Friday, September 28, 2012

Student Robotics, here we go again.

If  memory serves me correctly I am now in my 13th year of having middle school kids build small, pugnacious combat robots.  I vaguely even recall a couple of years when I did the class twice.  With an average class size of 24 that makes a lot of shambling contraptions cobbled together with glue and plywood and styrofoam and unrealistic expectations.

I probably won't do updates as often this year as last.  Maybe in a couple of weeks I will feature a few of the more outre creations.

I guess my enthusiasm level is a bit lower this time around.

For one thing the class sessions are both Tuesday and Thursday after school hours.  This pushes more of my ER work onto the weekends.  That makes for more wear and tear on me.

And maybe I am just getting a little tired of the simple machines.  The advanced class is more fun, and I am not convinced that the basic class is a necessary foundation builder.

Also, it seems a little strange to look out across a bunch of eager 6th, 7th and 8th grade faces and realize that I have been doing this class longer than they have been doing anything.

In a way the robotics class is an anachronism, a hold over from an earlier era.  In part I got into teaching it because my Number 2 son was so mechanically gifted.  Maybe I was trying to find and nurture a few peers...  If so I have done a poor job I suppose, out of some 250 to 300 students over the years (many take the class more than once) I doubt I have found more than a couple who came close to his level of gearhead nerdism. (Perhaps only one really.  It was an intense young man who insisted against all logic that his design for an electromagnetic rail gun would launch a projectile at effective velocity.  I let him build it despite my conviction that the circuitry looked more like a faulty and inefficient toaster.  It did not work, but its bulky coils were heavy enough and intimidating enough that I recall he took second place by pushing other robots into hazards.  And of course honorable mention to the two students over the years who have asked, and been denied, permission to use plutonium in their designs.)

Once in a while my son comes over to help with the class when we get to crunch time.  The students are allowed to call me Mr. or Dr. as they see fit.  I tell them to call my son "Oh Great and Powerful TechnoGod, at whose Feet we are Unworthy to Grovel".  It is only a mild exaggeration.

So I was ready to make this year's class a grand finale.  But I don't think I can do it.  Of all the class offerings robotics always fills first.  I am told that when the office opened at 7:30 am on the day of registration that there was a line waiting.  The class filled in five minutes.  All others who wanted to take it were turned away.

At least for the 6th and 7th graders I should be able to say "next year".

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