The Do’s and Don’ts of Making Zombie-bots

With my students, brainstorming generally begins with zombies.  So, even though our theme for the district Robotics Showcase was, “Trash Trek,” practically the first idea that was thrown out was zombies.

Now, one of the main rules of brainstorming is not to judge, but I immediately broke that rule.

“Umm, what do zombies have to do with trash?”  I asked.  Apparently, a lot of things – because the room was instantly filled with student voices calling out every connection they could think of between zombies and trash. (I just want to say it’s a little disconcerting to find out how many 4th and 5th graders have watched The Walking Dead when I don’t even allow myself to watch it.)

We finally settled on creating a challenge board which involved a robot taking a walk through a park, and he is suddenly chased by zombie hippies (don’t ask me where the hippie part came in), and the only way he can escape them is by pushing a bunch of rubbish out of his way into a recycling bin so he can get to the militarily protected part of the park.  (Important because we happened to have lots of plastic army men, so it would be a shame not to include them.)

Admittedly, a stretch.

As we planned what props to use on the challenge board, the students were, not surprisingly, more invested in the zombies than the trash.  “We should make them jump out at the robot,” one student said. He was new to this, and didn’t realize that we would not be at the board as other students tried to solve the challenge. I explained that we were not physically dressing up as zombie hippies, and in fact, would be working elsewhere during the zombie hippie attack.

“Why don’t we use the Ozobots?” one of the students asked?

“Yeah! We can attach the zombies to them and they can move around the board!”

And so, a new idea was born.  The problem was, the Robotics Club hadn’t learned how to use Ozobots, yet…

“Okay, Maker Club,” I announced the following Monday.  “We’re going to help out the Robotics Club by making zombie hippies.”  After I explained the idea, the Maker Club happily got to work.  They created tracks for the zombie hippie bots and drew suitably terrifying zombie hippies of all shapes and sizes.  Much testing was needed to see if the tracks had been coded correctly, and if the zombie hippies were light enough for their bots to carry them. Some students made zombie hippie tubes, and others made cut-outs to ride the Ozobots.  Some tracks had the zombie hippies dance, while others had them slow down, and then leap forward with zeal to grab your brains.

Some things we learned that don’t work very well:

  • Zombie tubes.  Great concept, but too much drag on the Ozobot.
  • Inconsistent tracks.  When you glob a bunch of black in one part of the track, this apparently makes your zombie hippie bot freeze – which is a lot less ominous, unfortunately.
  • Covering the Ozobot power button with your zombie hippie.  Kind of hard to activate the zombie hippie when its leg is taped over the power button.

The Robotics Club was quite impressed by the Maker Club’s contribution.  (Some Maker Club students also helped to make the park trees a bit more stable for our board, too.)  The Maker Club was happy to help.  And the participants in the Robotics Showcase from other schools were appropriately fearful of our fearsome zombie hippies, but still able to meet the challenge of avoiding them and picking up the trash.

To summarize:

  • Zombies should never be written off just because they are zombies.
  • Kids have way better ideas than I do.
  • It’s totally more fun to make with a purpose, especially if it involves using your expertise with coding to design zombie hippie bots.
  • I don’t think Robotics Club will ever make a static challenge board again.

For more information about Ozobots, visit their website, especially their STEM education page which offers lessons and other resources for teachers.

Photo May 21, 9 14 08 AM
In retrospect, this is a terrible picture. I should have gotten a closer-upper photo of the zombies. But since I’ve already written the post, you will just have to take my word for it that they were fierce-looking.  The zombie hippies, I mean.  Not the people.
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