Robotics lessons teach skills students can carry over to creative science fair projects

Robotics lessons teach skills students can carry over to creative science fair projects


    Science fairs are a great experience for some students, but for many it can be a hassle. Kids become confused, teachers want to teach their class instead of worry about outside pressures on their curriculum, and parents have had more than their fair share of late nights putting together a trifold presentation board. Since it is often a class requirement, science fairs can become dull. But that doesn’t have to be the case. If your student can be engaged, even excited about what he or she is doing, then it becomes a wonderful experience. Yes, they will need help along the way, but their discoveries will make any effort on your end worth it. A great way to get them engaged is to teach them robotics. It is interesting enough to make them excited to learn, and flexible enough to fit into many science fair requirements.

     Robotics is an interesting branch of science. It deals less with investigations, hypotheses, data, and results, and more with the technology that we use to acquire and wield the information we need. But that doesn’t mean it is useless for a science fair. Robotics is an interdisciplinary subject that teaches about coding, design, electronics, construction, and critical thinking. All of these things are useful as a student and aspiring scientists (or even a kid just trying to get a good grade). You have to construct your experimental set-up. Even if it is simple, having the ability to build something elegant and efficient will certainly impress the judges. And if you can integrate some kind of electronic elements into your design, you will be turning heads and blowing away your teachers. So these skills are quite applicable, even if a robot itself cannot be an experiment.


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     That isn’t the end of it though. You can make your investigation about a robot itself. For example, you can design three different robots to complete the same task, and figure out which is better suited for it or completes it more efficiently. This is like making a bridge with differently-shaped trusses and testing which can bear the heaviest load. And if you’re exceptionally good, you can make your robots part of the data collection phase. This is one way real scientists utilize these technologies in the lab. Automated, repetitive actions are required for good data, and robots are great at doing such things with much higher consistency than a human. If something needs to be raised a certain height or moved a certain distance, an automated system is the best way to accomplish your goal. Bear in mind that a robot doesn’t have to be a man-shaped metal object. It can be anything that you make and code.

     The best use of robotics and automation is the recording of data, if possible. The best experiments can run afoul if the data are not good. There are many different kinds of sensors that can take a huge range of data. There are timers, photogates, stepper motors, and every manner of the video camera. For the most basic experiments, these can be unnecessary. But if you’re trying to go above and beyond, remember that electronics are much quicker than the human eye and hand. They let you pore over your data for the smallest bits of data, the slimmest uncertainties. The attention to detail will not be lost on the judges either. Science is inherently detail-oriented, so having an organized, efficient, precise and accurate way of collecting your data is the best way to draw sound conclusions. Because without data to back it up, your results are just conjecture instead of discovery or explanation.

   The most important thing to remember is that creativity goes a long way. Robotics kits often come with pre-programmed lessons that walk you through the entire construction and coding phases. But if you are comfortable enough with those skills, it is now up to you to design your own robots to do what you want. Science fair judges are probably tired of seeing the same dozen experiments done over and over, year in and year out. So spicing it up by adding your own creative flair will be enough to catch their interest. Teachers will be impressed by the fact that someone is willing to pursue their own interests in their project. And best of all, if your student is excited about their project, perhaps he or she will become interested in sciences, leading to many opportunities down the line for schooling and careers. Regardless, they will come away from the whole experience with new skills, interesting memories, and an appreciation for their own creativity. That alone makes it all worthwhile.

Derek Capo