Tuesday, May 29, 2007

NYCFIRST Update #3 – May 29, 2007

A newsletter for the NYCFIRST robotics community in New York City and the surrounding area. If you want to be removed from this list type “remove” in the subject are and hit return.

Compiled by Norman Scott
NYCFIRST Registration coordinator

These updates are posted at Norm’s Robotics blog: http://normsrobotics.blogspot.com/

There’s a lot of backed up info accumulated in this update (about 10 pages worth) with loads of summer workshops, so bookmark the blog and check it out at your leisure if you can’t get to it all. I will have spotty email and phone contact for about a week so you may not receive an immediate response.

Registration Report as of May 29th: 39 teams
View spreadsheet at

If you have registered please check to see if information is current. Notify me of any changes.

As usual, registration is no guarantee of entry into the citywide event.

FLL Planning Committee Meeting: Qualification Tournaments
With 139 teams competing in the 2006/7 tournament we are getting close to capacity. The topic of discussion at the May 15 meeting was moving towards qualification tournaments. This would enable us to hold a 1-day event for the teams that emerge from the local events. But there is still some work to do in upgrading all these tournaments and standardizing them and it is not clear if we can accomplish this in the upcoming year. A sticking point, given the realities of the NYC schools system, which is undergoing another upheaval, is having all events take place in a timeframe that makes sense.

Discussions will continue at the May 29th meeting. As reported by Mark Sharfshteyn in an email to the Planning Committee, “Based on our discussion last time, we decided that we will make every effort to progress the borough events into qualifiers in order to build capacity for team growth as well as strengthening the current infrastructure to support the teams and events in each borough.”

If we do move in this direction, every attempt will be made to make qualification events a meaningful experience for all.

We welcome your comments and feel free to post them on the blog.

Heading to Manchester June 19-22
FLL’ers from all over the world will be heading to Manchester later in June to attend the annual training for this year’s tournament. A contingent from NYC will be going and we will focus on issues related to running qualifying events. Plus we get to see and comment on the Power Puzzle, which is not officially revealed until Sept. Dean Kamen has invited all participants over to his house for dinner on the 21st. Guess he hasn’t seen the NYC crew eat.

2007 Region 4 Robotics Pentathlon: June 9 at Aviation HS
Contact Stephen Shapinsky
Technology Staff Developer Region 4
To see what the event will look like (and get a sense of the events), see the gallery of images from last year at:

Region 4 VEX tournament on June 9 at Aviation HS
Contact Stephen Shapinsky
A VEX event will be held concurrently with the Pentathlon Challenge on June 9 at Aviation HS.
The Region 4 Spring Vex Challenge is up for viewing or downloading at:

Stephen Shapinsky: Moving on
We are sad to report that Stephen will be leaving the NYC school system and his position as robotics staff developer for Region 4 to move to Las Vegas.

I first worked with Stephen in District 14 in Williamsburg when he was the coach of the PS 31K team and I was part of the District’s tech support team. It was clear from the get-go that Stephen had a lot to offer and we both moved on to work for Teri Bader in Region 4 to set up a massive robotics program that reached into every middle school in the first year. Stephen quickly became one of the top FLL and VEX robotics support people in the city. He organized and ran the Queens borough tournaments for the past 2 years. He created and has run the Pentathlon Challenge in Region 4 for the past 3 years and the first NYC VEX tournament last year, which he is reprising this year again on June 9th. The entire NYC robotics community will miss him but we’re sure that our loss will be the Las Vegas robotics community’s gain.

NXTLOG Building Challenge
Although the 2006-2007 FLL season ended last month at the FLL World Festival, LEGO wants to give your robot another opportunity to compete in its NXTLOG Building Challenge! Please click on http://www.MINDSTORMS.com/NXTLOG for full details.

See great sample FLL videos at: http://www.isek.iastate.edu/
Especially check out the vignettes comparing VEX and NXT done in the style of the Apple commercials.

Summer Stonington Retreat at NYU from Vision Education

Do you want to integrate technology effectively into your school or community organization?

