RobotsLAB Blog

Happy Pie Day math lovers

Posted by Charles Nimrad

Mar 13, 2015 7:18:00 PM

RobotsLAB wishes you a happy Pie Day . A very special one as mentioned in this great Slate article 3/14/15, and here you have the first 4 digits of Pi 3.1415 . Wait, the article continues and point out that at 9am or 9pm , you should wait for 26 min and 53 seconds. Look at your watch, your phone or your iwatch  and you will see the first 10 digits of Pi 3.141592653 ... How cool is that? We math lovers, number admirers will be sure to catch that very moment.

And it's also Einstein's birthday.. 

Like every special day it is best to spend with beings you care about. You know who we're going to spend it with :)




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Math joke

Posted by Charles Nimrad

Mar 3, 2015 5:23:00 PM

Fun education cartoon, Math meets jokes! We had a blog post earlier about Math meeting Arts, on a different level this cartoon can be Art and definitely meets Math. 




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Don't Just talk about Science and Math, Experience it!

Posted by Mike Nardine

Mar 2, 2015 10:59:35 AM



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tech defines new normal in education

Posted by Mike Nardine

Jan 13, 2015 7:12:00 PM


It is good to realize that, as this infographic says, that today’s college students have more options than their 1980’s counterparts had but their time is also stretched more thinly across the school day.”

Indeed, computers, smartphones, online courses and a host of other digital gadgets as well as the Internet itself have made it possible for the education industry to welcome committed students who must provide for their families as well as work on their futures. And the addition of more women and many more minority students in the classroom--both brick and mortar as well as virtual--can only be seen as a positive.

But still, it is no wonder President Obama has called for a national effort to secure the first two years of community college for free. A look at this infographic titled Technology Defines Much of Higher Education’s New Normal will tell you that higher education’s “new normal” is darned expensive. Almost eight times more expensive! Even adjusting for inflation, that increase still seems out of bounds. It also seems particularly anomalous that the price of school books has increased by almost ten times--this in the age of the tablet and online courses. But according to other sources it’s apparently going to get worse before it gets better. Which in turn increases the importance that today’s students gain the skills in school they will need to get the jobs they are going to need to pay off their student debt.

And as this infographic further points out, those jobs increasingly are in the STEM field. Instead of the old standby careers that were still with us in the 1980’s, construction, manufacturing and the service industries, almost 75% of present job openings out of college are in high-tech related industries like computer design, engineering, and one more not mentioned in the infographic, robotics.  

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Denver Public Schools Need The RobotsLAB BOX

Posted by Mike Nardine

Jan 12, 2015 2:50:01 PM


The Common Core Standards in education are getting more than their share of bad press. Teachers complain of a lack of materials and training while parents are upset because they don’t understand the new methodologies and can’t help their kids with math homework. We here at RobotsLab think we have at least some of the answers teachers and parents are looking for.

The problems facing the Denver, Colorado, public schools are a case in point.  Next year, four years after the state adopted the standards, Colorado students will be subjected for the first time to standardized tests based on the Common Core standards. And yet teachers and administrators feel that the materials they have been using are not up to the task. That leaves them facing a situation where their competency will be questioned because students will be thrown by this new Common Core emphasis suddenly appearing in the tests.

According to some educators, that is partly because some educational publishers seem to think all they have to do is retitle their books to meet the new standards.  Alyssa Whitehead-Bust, the district’s chief academic and innovation officer says this: those companies… “ haven’t redone their material. We’re looking for materials that are really redesigned, not just realigned.”

One student demographic is particularly endangered by this lack of adequate materials, English learners. Students for whom English is not their mother-tongue in Colorado now make up 35% of the student body. That means that even while teachers are trying to increase their students ability to function in an English language environment, they are also attempting to teach them subjects like math. And math, as taught in the Common Core, requires an emphasis on informational text, in English primarily.  District chief schools officer Susana Cordova, notes that even those materials that have been redesigned, like material for English learners learning the language, don’t necessarily help with understanding that informational text. She says most of the redesigned lesson plans she has seen for English learners put too much emphasis on idiom and “That’s not the bulk of what English learners need to learn.

