Category Archives: Robotics

What would Annie Leonard say to Robotics students

If you’ve never watched “The Story of Stuff” now may be a good time. It’s about the ‘materials economy.’ I have used this as a great way to communicate, using simple language, and a great ‘story’ format. Including, great stick figures!

It deals with how (or why) stuff end up where they do – from toxic waste in a river, to social problems around villages where diamonds are mined. The former, as we have seen in this country, involves graphic images such as this picture below. The latter is a story in TIME magazine last week on Blood Diamonds.

This year the ‘Story of Stuff’ will be a must-see piece for all robotics teams around the world. Annie Leonard stumbled on this and researched this about a decade ago, and it is still relevant. If you have 21 minutes to spare, watch this!

If I could invite Ms. Leonard to speak to my robotics students, I wonder what she would tell them about following the ‘trek’ of ‘stuff that becomes trash.

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Posted by on September 2, 2015 in Education, Robotics, Social Media


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For Robotics this year we’re re-imagining ‘Trash’

We just kicked off our new Robotics season in my school –my 5th year as coach!

With 26 students signing up, that’s more than twice the number of applications from last year. It’s a ‘good problem’ to have, to see kids become so excited about doing the hard stuff – the building, programming, doing the requisite research, and finally running those complicated missions.

On first glance, this year’s theme, Trash Trek,‘ is much less abstract than last year’s ‘World Class’ (around global education). Lots of big ideas to get our minds around the three R’s that could become a cliche unless we re-interpret RE-ducing, RE-using and RE-cycling . For instance, how about RE-imagining:

  • How far does the trash that gets into our bins has to travel? Could we calculate this (the ‘M’ in STEM) and display it somewhere? Perhaps in our communities — as some sort of a dashboard? If so, who would build the app? What would that display look like?
  • Who decides on the packaging that gets into the products we buy? How much cost will it save if we RE-fuse to ‘pay’ for this (with our landfills?)
  • Could our trash bins earn us money – a la Recyclebank?

I’m talking to all kinds of people – entrepreneurs, engineers,, designers etc who could come in and inspire my students. If you know someone, please call me, email me or send me a tweet at @heyangelo.

Some examples we might use for inspiration this week.






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Technology in schools. Love it or hate it?


Touch screens and Robotics. My classroom this yea

In my upcoming July technology column I analyze the pros and the cons of Technology in Education. A few in my network have asked me about my thoughts on this ever-changing topic. (In Oct 2014 I did cover it – “Disrupting Education)

Here’s a summary of what’s to come. As you and I witness the discomforting transition from text books to tablets, from hand-outs to videos-as-homework, from sequential ‘lectures’ to disruptive (noisy) small group activity, it’s easy to fold our hands across our chests and fight it. But there are some compelling arguments on both sides. The Wall Street Journal, and the International Association of Technology in Education almost in the same week ran Pro and Con arguments about Ed-Tech. I get both sides! In my classes I argue against the inane use of social media for the sake of ‘publicity’, but I encourage thought use of digital media with real, and real-time audience participation.

‘Hall and Stevens’ Vs Khan Academy. In my younger days, I had to thumb through Hall and Stevens, the geometry ‘bible.’ Today’s kids are learning geometry from a guy called Salman Khan, founder the free online learning portal for mathematics and science. (Fun sidebar: ‘Hall and Stevens’ is available as an eBook; flip the pages as if it was a real book, here:

Screen Time vs Think Time. I am a big proponent of virtual and augmented reality, especially if it could bring in ‘distant’ experiences (Civil War, 3D models of engineering, space science etc), but I also aggressively advocate limited screen time. Odd isn’t it? That’s the dilemma we educators and parents face. Augmented Reality

Your son or daughter probably goes to school with a device in her backpack with more processing power than the rocket that took men to the moon, and this child wants to be… an astronaut? You’ve forgotten how to log into your son’s school website to download his missed homework, but… he’s found a way to ‘jailbreak’ your cell phone? There are ‘teaching moments’ in all of these.

