Making a sundae involves multiple ingredients, which we saw as an opportunity to split our project into
manageable sections. After brainstorming
the core ingredients of any good sundae (chocolate syrup, whipped cream,
sprinkles, and cherries), we planned our project. We wanted the grand scheme of the process to
be as simple and convenient as possible: put in ice cream, get out a
sundae. Knowing this, we broke down the
project into five categories: one for each topping, and one for transportation.
Our group went through each
of the sections of our project and brainstormed what exactly would make them
difficult to accomplish. Two of the
toppings (whipped cream and chocolate sauce) come in very heavy containers, and
are difficult to separate into smaller portions without defeating the purpose
of having a reusable machine. Because of
their weight, we needed to design structures that could support them while
still being able to carry out their desired function. The challenge with the other two toppings
would be more about the application. Small, sticky cherries and large containers of sprinkles would be
difficult to manage in a repeatable and effective way. Lastly, the transportation robot would need
some way of communicating with the topping robots. How would it do this? How would it carry the ice cream? Each of these potential problems required a
good amount of problem solving, deliberation, and teamwork to overcome. To read more about our experiences, visit
our blog (link at top of page)!
Thinking about implementing a
Whole Class “Helper Bot” in a Classroom
The concept of creating a
“Helper Bot” as a class can be a great framework around which to build an
engineering and design curriculum. This
project should take place after the students have already been introduced to
LEGO construction and programming. For
an upper elementary or middle school classroom, we estimate a similar project
would take between 8 and 10 hour-long class periods—although it could easily be
extended. The class as a whole would
create one big, final product: groups of two or three would be in charge of one
step of the process. Below is a possibility of what the lessons could look
like. The lessons mirror the
Engineering Design Process.
Lesson 1: Identify the
o Introduce the idea of a
“Helper Bot.” Discuss the job of an engineer—to solve society’s problems and
create products that make life easier. Introduce
the Engineering Design Engineers find “messy,” vague problems (ex: How do you
make an ice cream sundae with a robot?) and redefine them into clear, solvable
ones. See the link at the top of the page for our problem
o Decide as a class what task
you are going to complete. Break it down into steps and assign each group one
part of the process. Keep in mind that not every task works for about 12 groups—look
for something with the potential for many steps (ex: sandwich maker, shirt
folder, or coin sorter.)
o Make your “System Guidelines” that all groups
have to follow to ensure all the stations work together. For the sundae maker, this was the track—each
station had to deposit the topping in the same place:
o Make a decision about what
the end result will look like. Is it an
assembly line? How will the stations communicate with each other? Is there a “drive robot?” See link above for a
few possible setups.
Lesson 2: Research
o Discuss current ways of
completing the task—what can be improved? What works well?
o Have we seen similar
o Have each group decide on
features for their station. A good way
to do this can be a Need/Want chart—make lists of features you definitely need,
and features that would be nice to include if possible.
Lesson 3: Brainstorm
o Brainstorm different ways to
fulfill your goals. Quickly prototype a
few if there is time. Have groups draw and agree on their initial construction
Lessons 4 through 7 (adjust
based on class): construction and testing
o Discuss the importance of
failing and redesigning. No idea is
perfect the first time.
Lesson 8: Sharing
o Have each group present their
solution to the class.
o Assemble the “Helper Bot” and
test it out. To start testing, make sure
each station first works individually. Writing a simple test code (eg: perform task when I press this touch
sensor) is the first step. Next test
each one’s communication—does it “sense” the correct robot at the correct time? Lastly, test everything together.
There will definitely need to
be changes throughout the testing process. Continue to stress that while the “first draft" of each station is done,
the project may still need work. Putting
it together is the hardest part. Spend
the next few class periods getting all the kinks out.