While the robots at RobotsLab can’t solve the whole problem, teachers will find them helpful in teaching math to English learners. Our RobotsLAB BOX, for example, depends less on a student’s language than on his engagement in the lesson plan--and engaging students in lesson plans is our forte.  Watching the robots that come with the BOX demonstrating math principles on the included tablet as complicated as Quadratic equations doesn’t require English, just their undivided attention; something robots do better than any lecture, book or blackboard.   


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Cool Teacher Introduces Cool 3D Printer Tech To School

Posted by Mike Nardine

Jan 8, 2015 6:22:25 PM


RobotsLAB salutes Shaun Cornwall, a SciTech teacher at Clark Elementary School in Issaquah, WA, whose courage and committment to his profession is only matched by his creativity!  Tired of using the school’s 3d printers making nothing but boring knick knacks, he printed a Christmas gift for his students that they can use--and abuse! A kids dream and a teacher’s nightmare.

When I was a kid in elementary school the only computers available wouldn’t have fit in our classroom and a printer was someone who probably worked at the local newspaper (remember those?). The only 3D technology we knew anything about came in cereal boxes, two-tone, paper and cellophane 3D eye wear that brought to life characters on the back of that cereal box. What we had in abundance, however, was spit wads and the means to launch them, rubber bands and straws. I preferred rubber bands myself as straws became waterlogged and unhygienic after only a few wet shots on goal--other students.  Teachers used to wait at the door after lunch confiscating any rubber bands and straws they might see.

I am sure a lot has changed in the last half-century, but I’d be willing to bet that a middle-schoolers’ proclivity for tormenting their fellow students with spit wads is not one of those.  Nor, I wager, has the average teacher’s desire to keep their classroom free of such attention-shattering activity.

But then, Shaun Cornwall is not the average teacher.  He was convinced that the useless knickknacks most teachers made with the school’s 3D printers were not fully conveying the importance of this new technology to his students. He decided to build something that they could and would use and give it to them as a Christmas present. He went to Thingiverse and found just the 3d template he was looking for, a desktop catapult.

A what?  That’s right, a catapult. A device described by the developer, Microsoft, as A small desktop catapult to launch projectiles at friends or coworkers.  Wha..!“ launch friends..!”   My first thought was  what teacher in his right mind would deliver a projectile launcher into the hands of a bunch of teenagers?

 But then I got to thinking and I realized that what Shaun Cornwall had done was sheer genius! Sheer genius at a future cost to himself in frustration and exasperation, but genius nonetheless!  Because he was right about the problem he set out to solve: at present most schools present 3D printers to their students as little more than elaborate cookie-cutters for decorative objects: knickknacks.  When in fact, 3D printing is considered by many, including President Obama, as the future of manufacturing--and I can’t imagine a better way of presenting that to kids than the way it was done by Shaun Cornwall with his gift of 50 desktop catapults.

We wish more teachers would take the risks that Shaun Cornwall did. Some of his colleagues will probably complain from time to time when those catapults show up in their classes but the kids will always remember a cool teacher that built something new with some cool new technology.

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Robots and Gardens as Math Instructors

Posted by Mike Nardine

Jan 7, 2015 2:59:14 PM


What do gardens and robots have in common? Waiting…. Give up? They both make great math instructors!  

Whether digging a garden or interacting with robots, students find themselves engaged (emphasis on this word “engaged”) in an activity that takes abstract math, a subject once found only on school blackboards or books, and puts it to work in a concrete and meaningful way.

Take for example the garden cultivated by teacher Nancy Rhodes’ fifth-grade kids in Corte Madera School in Portola Valley, California. For the last two years the kids have been laboring (“laboring” is likely too harsh a word) in what Ms. Rhodes calls “A Symbiotic Garden: Designed for a purpose.” Her first project aim was to have her students struggle with the question, “Can animals live without plants and can plants live without animals.” The students were required to design plant beds with the goal of attracting different animals. Again, some extra emphasis on the word “design” in the preceding sentence...

