Category Archives: Robotics

NCSTA Conference November 15-16th

If you are a Teacher in NC, the North Carolina Science Teachers Association is hosting their annual conference. I will be presenting this year. My topic will be our JPL Open Source Rover we built at our school. Rover Build Roverto is being retrofitted with new parts and electronics. It has become a legacy project at our school and I wanted to share this with other educators in the State.

Want to build a Rover? How do you get started? JPL (Jet Propulsion Laboratory) shared open-source plans for a Rover built in 2018. Learn what it takes to build this Rover and to get your school community involved with this project. Our presentation will review the steps that the Cardinal Gibbons High School Robotics Team took to build JPL Rover and how the school community came together to create a legacy project. Detailed information about how to fund this project, how to find building parts, and how much time to allow for the building of the Rover will be shared. 6-12, College 

Check out the link for the schedule and information about the conference, “Want to Build a Rover

Feel Free to contact me if you have any questions. I will also be presenting at the Middle School Share-A-Thon with someone from AMS about different professional development opportunities.

U.S. Air Force / FIRST® Leadership Experience

One day in June I received a call telling me I had been accepted to the Air Force/ First Leadership Experience. I never expected this one. My Lead mentor/coach forwarded me the information and I applied. Never thought I would get it. But I did, 24 mentors and teachers were selected out of 300 applications. The experience would take place over three days at Wright Patterson AFB  in Dayton, Ohio.

On Sunday night we were treated to a welcome dinner and also received all our little goodies. These included an awesome backpack, pens, coffee travel mug etc. All the things a teacher loves, right? We had a some fun while sharing our experiences with our robotics teams. It was really helpful to listen to others, and how they faced some of the same problems your team faced. At the dinner we meet Brigadier General Jeannie Leavitt, Major McKnight, and others. Meeting the Brigadier General was the highlight of the night, she was the first woman pilot in combat. If you want to see some cool things about her check out some of the movies on YouTube or her bio. One of the things she talked about was the need for recruits, right now all branches of the military were looking for people who just wanted to be a part of the military or people who wanted to serve in other ways, civil servants. Even if students don’t want to enlist they could still hold some awesome jobs by becoming civil servants. By supporting First Robotics and attending the competitions she was hoping to bring more awareness the the people about the Air Force. But she also discussed why were there, to learn about leadership and how we could bring this back to our teams.

On the second day we would begin our leadership experience, it started with a meeting and brief introduction with Colonel Michael Phillips, Vice Commander of the 88th Air Base Wing. Then we began our Leadership introduction, I’m not sure what else to call it, but we were introduced to Colonel Gary A Packard, Jr. Vice Dean of the Faculty at the US Air Force Academy. His talk was very enlightening and informative. Using his experiences he went over some suggestions and advice to us about how to form a “holistic” young person. He started by comparing Complicated to Complex. Complex is the skill students will need to deal with the world. Diversity is a part of the world and this country nothing will change that. As a mentor/coach we need to develop both skills. Its not our world it will be their world. Colonel Packard continued by sharing some ideas about what we could do for our team; have them experience other parts of the world. Take the students to an art museum or a music concert. Get them out of their comfort zone, this will help them see the diversity of our world. Teach critical thinking skills, this is something I really need to work on not only on my team but in class too. Challenge the status quo! There was more great advice, but these were the highlights. It was a great talk and I learned a lot from it. I do appreciate him taking the time to talk to us.

After break we came back to work with Lt. Colonel Rosenberg, he presented a variety topics, but his talk was titled “Professionalism Enhancing Human Capital”.  His first question to us is “Why do I do what I do? When you know your “why”, your what has more impact! A leader sets the tone, there are three domains of a leader’s trust technical (knowledge and proficiency), conceptual(ability to work with ideas and concepts) and human(ability to work with people).  The top 3 things that derail high potential leaders are they can’t adapt to change, inability to develop/lead teams and problems with interpersonal relationship. Once they achieve the 3 domains and show commitment, leaders will then get the loyalty and trust from their people. Instead of trust-loyalty-commitment, leaders should display commitment then loyalty and trust will follow. During his discussion he placed a ton of resources on our desks.  Here are a couple: “The Servant” James C. Hunter, “Speed in Trust” Stephen R Covey and “Turn the Ship Around” L. David Marquet. There were others but these were just a few.