Come to Vision Ed's Stonington Retreat in New York City, a four-day intensive workshop aimed at empowering teachers, parents and administrators to effectively integrate creative technology into their classrooms. With hands-on workshops in Robotics, Computer Animation, Game Design, Digital Video and Blogging, participants will walk away with the resources needed to start or continue a technology program at their schools or organizations.

The retreat will take place this summer July 31st – August 3rd, 2007 at New York University's Kimmel Center.

From this retreat, you will:

* Learn about cutting edge research in the field of Educational Technology.
* View and try out exciting project ideas used successfully by veteran teachers.
* Engage in hands-on activities led by professionals in the field of Educational Technologies.
* Take away lesson plans and curriculum materials to use in your classrooms.
* Participate in discussions with people who face similar challenges, such as administrative support for new initiatives, faculty involvement in technology and learning how to make it all work.
* Access to new learning tools, including ones that are free and easy to implement within schools.

Special guest Mitchel Resnick, Director of the Lifelong Kindergarten group at the MIT Media Lab, will be giving hands-on workshops in two of his new projects: PicoCricket and Scratch. The PicoCricket uses robotics to make programmable artistic creations, and Scratch is a free software based on a programming language that lets you create your own interactive stories, games, music and art.

There will also be hands-on workshops in LEGO® Mindstorms®, both the RCX and the new NXT, as well as workshops in Microworlds, a Computer Animation and Game making software, and Digital Video and Blogging.

The cost of the retreat is $1895.

To find out more, go to www.vemny.org/stonington.html and register here: http://www.vemny.org/stonington_reg.html

Vision Ed. believes that effective work with technology can have an enormous impact on learning and teaching. Our mission is to share this understanding with educators and learners to inspire educational excellence and school reform.

Dear FIRST LEGO League Teams:

The team behind the LEGO MINDSTORMS NXT is happy to announce that LEGO MINDSTORMS Education NXT Software version 1.1 will be available for all users in five language versions (English, German, French, Dutch and Japanese) in August 2007. Among its new features is full support for Windows Vista (32-bit and 64-bit) and the new Intel-based Macintosh systems.

In addition, the new NXT software offers optimized performance and speed, especially for large program development. New compression methods free up 30kb of useable memory on the NXT Intelligent Brick and shrink most programs and sound files by 40%. The software programming module, called NXT-G, now features intelligent scroll + more than 100 other enhancements.

Teams who purchase the NXT Robot Set in 2007 will be sent a free upgrade when it is introduced in August. In the meantime, teams should practice using the current version of the software included in the NXT Robot Set.

In order to support existing FIRST LEGO League teams who purchased the NXT system for last season, LEGO Education will offer an upgrade on CD with the new NXT Software version 1.1 for $19.99 + shipping. This offer will be available online at www.LEGOeducation.com or by calling 800-362-4308. The item number is 900093.

Rhode Island School of the Future Summer Workshop

I attended a number of these workshops run by RISF founder Jan Kowalczyk years ago and they were fabulous. We always had state of the art technology and Fred Martin (The Art of LEGO Design) one of the creators of the RCX used to attend. In those days when the early version of the RCX had a problem, Fred would come over, open it up and rewire and reprogram it.

Our 20th Annual Summer Workshops in Educational Robotics is now open for registration. You can visit the website (http://www.risf.net/SummerWS.htm) to register. We will be using Mindstorms NXT this year with Robolab 2.9.3 software in both Beginner and Intermediate sessions. Both the RCX and NXT programmable bricks can be programmed with this software as well as Control Lab, if you are still using the latter. You will learn the NXT icons and, if you have legacy RCX, how to transition to the newer technology.

There has been much interest expressed in our workshop. So, register early if you can.

For Teachers and Administrators Interested in Robotics

The Botline
News & Information from the Carnegie Mellon University Robotics Academy

The Carnegie Mellon University Robotics Academy cordially invites you to attend this year’s Robotics Educators Conference, to be held at Butler County Community College, north of Pittsburgh in Butler, PA from August 15-17, 2007.

The conference will gather teachers and educators who use or plan to use robotics as a tool to teach math, science and technology in their classrooms.

