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December 23, 2014


Through robotics unit, Glencliff third graders display engineering, teamwork, and problem-solving skills

picture from robotics open house

Over the last several Mondays, students in Glencliff third grader teacher Erin McMahon's class became robotic engineers, working together to build and program their machines and solve problems and overcome challenges. On Monday, December 22, they invited their parents to school to see what they have been working so hard on since October.

The parent visit was a culminating activity in the LEGO Mindstorm unit, which helped them build on math skills such as adding, estimating, and creating bar graphs. With their parents watching, students connected their robots to their computers and used specialized software to program them to travel through a maze, marked by tape on the floor, requiring them to turn at just the right spot.

"It's been very fun. They have come in every Monday excited to start the week," McMahon said. "I love the fact that they are using their math. ...They also have to work in a group and problem-solve. If something doesn't work, right away they get to try to figure it out, and then see the results of their problem-solving.""

The LEGO Mindstorm Unit developed out of a federal grant that was written by Glencliff teacher Annette Romano in partnership with RPI's Center for Initiatives in Pre-College Education. The focus was on teachers developing the knowledge and skills to design lesson plans for LEGO that were aligned with the Common Core Learning Standards in math.

pictures from robotics Open House   pictures from robotics Open House

Through the grant, Niskayuna received 24 of the LEGO Mindstorm kits, which have also been used at the middle school level. McMahon went through the training at RPI over the last few years, and worked with Romano and Hillside teacher Mary Johnson to update the curriculum for this year.

Romano highlighted the fact that the unit embeds the process of scientific inquiry with the math curriculum. Students learn to "Plan-Do-Study-Act," translating what they have learned into a hands-on activity, and then adjusting their work based on what they see the robot do.

"It's big picture thinking," Romano said.

RPI researcher Michael Lachney has been spending Mondays at Glencliff, observing and working with Mrs. McMahon and her class as they advanced through the LEGO unit.

At the parent open house on Monday, students raised their arms in triumph when their robot went through the maze as intended. And, if it didn't turn at the right spot or went too far in one direction, they didn't give up: They reconnected it to the computer and began the re-programming process. They often explained this process to nearby parents as they worked quickly to get their robot back in action.

"They were so happy and they were so focused on what they were doing," observed parent Guna Raj, whose son, Madhav is in the class. "If you didn't stop them, they would go all morning."

Student Megan McLaughlin said that she most enjoyed programming the robot, adding that the enjoyed the challenge of Monday's activity. She said she would like to do more robotics in the future.

"It was really cool to program them," she said. "I want to keep on working on it and trying my hardest."

picture from robotics open house


picture from robotics open house