To end the day we went to the auditory lab where we were able to experience some of the research being done. No pictures though. The tour was great and the people working there were great tour guides. This ended the day and we went to dinner. What was great was the sharing of ideas and suggestions everyone brought to the table. There were still two more days left for the experience and I couldn’t wait to find out what was in store for us.

Rover is Driving

A couple of things have happened in the past couple of weeks since my last post. The most important Rover event…ITS DRIVING! can’t believe we got it going. But we did it. More like the kids did it! So how did this happen. Well a bit of trouble shooting and hard work. Advice, if you are building the Rover, make sure you have a computer that can handle the Basic Micro Studio software, its needed to calibrate the Robo Claws and Motors. We are still working on turning, but we got it moving. Check out the video below.

The turning will come, once we figure out what is wrong with our settings. The Rover is unique in that has six wheels. So turning is a bit different than a normal 4 wheel turn. The wheels use Ackerman steering which takes into account “if the rover is turning, each wheel will need to spin at a slightly different rate to avoid slipping or “scrubbing”.”

AckermanAckerman Stering Geometry

It’s really interesting looking at the engineering, science and math principles used to build the rover. The next job is not only the turning but also the head. We have to figure out the connections and wiring to the head. The head contains an LED matrix 16×32 pixel display which is controlled by the Raspberry Pi.  Currently the Rover Team is working on getting both done.

Rover Head

We ended up taking part in the NC Museum of Natural Science Astronomy Weekend. Our exhibit contained the Roverto and the Mars map from the Buzz Aldrin Sharespace Foundation.  The Robotics Team and Rover Team, worked together during the day to bring STEM to all the visitors. We had 8 mini rovers, outreach robots and Roverto working all day. According to the museum we had over 14,000 people for the weekend. It was amazing weekend and our students outdid themselves. Throughout the whole weekend visitors complemented our students on their patience and work they were doing.

Our next outreach was part of the Advocacy day for the First Robotics Organization. Our job that day was to talk to NC Representatives and Senators about Robotics and its impact on education. Again another success by our Robotics and Rover Team.


The story continues


So the title is a bit deceiving. When I say the story continues the story continues for a couple of reasons the Mars rover, we are still troubleshooting and calibrating the wheels on the Rover. But the good thing is we are very close to finally getting it to drive.

Meanwhile, we finally had our Google Hangout with Michael Cox from JPL. It was a great talk, Mr. Cox first introduced us to all the missions going on at the center. I never realized how many missions they were or are involved with. But Mr. Cox pointed out that JPL does all  Robotic and unmanned missions.  I didn’t realize this. Some of the best missions have come from JPL.  If you think about it Viking, Voyager 1 & 2, Mars Pathfinder, Cassini, Spirit, Opportunity and Curiosity are all the missions that have come from JPL. Amazing! His talk was great because it showed the students all that JPL had done and what it offered.

The final discussion was about the Rover, he met the team and discussed how the Rover came about. The Rover team showed him all that they had done and talked about some of the difficulties they faced. It turned out to be a great meeting. I did suggest to him that maybe we could get all the high schools building the Rover together on a skype. Then trade different ideas. He thought that was great and would look into it.

One thing I believe is happening, students are getting a bit frustrated because of the calibration section. They are trying to get the motors and encoders calibrated, their efforts sometimes cause other problems or they find other problems. It’s a frustrating part of the whole build but a great problem solving moment. Actually I even think a great learning moment for them, not everything can go right in real life and this is just a example. I know it is frustrating to them and can be discouraging, they want the Rover to drive! But it’s a learning process that continues with this project.


Rover Build


So our build started about two months ago. Right now we work 2 days a week with maybe a couple hours on saturday. Like I said before 3 students are leading the charge on this project. But the help various Robotics mentors have been giving has been amazing too. So this entry will talk about the parts and mechanical assembly. Next blog entry will talk about the wiring issues, which I have to say have been challenging but one young man has done an awesome job with it. (Meihir you rock!)

To find all the parts you need for this Rover Project you need to go to the GitHub file area. There you’ll find parts list for different retailers. If you are lucky like our team, our head Robotics Coach/Mentor put a whole list together. He not only put the parts in order, but he also made up a shopping list, where to go and how much each part would cost. If you would like to contact me about that list please feel free, I can see if he will give me permission to share it.

