step instructions for students, and a scoring key if this activity is graded. The instructions presented here assume shared USB drives are used to store the photos/cards to avoid having students each create accounts at this web site (in order to save the cards on line).

A link to a learning style survey is included, which students complete and then record the result (visual, auditory, or tactile) on their card.

The Personality Survey is a simple picture-based personality test. Student select an image (or two) that appeals to them, and then they look up the personality types that these present. If students agree that the description is representative of them, they select one or more of the descriptors (e.g. creative, analytical) to add to their card.

The I.D. Card Template is PowerPoint file which lays out 9 I.D. cards on a 8.5x11 page. By right-clicking on each image and using the "Change Picture..." command, student created cards can be inserted and automatically sized for printing. The last two pages are sample back-sides for the cards which can be altered for your school. These cards are sized to fit in standard clear plastic badge holders which can be purchased with lanyards through discount office supply stores for about $0.40/student.


Some teachers have found that while they like the benefits of the ID Card exercise, they have found the expense, inconvenience (dangling badges get in the way) and policing ("Where's your badge?") out weighed the benefit.  FaceCards were developed as a lower cost/maintenance solution.

The two FaceCards of a Robotics Team's members are intended to be placed in a clear sheet protector by the team's kit/supplies.  The FaceCard the same information as the ID badge, but in a larger format/layout.

This FaceCard PowerPoint file contains a template for the FaceCard (two per page) and instructions for students for creating the content for the cards.  The last slide contains another "first-days" activity for students to help gather information to aid the teacher in forming the initial Robotics Teams.

Initial Student Survey

This survey is adapted from one developed by Don Domes of Hillsboro High School, Hillsboro, OR. In addition to getting a unique snap shot of each student, Don uses the "What pay rate" question as a segue to discuss the unique format of a Robotics class and the higher order thinking skills it demands. Inevitably, most (or all) students avoid the minimum wage level and even skilled labor level, opting instead for the professional level. The skills required for these kinds of jobs are very different than those for flipping burgers, so Don explains how the class will be run to emphasize higher order thinking skills, independent learning, effective teamwork and problem solving. Students who complain that the course does not rely on simple memorization, all multiple choice tests, or credit for just showing up and going through the motions can reminded that are not the skills required the professional wage jobs that they said they want to earn.

Classroom Procedures

Group Feedback Survey

This self-evaluation survey by Colleen Wells (Marshall Middle School, Olympia, WA) may be used periodically to gain confidential student feedback on team dynamics and effectiveness.

2/Kit Max

Most teachers have found that 2 students to 1 NXT kit ratio to be ideal.  The value of learning in teams is well understood, and the hardware/software nature for most robotics projects gives each student ownership of the final product (these roles should be rotated frequently to ensure both student become proficient in hardware and software).  Most teacher have found that when more than 2 students are assigned to a team, this effective dynamic breaks down quickly, with one or more students always "leaning on their shovel" while the other(s) "dig the ditch".

Kit Organization  & Inventory

One house-keeping task that many teachers have questions about, is how often to organize and inventory the NXT kits.  Most teachers reccommend that the kit be organized as indicated in the included placards on a daily basis (when a project is disassembled, all parts are placed in the indicated spot on the upper of lower stoarage trays).  This greatly reduces buidling time for a new project.

How often to inventory is a more complicated questions.  Most teachers inventory the kits at the beginning and end of a semester/quarter.  Many teachers prefer to re-arrange their team memberships throughout a course and if this is done bewteen building projects, this a also convenient time to inventory the kits. 

The question of how to inventory also has alternative solutions.  An exhaustive inventory for all 600+ parts using the placard pdfs (from Instructor's Guide in the NXT Kit Overview lesson) can be quite time consuming.  Some teachers prefer to do a periodic inventory of just the key elements in the kit.  To speed this approach up, Ray Gutierrez (Washington Middle School, Olympia, WA) created three 8.5x11 sheets with the key elements from the kit.  Student place these three sheets on their desk and lay the indicated parts on each sheet.  This allows Ray to periodically determine if all the kits are largely complete in a very timely manner.


Robo-share-share in intended as means for students to become more aware of how their lives are permeating by STEM.  Students are encouraged to share examples of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math that they come across day-to-day.  Newspaper or Magazine articles, web sites, YouTube videos and commercials are all great sources for Robo-shares that bring to life aspects of STEM. 

Increasing explicit awareness of STEM helps to make STEM Robotics more relevant.  Not many students will end up working for" Robots-R-Us",but  many will find a future in some STEM field.  It helps to remind students that virtually every product they buy, every sports they participate in, and every hobby they enjoy involves aspects of Engineering and Technology (and their underlying Math and Science)..



CTE Middle School Framework (work in progress)

This work-in-progress framework incorporates the new (2013) Washington State CTE Framework Template and incorporates the Common Core Standards for Math and English Language Arts.

CTE High School Framework (work in progress)

This work-in-progress framework incorporates the new (2013) Washington State CTE Framework Template and incorporates the Common Core Standards for Math and English Language Arts.  Units 1 through 13 of this 3 year course are based on STEM Robotics 101.

Instructional Resources

This section describes various NXT resources used/linked throughout this curriculum or presented as alternative content sources:

Lego Mindstorms Education NXT Base Set

Lego Mindstorms Education NXT Software 2.1

NXT Video Trainer 2.0
(Now available free online from CMU's CS2N Courses site)

Dale Yocum's NXT Tutorial (Videos)

Classroom Activities for the Busy Teacher: NXT 2nd Edition (Book)

Mindstorms Education Robotics Engineering I: Introduction to Mobile Robotics (CD)

Mindstorms Education Robotics Engineering II: Guided Research (CD)

Robot Science Featuring Data Logging (CD)

Data Logging Activities for Busy Teachers (Book)



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