Sal Khan speaks of the “fundamentally dehumanizing experience” in education. And he was not talking about teenagers and even pre-teens staring at their phones and not talking to one another. A real, ‘digital citizenship’ crisis, right now! He was referring to children packed in a classroom! Hmm!

Love it or hate it, technology is gate crashing our class rooms, just like ball-point pens or calculators once did. Are you ready for it?


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My school profiled on US Dept. of Interior website

When Sec. Sally Jewell visited our school last week, little did we know how it would figure in the grander scheme of things. It was much more than a simple ‘air drop’ of a dignitary.

Turned out it was to kick off something bigger – a Listening Tour, of Native youth.

Yesterday we noticed that apart from the previous media coverage of this visit, the folks managing the communication for Secretary Jewell’s department had featured a lot of great shots of her engaging with our students. Two of the students featured are potential podcasters in my class on audio. Three are in robotics.

Here’s the video:

And below are some of my pictures taken at the event – also covered here on this blog.

This, taken in my class. Student Council president and robotics student explains how they approach a mission, program and document their work.

More pictures from my class blog, here

We often complain that government is tone deaf to much of what goes on in our communities.Speaking to Sec. Jewell, I could tell that this was much more than a token visit so as to report to the boss she’s been on the road.

We spoke of science. A lot! I mentioned that in the midst of so many changes in education, government seems to be not doing enough to promote science and technology.I mentioned that the State of the Union this year barely touched on STEM, despite Obama’s otherwise talking the talk on why we need more investment and more STEM teachers in science in schools. She was a good listener.

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Posted by on February 21, 2015 in Education, Events, Robotics


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Visit by US Secretary of Interior to my class

Exciting morning yesterday with the visit of Secretary of Interior, Sally Jewell to our school.

Sec. Jewell was kicking off to the Obama administration’s ‘Listening Tour’ in Arizona, visiting Native American schools and communities. She devoted a good part of her talk to stress the importance of science, in the four STEM areas. “I am the ‘E’ in STEM,” she said.

As part of her tour she stopped by my class to hear about the robotics program.

One of my students in robotics, who happens to be the president of the student council, explained our program and research projects.

Some media coverage, below.


Cronkite News, ASU

KJZZ Story – Interior Secretary Sally Jewell Begins Native Youth Listening

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Posted by on February 11, 2015 in Arizona, Education, Robotics


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Fun way to ‘warn’ drone enthusiasts

I’m impressed at how the FAA decided to educate would-be drone pilots. They partnered with The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), to release this video.

It sure doesn’t look like a government agency production.

It’s mainly about the 400-foot rule, but also ‘gently’ warns about invasion of privacy.


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Posted by on December 27, 2014 in Education, Robotics, Technology


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Communicating with crew on ‘Mars’ – Text-To-Speech

Those who know me, know I’m a follower of all things in space – from watching the International Space Station fly by, to the latest maneuvers of the latest Mars Rover.

So this week, it was a chance to communicate with Jocelyn Dunn,one of the 6 inhabitants of a Mars simulation mission, going on in Hawaii. The project, is called HI-SEAS (which stands for Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation).

The reason: I’m putting together Mars Day a now-annual event at my school. I thought my students would get a kick out of talking to the folks who are paving the way for humans on the red planet. Or, to put it another way, they’ve seen a lot about the bot that got there; now it’s time to communicate with Homo sapiens!

Jocelyn and the rest of the HI-SEAS crew began their ‘analog simulation’ last Friday, inside a 1000-square foot geodesic dome.(Another crew member, Zak Wilson is also blogging the stay.)


Image, courtesy

So what is it like to be practically isolated from the rest of the world? Isolated as in no phone calls. Now they do have access to the Internet (!) so I will be asking her these questions in a few days. Yet, to simulate the real thing, the crew’s email is subject to a 20-minute delay.

The fun part is planning for Jocelyn and her crew to answer questions from my students. After a couple of back-and-forth (time delayed) she came up with a good solution: We would send her the questions via email, and they would record their answers on a video, and send it back to us in time for Mars Day!

It will give new meaning to ‘Text-to-Speech’!

Here are links to other crew members


Posted by on October 22, 2014 in Education, Robotics, Social Media, Technology


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