After all, as any gardener worth their salt knows, designing a garden plot requires more than grabbing a handful of seeds and throwing them on the ground. Every garden has a limited amount of room and the plants themselves differ in the space needed for healthy roots and sunlight. Some need shelters. Some need deeper soil than others. Water requirements differ with every species. No, it isn’t rocket science but any fifth-grader that has worked through a problem like the following is going to feel pretty good about themselves: The edge of a circular flower bed, 220 ft in diameter, needs mulch. How many cubic yards (yd3) of mulch do you need if you want the mulch to cover 3 ft in from the edge to a depth of 2.5 inches, all the way around?
Diameter = 220 ft
radius = 110 ft.
pi = 3.142
Area of a circle = pi x r2
Area of total bed = 3.142 x (110)2 = 38018.2 ft2
Area of inside bed = 3.142 x (110-3)2 = 35972.8 ft2
Area of ring needing mulch = 38018.2 - 35972.8 = 2045.4 ft2
Volume of ring (2.5 inches deep = 0.208 ft) = 2045.4 x 0.208 = 425.4 ft3
Convert cubic feet to cubic yards à 1 yd3 = 27 ft3 so 1 ft3 = 0.037 yd3
425.4 x 0.037 = 15.7 yd3 = 16 yd3
1 yd3 = 325 ft2 to 1" deep
325 ft2       2045 ft2
1 yd3      =     x
325x = 2045     x = 6.29     6.29 x 2.5" = 15.75 yd3 = 16 yd3
From: Dr. Leonard Perry, Univ. Vermont : Garden Math Sample Problems and Calculations

A garden then is certainly one great way to answer the question asked by nearly every student, “What do I need this math for?”

Here at RobotsLAB we don’t dig gardens, but we do develop robots that engage and instruct students in a manner that makes math interesting and concrete. Kids love robots. At least as much as they love gardening. And the big gain here for teachers is they don’t have to strain their backs, get sunburned, or dirty their hands while working on their lesson plan. 


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Do Kids Really Care About Stem Education.

Posted by Mike Nardine

Jan 6, 2015 6:25:44 PM


I recently came across a blog post titled Do Kids Really Care About Stem Education. Written by a young educator who teaches high school sophomores, he made some interesting observations that many of us might not want to agree with.

He writes that while teachers, parents, politicians, the whole darn adult zoo, put the emphasis on learning with the hope of future employment in the tech world, teenagers are not really that interested or excited in the world we believe we are building for them.  He says...”High school kids have never been too excited about the adult world, and that hasn’t changed.” Some of us may find that observation upsetting, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t true. With the possible exception of a few goal-oriented, driven students, this is certainly the way it has always been. And would we really want it otherwise?  Forget dreaming and get on with choosing a career before they leave high school?

One interchange with his students was particularly telling. After a failed attempt by the school to generate some interest in using teenage-tech savvy to build student engagement he came right out and asked them,  “You guys don’t really like using technology at school, do you?”   He went on to describe how... “They smiled and laughed. One student spoke for the class: ‘No, but you teachers all think we do.’ Another student said, ‘We like playing games and sending messages to each other, but we don’t want to use our phones for schoolwork.’ Their heads nodded emphatically in agreement.”  Again, nothing new here. Just ask Facebook developer Mark Zuckerberg about how teens have been avoiding his site since they discovered their teachers, parents and grandparents were on there with them!

But don’t take from this that the author of this post thinks stem learning is a waste of time. What he has learned from his students is  that most of them...,“want to play games and talk with their friends. They like to solve mysteries, and they want to learn more about people… but they are not listening when he tries to engage them by talking-up their futures in high tech. That shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to most high school math teachers who long ago gave up trying to interest their students in math by telling them it was something they were going to need to get a good job when they grew up.

The post Do Kids Really Care About Stem Education has received a good deal of attention online. It has been tweeted and retweeted often. Some of the attention was less than favorable, but our take on it here at RobotsLAB is the author of this post didn’t say anything that we didn’t already know in our heart of hearts--besides, we build robotic teaching aids that engage kids without asking them to include us on their cell phones. Our robots will most certainly help them develop the skills that they need for future employment. But don’t tell them that while they are enjoying them.

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Robots Swarm To MoMath

Posted by Mike Nardine

Jan 5, 2015 10:47:00 AM


When I was a small boy growing up in the desert Southwest, I thought I wanted to grow up to be an anthropologist-- with the emphasis here on “ant.” They were everywhere in the desert: black ants, red ants, big ants and tiny ones.  I had no idea why they fascinated me so, but fascinate me they did, and I spent my summers watching them marching and counter-marching across the sandy desert floor--and of course, being a boy, I messed with them in every conceivable way from frying with a magnifying glass to trampling their elaborate nests and pathways. I sprayed them with insecticide bombs and drowned them in water. All that, and I don’t think I ever managed to completely destroy one of their nests. A few days and they would be back as busy as ever.

