A Groma robot dressed with orange cape, googly eyes, and lab glasses invaded the Kindergarten, 1st, 2nd and 3rd grade classrooms at Baden Academy Charter School as part of a research project and April Fool’s joke by Ava Coups, a 3rd grader at the school. Ava is part of the Baden Academy Media Lab’s Research Fellow program. The program enables students to pursue passion based inquiry projects with the help of outside mentors. Ava approached her parents and officials from the school with her love of building things, learning to program, and practical jokes. Through research, trial and error, and a desire to have her project benefit the school and community, the April Fools joke was born. RoPro Design, a local robotic prototype and design company in Bridgewater, Pa, provided the Groma robots for the Media Lab and the support for Ava and other 2nd and 3rd grade media lab students to learn to program and manipulate the robots. The curriculum unit blended together concepts of math, mapping techniques, programming logic, dead reckoning, and theatrical techniques of hitting the mark and script writing. After school sessions allowed Ava the chance to expand what she learned and map various classrooms, rehearse with teachers, and plan the first April Fools joke on the new school.
The project began when Ava reviewed with her parents her childhood dreams, an examination that uncovered a love of robots, building things, and over the top humor. Overflowing creativity is just one way to describe this 3’8″ brown haired ball of energy. Ava and I talked about the Groma robots coming to the lab and she began to envision a grand practical joke.
Ava created the storyboard for her invasion with the CS2N curriculum aids as she worked it out in her Scratch game submission that all of the media lab students were working on. Classmates chimed in ideas (and I contributed my own as a fan of Doctor Who and the Daleks). Invading Kindergarten classrooms made Ava reconsider how scary she wanted to make her robot. Originally thought of as dark and menacing, she decided to go a bit more comical so that no one was so scared they had nightmares.
Finally, the Groma robots arrived in the media lab and Ava started to learn how to program. She said, “It was hard at first, but then it got easier.”
The first thing the students needed to master was a coordinate system, the four quadrants, and degrees of rotation. It is amazing how quickly these concepts are mastered when a robot depends upon them. Students, including Ava, put their skills to the test in completing a “Hit Your Mark” challenge that had their Gromas step into a staged area and land on green “x”s, performing beeps, dances, and pirouettes. Dead (or ded) reckoning was introduced as well as mapping and navigation systems. The unit continues as we plan for a field trip to the Beaver County Airport Air Traffic Control tower and Air Heritage museum.
Ava learned about collaboration as she recruited teachers to conspire with to prank their students. Ava also learned about script writing and directing as she created the scripts in the cloud and shared the link to her Google Doc with teachers to edit, revise and use in rehearsal. Numerous evenings were set aside to map the eight individual classrooms, rehearse with the teachers, and build the robot.
The Groma robot is simply a modified Roomba with the Mission Control software for individual programming. On design night, Kelli Keriotis, the art teacher extraordinaire of Baden Academy, brought her creativity and ideas to Ava and a group of media lab students to created a four foot tall tin foiled creation with hair made from green duct tape and antennae from dowel rods covered in flaming duct tape. Ooooh – spectacular. The finishing touch was the walkie talkie hidden inside the “button” control center, through which Ava’s thirds grade sweet voice transformed into a mechanical robotic voice.
The invasion was a complete success. Eight classrooms of giggling and screaming children, teachers hitting their mark as they shouted “Get back children it is an evil robot!” Ava’s voice came through saying “Do not try to destroy me, or I will put you in a big giant box!” Teachers would go back and forth with the robot asking the kids what to do. Finally, they would aim a sonic screwdriver (a prop from the Doctor Who show) and send the robot on its way saying, “Chicken Feathers! I am defeated!” Some of the teachers did a victory dance before Ava came into the room and announced “April Fool.”
The whole project was a collaborative effort with Ava leading the way. Thank you to Russ Dryer from RoPro Design for the mentorship and patient instruction. Thank you to Lexi, Eli, Miriam, Veronica, Izzy, Kate, Courtney, Skylar, Erin, Casey, Owen, and Gavin for their help during lab time and after school. Thank you to the parents! Thank you, too, to “Mr. Steve,” the school’s CEO, for allowing such merriment to occur. Special thanks to the teachers, Miss Preffer, Miss Pichelli, Mrs. Best, Mrs. Ray, Miss Altman, Miss Page, Miss Bianco and Mr. Gallagher. You hit your mark and played your roles well!
A special thanks to Bill Utterback, Amanda King and Kevin Lorenzi from the Beaver County Times for their wonderful article and coverage