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Teaching Arduino and Robotics at KKHS

I (Jerry Isdale, founder MauiMakers) am one of the mentors for the Robotics Club at  at King Kekaulike High School, Makawao, Hawaii.   The club participates in VEX and FIRST robotics competitions. There is a page here about a fundraiser held in early October 2011 for the club.

I started mentoring for them last January for the FIRST competition. It was a LOT of effort and I was very impressed with the work the kids did. The bot suffered a catastrophic failure about an hour before we were to ship it (nearly taking me and one of the students out in the process). However, the team managed to ship off the bot, minus some parts, fix the parts in the month between shipping and competition.  We went to the regional competition on Oahu and had a respectable showing.

Unfortunately, almost all the kids involved last year were seniors. This year we started up in August with almost a completely new crew (including my son Brian).  There were a number of kids interested in building a bot for the Oct 1st VEX Competition, but also about half the club did not feel ready to dive right in. We decided to split the club into two sections. The Competition Group would be our team for the VEX regional competition on Oct 1st at the Maui Fair.  The second would learn some basics.

The Competition Team worked very hard for the month or so we had before competition. We were able to visit Maui High School on a couple weekends before the event and test our bot. We had still had to rebuild our bot several times during the course of the competition day – once when one of the claw motors was determined to be no longer legal (old style VEX), and a couple as the motors or gears failed.  We wound up finishing the qualifications fairly well down the list, but were selected along with Baldwin High School (Maui) by one of the top teams (Kealakehe High School from Kona) for their alliance in the finals. Our alliance went on to win the competition!!  An article from Maui News covered the event and includes some pictures.  Here is my Flickr set from the event…
[slickr-flickr search="sets" set="72157627844761298" descriptions="on" flickr_link="on"]

The second group, those not involved in the VEX Competition, needed to come up to speed on robotics, etc. We didnt have enough parts for them to use VEX or other competition robotics. I also feel that while competitions are good, they tend to focus kids on mechanical building within strict limits (parts, etc). I wanted our club to have a broader exposure to robotics and indeed the whole world of Making. I have six of the SparkFun Inventors Kits (SIK) left over from our July 2011 Intro. to Arduino Class. Hmmmm. Easy decision. We started teaching basic Arduino to the 6 club members not doing VEX! One of the kids had some exposure to programming, but most of the rest (all female) were new to electronics and programming. So far we are only a couple weeks into the training but the kids have done VERY well.

With the VEX competition behind us, the club is now working as three groups. Group 1 is the original Arduino class and is continuing on with more advanced projects. Group 2 is just starting Arduino. Group 3 is learning CAD systems (AutoCAD and Inventor), which will help us do some planning for FIRST. I have a whole bunch of arduino parts, shields and alternatives (eg 8 Teensy USB Development boards). The kids are excited about hacking a robotic arm and creating some awesome science/senior projects for this and next year.

This is a learning experience for us all. I have not taught classes like this before, so I’m learning to teach. Mark Ausbeck, one of our makers and fellow mentor, is helping teach the class. I’m looking forward to the experience and hoping we can grow it to other schools in the county. The kids from Molokai HS have already asked us to come over to their island for a workshop. hmmm… need funding! Any arduino experts out there want to come for a makecation and teach?

About Jerry

Founder of MauiMakers. Previously 30+ yrs as software engineer in bleeding edge tech such as UNIX(1978+), Computer Animation, Multimedia, Virtual Reality, Games, Location Based Entertainment, Military C4I, DARPA Research, etc. Thought FabLab was great new thing, so learned machine shop tech and moved to Maui to start one.

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