One of our favorite classes at the Foundry is “Building a Robot From Scratch“. After building a straightforward, dynamic robot out of found materials, kids take a step away from being consumers of electrical and mechanical objects. They take a step towards being empowered builders and engineers.
The steps in the class (taking apart a fan, wiring up a motor, creating the body, customizing the ‘bot) also provide great teaching opportunities. For example, we typically use a “knife switch” (like the ones in Frankenstein movies) because they are cool – and because they plainly reveal the open/closed states of the robot’s circuit.
We originally got the idea for the robot from Mark Frauenfelder’s Vibrobot project in Make Magazine. Fraunfelder (a great candidate for a Brooklyn Robot Foundry hero at some point…) is a wonderful writer whose book Made by Hand is a terrific read. He celebrates learning from mistakes, probably even more than we do.
I did the Robot from Scratch Project with my daughter Margo for her 2nd grade science fair this year, and it was just about the perfect duration to hold her attention, and perfect level of reward to capture her imagination. And the class is that way too.