Not overly introspective as a boy, I never questioned my intense interest in their organized behavior. That it was “neat,” was enough for me (neat, by the way, was the 1950’s functional equivalent of “cool”). Later--much later, I am forced to admit--I stumbled into robotics and discovered that the very ant behavior that had fascinated me long ago was now a much sought-after goal in robot behavior. Robotics scientists hope that clues to understanding swarming, flocking, herding, crowding, thronging, whatever you call this instinctive, self-organizing behavior of ants, birds, cows and some higher biologic organisms, will guide the way toward developing robots capable of accomplishing tasks without the need to program every single individual unit in a...gang? of robots.

“Gang” will apparently not be the term of choice. The National Museum of Math in New York (MoMath) recently opened a new exhibit named Robot Swarm. A “swarm” of bees maybe, but robots…? Anyway, the exhibit is in the old Taj Mahal of Boxing, Madison Square Garden and the robot swarming (ok, maybe “ganging” does sound a bit inelegant!) takes place under a transparent floor in the ring beneath the spectators’ feet. Just as I once tormented swarms of ants, spectators can now torment small robots by stomping around the ring sending them scurrying to and thro in an organized fashion. But unlike my earlier efforts in the desert which were nothing more than a mixture of childish curiosity and wanton destruction, the purpose here at MoMath is to demonstrate and improve robotic self-organizing behavior.

Why bother, you ask?  Remember the Gulf Oil Spill of 2010? Because of the depth it took months to cap the open pipe. Currents, pressure and collapsing equipment changed the job requirements on a minute to minute basis. Imagine the savings to jobs and the environment if a tool consisting of thousands of small self-organizing robots could have been sent down to wrestle the plugs into position instead of trying to control the tools and plugs in a constantly changing environment  from a distance.

Just as those ants I tormented so long ago were able to survive my actions with their instinct for self-organization, it is the hope of roboticists that someday it will be possible to assign to a robot swarm a task like shutting down that pipe and letting the swarm self-organize the tools and behavior necessary to get the job done.

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NAO robot visits President Obama for hour of code

Posted by Mike Nardine

Jan 2, 2015 2:57:00 PM

Screen_Shot_2014-12-09_at_10.07.21Here is a riddle: What did President Obama, the world’s most powerful man, say to NAO, the world’s most popular anthropomorphic robot for educational purposes, when they met on December 8, 2014 during an Hour of Code event at the White House?

“Hi NAO! Last year, students and teachers across our country celebrated Computer Science Education Week with an Hour of Code. They learned new skills, programmed games and apps, and realized that while no one is born a computer scientist, becoming a computer scientist isn’t as scary as it sounds. With hard work, and a little math and science, anyone can do it.

For this year’s Computer Science Education Week, more than 48 million people have already participated, and we’re hoping even more of you will get involved. Don’t just consume things, create things.

Take an hour to learn more about the technology that touches every part of our lives. That’s how you can prepare yourself with the skills you need for your future. And that’s how you can help prepare our country for the future as well. America
has always been a nation of tinkerers, builders, and inventors.

We brought the world everything from the lightbulb and the telephone, to the iPad and the Internet. So whether you’re a young man trying his hand at programming for the first time or a young woman who is already hard at work on the next big thing, we’re counting on you–America’s young people, to keep us on the cutting edge. Thanks NAO, and happy coding!”

Wow eh?  Who’d a thunk a robot-- Oh, you don’t believe this? Good for you! We kinda hoped you wouldn’t. No, actually this is the text of the speech President Obama gave the day before to open 2014’s Hour of Code. What he really opened the speech with was “Hi everybody!”

This silly subterfuge with the riddle was nothing more than an attempt to draw your attention to the fact that our buddy NAO was a guest at the White House. I mean, when was the last time you were there? NAO is apt to be seen anywhere these days.

Hey, just last January he was on Mars helping the astronauts master the finer points of communicating with robots! Well, Ok, that was Utah, an analogous Mars with analogous astronauts, but that’s about as close to Mars as we’re gonna get for a while and NAO was there with us!

One more riddle… Check out the image below. Do you think NAO and VP Biden were talking 2016?


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