Attendees can:

• Try out activities that use LEGO, VEX and other controllers to teach math & science.
• Meet fellow users and experts.
• Share experiences & ideas for implementing robotics in the classroom.
• Learn about dynamic new developments in robotics education.

Topics to be covered include:

• Programming with the NXT Programming Language
• Programming with Robolab 2.9
• Programming with ROBOTC
• Programming the FIRST Controller
• Programming the VEX Robot Controller
• Robot Competitions (FIRST LEGO League, Battlebots - IQ, VEX Robotics)
• College in the High School courses
• Robotics Certification for career and technical centers

The registration conference fee is $50.00 which includes two lunches and Thursday night dinner. For those arriving earlier on Wednesday, August 15, a tour of Carnegie Mellon’s Robotics Facilities is available for an additional $25.00 to cover the cost of transportation and dinner.

You can download the online registration form by visiting http://www.roboticscorridor.org. Click on the left menu bar for CONFERENCE and then click on ‘Registration’ under ‘Registration / Print Forms Download’. Download the conference schedule by clicking on ‘Schedule’ under ‘Registration / Print Forms Download’.

Accommodations have been reserved at the Comfort Inn Butler, one mile from the Butler County Community College Campus for $65 + 9% tax per night. The hotel can be reached by phone at 724 287-7177 or by fax at 724 287-1497.

If you have questions about the conference, please e-mail nkerman@rec.ri.cmu.edu or rshoop@cmu.edu.

Robotics Park in Rhode Island

I attended a few of these and to see kids from K-12 from all over Rhode Island take part in this event is a magical day. Maybe next year.

The following article was written about the RISF Robotics Park event held May 5th. See http://www.risf.net/RoboPark.htm for details

Fair to showcase students' robots
Amanda K. Lowe , Daily Times

LEGOs are not just toys anymore. Local students have been using LEGOs as a science project in which they build autonomous robots and machines. This weekend, their work will be on display for the public.

The 15th Annual Robotics Park, which bills itself as the largest K-12 robotics event in the country, will take place this weekend. The event is free and open to the public.

Robotics Park includes student demonstrations of interactive creations such as robotic animals, LEGO jewelry, and robotics competitions.

More than 250 robots, the work of over 1,000 students, are expected to be on display at the event, which will be held Saturday from 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Martin Middle School, located at 111 Brown St. in East Providence.

Several students from the Kent County area will be participating in the event.

The Knotty Oak Robotics Club, from Knotty Oak Middle School in Coventry, has been meeting after school three days a week to prepare projects for upcoming competitions, said the team's coach, Rebecca Horton. This is the team's third time participating in Robotics Park, she said.

"In preparation for this event, we were given a general theme to work with - 'Around the World,'" Horton said. "Our team has chosen to make a chain reaction machine. We established a general idea that each machine in our chain reaction machine would represent a food. We are excited to display our machine at Robotics Park."

A second team out of Coventry, the Coventry Robotics Club, will also have LEGO creations to display at the event.

The West Warwick Community School Robotics Club consists of 12 children who meet after school at John Deering Middle School two days a week. The team decided to make LEGO floats for Robotics Park this year, according to the coach, Roland Hebert.

"We made two floats for a float parade event that will occur at the event," Hebert said. "The floats are made of LEGO pieces and several other materials. The float has to autonomously follow a line for 80 feet while one of the students reads a story about the float. It is really a fun event."

The team made a float called "Round Up" which is about a cattle round up and "Around the Maze" which is about an athletic course, Herbert said.

"The kids work very hard to prepare for this event" Herbert said. "We attended last year and they really had a good time. The public really enjoys seeing what these kids are capable of building. It is a fun time."

The Engineers of Tomorrow, a Warwick-based home-schooled group of children who participated in the FIRST LEGO League World Fest in Atlanta, Ga., last month, will also be participating in the event.

According to the team's coach, Mary Johnson, the team will be doing demonstrations of the robots it used in the FIRST LEGO competition.

"Since we have returned from the trip, the students are settling into their school work," Johnson said. "That is why we are doing the FLL demo at Robotics Park, rather than trying to create new robots from scratch this week."