Once we established that we had all the parts, we then had manufacture some of the parts. We are very lucky to have milling machine that was donated to us for cutting various parts. We used this to cut our side plates and base plates. It worked great!  Any type of Lexan parts that we needed we used a Shopbot to cut. Our Lead Coach has a Shopbot he has allowed the school to borrow.

After working on the body parts, we started the wheels. Since the Hubs of the wheels did not have holes we had to cut them. Caution here after drilling the holes we found some of them didn’t line up correctly. Not a surprise, so we only used the holes that matched up (  ). Drill press would be a big help here. Lucky enough there were at least three holes in each wheel that worked. Also make sure the kids or Adults are putting the clamps on correctly. We had some put the screws in wrong way on the clamps hubs and put the clamps hubs on incorrectly. Not a big deal since we caught it, but might have caused a problem down the road.

Once we got the wheels on we started to work on Rocker-Bogie section. This is the section that holds the wheels to the body. When building the Rocker-Bogie be careful with the instructions they are bit confusing. According to our lead builders they need to be improved/clarified on how plates and bars are fitted together. Directions weren’t specific on whether each side is mirrored or the same. Also, you need to cut one of the aluminum channels, we used a milling machine, but obviously not everyone has this type of equipment. This is where a machine shop would be a big help. If you have one near you I would suggest you create a partnership with them, so they can help you.

Rocker Bogie Title

Our next section to work on was the Differential Pivot together. This was the part of the Rover that helps keep it from tipping over. It’s a big part of the suspension system. This is simplified, there is a lot more to it, great Physics lesson here. When putting together this part there was a section that we had to change just a bit, make sure you add more washers in between the aluminum bars and turnbuckle. We found it a bit unstable and adding the extra washers made a difference.

Once you start to build the Rover you come to find out there are small changes you can make to help make it work better. That’s what this blog post is about. These are the mechanical changes we made and tried to improve the build.  There are other minor changes we made, but I only concentrated on the most important ones. One final note, the build I think was easy, it’s the wiring and programing that will take longer. If you are thinking of doing this project contact me and I can share more information about the build.


It’s Rover Time!

In this blog post I’m going to talk about a “mission” we are in the process of completing. We are building drum roll please…the Mars Rover, yep you heard me. An open source build developed by @JPL (Jet Propulsion Laboratory Open Source Rover) I came across the build one day when I received a newsletter from NASA and it had a bit of a blurb about a Mars Rover.  I went to the website and find out about it. It looked interesting and a great learning opportunity.  I thought this might be something that we could do here at school. Since I’m involved with the robotics team, it seemed this could be a good fit. So, I emailed our Mentor, Head Coach and Biggest Supporter. You name it, he’s an all-around total support and leader of the robotics team. I e-mailed him the website and information. I’m not kidding within next 24 hours he sent me an email telling me it was possible with a list of all the parts and cost. Amazing right, well he was as excited as I was to do this.

I gathered all the information needed and decided to approach our Principal. I stated my case by promoting the “mission” as a great community opportunity especially once the Rover was built.  It could really be used to bring in tons of other people and the Rover could be used for other club’s activities. While being a great teaching tool. He thought it was a good idea. And after a long talk with him he funded our project. We are planning on a ton of things to do. Once our Principal gave us the go, we started to order the parts and had a meeting. The Rover team right now consists of students from Physics club (@physics_cghsnc ), Gibbons Robotics (@robotics_cghsnc) and Space Explorers Club (@spaceexp_cghsnc). The group mainly has students from the Physics Club. Two members come to mind Peter and Mihir. Both have done an outstanding job working on this project. I can’t begin to tell you how much their leadership is appreciated.

So, this began our project two months ago. Check out the pictures from the beginning. It all started with having to inventory all the parts. The whole Rover has about 400 parts, if not more. Once that was finished we needed to manufacturer some parts. This is where our maker room came in handy.

For now, I’ll end here, because I could go on forever. The excitement around the Rover is building and hopefully we will have a fully functional Mars Rover by Thanksgiving. I’ll keep up with the posts. My next one will go over the good and bad we have faced since the beginning.

Where does coding fit in your class?

I love coding. That being said, I never found the time in the past to do it in class. I teach science and I know coding is great for introducing another part of STEM. But where can I fit it in? I’ve been racking my brains trying to think of a ways to include coding into my class. I know our Physics teacher does coding in her classes. And there have been many times she has offered her robots to me.

