I just finished five fantastic mornings with some brilliant hardworking middle schoolers, CMU Robotics Academy Curriculum on Robotics Engineering, seven Mindstorm robots, and five robot challenges. Life is good. Thank you to CCBC and the Beaver County STEM for sponsoring and encouraging such a great week, but most of all thank you to the parents willing to bring their kids everyday and encourage their curiosity.
I love this curriculum, difficult concepts of polar coordinates, distance and circumference applications, frequency and amplitude, and sensor thresholds are woven together with challenges that are hard enough to create a sense of epic fail before mastery, a sense of wonderment before comprehension and a growing awareness that there is so much more to be learned.
Each class began with an exploration of robots in our world today and ended with video taped coverage of the Jet Propulsion Lab’s efforts to build the Curiosity Mars Rover and prepare to deploy it on the red planet. Touchdown is this weekend, 1:35 am EST on Monday morning. This is a rover named by kids (12-year-old Clara Ma’s suggestion, “Curiosity,” was chosen from more than 9,000 entries) and uses Twitter (with the help of three NASA social media people) to announce her progress to the Red Planet. She is the size of a Mini Cooper and weighs 2,000 pounds.
NASA has posted numerous videos about the rovers design and testing. We watched as the engineers who proposed a new, super enlarged parachute to slow the descent experienced one failure after another in testing. It was a nice complement to our own experiences of failure and somehow gave us strength and enthusiasm to keep going.
Join my students and I and stay up to watch the landing, scheduled for Sunday at 10:31 p.m. Pacific Daylight Time (maybe you might just tune in Monday morning to hear the highlights!).. NASA’s webcast of the Mars Curiosity landing will begin at 8:30 p.m. PDT on NASA TV. And don’t forget to follow @MarsCuriosity on Twitter for a heroic “first-person” tale.