Alex Stein, an Engineers of Tomorrow member from Barrington, will also display an interactive hand-clapping robot in the Barrington Middle School booth.

Robotics Park is hosted by the Rhode Island School of the Future and is a time for students, educators, parents, and the community to celebrate student inventiveness, Johnson said.

Robotics Park will take place on Saturday from 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Martin Middle School, located at 111 Brown St. in East Providence.

More information and directions to the event can be found at www.risf.net/RoboPark.htm.

©Kent County Daily Times 2007

Photos of the event: http://www.flickr.com/photos/engineersoftomorrow/collections/72157600180744221/

Summer Lego Robotics Workshop for 4th-6th-Grade Teachers at Clarkson U. (For local schools only, but a good model for others)

This hands-on, five-day workshop is appropriate for any 4th-6th-grade teacher interested in integrating robotics into the classroom or any school activity to enhance Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) education. Building and programming robots is a highly interdisciplinary activity that develops creative problem solving, teamwork, leadership, and project management skills. Students participating in robotics-based curricula learn about STEM careers firsthand, by experiencing what professionals do when solving real-world problems.

A series of hands-on project experiences will familiarize participants with the design and construction of autonomous robots using Lego Mindstorms NXT kits and RoboLab software to program the NXT robots’ motors and sensors. Best practices and methodologies associated with introducing robotics into grades 4 through 6 will be addressed throughout. A final engineering design challenge will prepare participants to coach a FIRST Lego League (FLL) team within their schools in the Fall semester of 2007, including a local FLL tournament sponsored by the St. Lawrence BOCES and Clarkson University in December 2007.

Summary of Workshop Objectives
Why Teach Robotics and Its Connections to NYS Standards
Project-based and Problem-based Learning Approaches
Introduction to Lego® Mindstorms™ Robot NXT Kit
Mechanics and Construction of a Mobile Robot
Programming an Autonomous Robot and Problem-Solving
RoboLab Programming Exercises – motors; light, touch, sound and rotation sensors
Project Management and Working Effectively in Teams: an Introduction to FIRST Lego League (FLL) and How to Coach a New Team

A daily breakdown of the workshop topics is given below:

Day 1 (Monday, June 25, 2007): Introduction to Lego-based Robotics
Morning: Why Teach Robotics? And Connections to NYS Standards
Afternoon: Introduction to Lego Mindstorms NXT Hardware and RoboLab Software

Day 2 (Tuesday, June 26, 2007): Introduction to Mechanics and Robot Programming:
Morning: Mechanics, e.g., gears, torque, speed, and Lego Construction Basics
Afternoon: Programming using RoboLab’s Pilot Level, e.g., a simple hill-climber robot

Day 3 (Wednesday, June 27, 2007): Advanced Programming and Measurements
Morning: Use of Motors, Touch, Light, Sound and Rotational Sensors using RoboLab’s Inventor Level, e.g. design, program, and test a robot that uses touch sensors to maneuver around an obstacle course and light sensors to follow a predetermined course
Afternoon: Advanced Programming and Measurements using RoboLab, e.g., explore the use of forks, containers, loops, jumps, tasks, variables, etc.

Day 4 (Thursday, June 28, 2007): Unstructured Design Day for Open-Ended Project
Morning: Introduction to the Engineering Design Process and Project Management, e.g., within the context of an assigned FLL challenge
Afternoon: Open-Ended, Unstructured Design Time, e.g., for participants to solve the challenge

Day 5 (Friday, June 29, 2007): Design Review, Sample Tournament and FLL Preparation
Morning: Design Review, e.g., participants review their robot designs (10 minutes per participant), and Participate in an FLL Tournament, e.g., consisting of 15 two-and-a-half-minute heats. Their actual robot performances will be compared to their design goals.
Afternoon: Overview of the FLL Program and How to Start/Run a New FLL Team, e.g., discussion of “best practices” from veteran FLL coaches, how to start a new FLL team, how to prepare a team for an FLL competition, etc. Participants will have the opportunity to review materials FLL teams have prepared for past tournament challenges.

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