Learning with fun and games

Last weekend i had the chance to play with my Mindstorms Nxt Kit and my friend’s  10 year kid T. Kids have incredible love for toys, and it became obvious as i took out all the pieces from the bucket and put them on the floor. We decided to make a cricket batsman. I am not very good at building with Lego Pieces or drawing but it seemed interesting enough to make so we went about it posthaste.

Drawing the basic design. I let T. do the drawing and i was only giving feedback on what was not possible with Mindstorms. I would point that out and give some alternatives. Smart (and interested) kids pick up cues very quickly. As T. promptly observed with some consternation the drawing was very different from a real batsman.

Building the Machine

The frame of the batsman was a simple cubical structure. The controller was mounted into it.  This provided the stability to the structure. The rotary Mindstorms motor was attached to one of the edges, sort of like a with swing. It was hard work, getting the dimensions and the connections right. But patterns of connections develop quickly. And we were not afraid to dismantle it and redo it again. T. was better than me at building this stuff, especially because he was always energetic. I was surprised at it because i’ve heard of kids’ having a much smaller attention span.

Finally, the Bat was attached with the motor and we had everything ready.

Programming

This was the bit i played the biggest role. We went to the Mindstorms Nxt Designer and put the instructions to make it rotate the motor and retract it to hit the ball. We also put in sleep time so that we could roll the ball press the run switch on the controller and it would hit the ball correctly.

An now we had a working  batting robot. It took us a couple of hours to build it and with all the breaks for juice and trips to the garden it was fun.

In these few hours we had learnt a lot of things

  • Scaffolding to support parallel beams
  • Design of the human joints
  • Importance of timing in cricket.
  • A little bit of how to program mindstorms

Last I heard T.  was clamoring to come back to my place and add another motor to the batsman to add more power ( the same principle of adding more muscle ), add another joint to control the direction of shot and add eyes so that it can see the ball coming.

I have also learned, that kids have an infinite capacity to learn from observation and a little bit of direction.

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