Then I began to think about it and finally came up with some ideas. After reading about the Hour of Code event, I decided to try something in class  (if you don’t know about this is you can read about it here). When do we code in an Earth Science Class? When the students do their Genius Hour or Citizen Project. I have some students who love to use our EV3’s or they create a game for class. Students love the programming blocks in the EV3’s. We also use these in our Robotics Camp. The EV3 program is similar to Scratch and works on a type of “block interface”.  My other project in class takes place at the beginning of the year, I have students use Scratch to introduce themselves.


It was a basic introduction to scratch. I had Students code sprites to answer three questions. Students had partners for the project and had to create a conversation between their sprites. The questions were based on “getting to know you”, or introductions for the beginning of the year. I wanted to change this up a bit and figure I would try this out. I think they enjoyed it, I will probably find out on my semester survey. There were some problems; I need to structure my introduction a bit more, and let them do a tutorial on the program. I’ve already decided to implement some things for next year.

Why am I bringing this up now, well I started to think about Ozbot.  This summer I had a chance to test the Ozbot out and found it pretty easy to use. We are thinking about getting some for our Robotics Summer Program. This is a great way to introduce students to coding and can be a great introduction into programming robots. But how could I use this in class? Could it be integrated into my Earth Science Class? Questions I haven’t answered yet. But does it have to be a part of the class? Could I make this activity a reward when we end a unit? Again I haven’t decided yet, but I can guarantee I will come up with something and when I do I will post it here.

So where does coding fit in your class?

The End of the season is Here!

Well the FTC robotic season ended with our state competition this year. There were 32 teams at the states, it took place at A & T University in Greensboro.  The day started really early in the morning with hardware, software and field inspections, which we passed. Even though we might not have won the competition or came in the top 5 for Super Regionals we did learn a lot this year or so I think. A major lesson team members learned was that there was more to winning competitions then just the building a winning robot. Our members realized that we need to remember that the engineering notebook and other components of the competition play a major role in winning at competitions. They also realized that winning isn’t everything at competitions the Journey to these competitions was just as important. As one of our mentor/coaches said he was not worried about what we won, he wanted members to learn along the way how to use the design process to build a robot. Making mistakes was just as important as doing things right. Which of course brings up a whole other discussion that we need to allow our students to fail before they can succeed. And we do know that this is becoming a big discussion in the educational field.



The last meeting of the year was held just the other day and our mentor/coaches talked to the team about various components of the year. What worked and what didn’t. What can we improve on and what did we do well this year?  We tried to stick with the positives and one positive was that we improved our engineering book tremendously. In the previous competition we won the Think Award which qualified us for the state tournament. Advice to anybody who is coaching and mentoring a robotics team one of the things I’m learning is that the engineering book is really important and putting the time and effort into it is worth it. I would advise anybody to make sure you have someone in charge of the engineering book that is going to put the effort into making sure the book is complete. We had a an awesome student/member coordinating the notebook.



As a result of the end of the year meeting we came to the conclusion that next year we’re going to have 2 teams so that everybody will have a chance to have hands opportunities with the robot. This means that next year we should be registering two teams for FTC competition. I think this is a great idea because not only will it give everybody a chance to be a part of the decision making with the robots but also I think the younger team members will be able to learn bit more then when you have a larger team. Sometimes the larger teams don’t give young members ability learn because there’s too many people and not enough robot.

So we ended on a really good note by agreeing on what we needed to do to be successful next year in competition.  Now we wait and we’ll see, meanwhile over the summer we already have some outreach going on. We have a week long EV3 Mindstorm robotics summer camp for rising 5th to 9th graders at school, check it out on our school website. Also next month we are going to be at the Triangle Tech Expo at the Museum of Natural Science in Raleigh. So it’s going to be a busy next couple of months with outreach and also preparing for the beginning of next season. Good job by all this year and looking forward to next year.

And We are Off to States-Robotics

Just a bit of an update on Robotics. Actually more of a summary of the year to this point. I neglected to write an entry for the past events, so I’ll catch up here.

We started the year off at Cisco, for the Kickoff to the NC FTC Challenge competition year.  And I will say what a challenge this year.  You can read about the challenge and watch a short video at the NC FTC page. It was a great day, two of our students got a chance to work with Congressman David Price. Half our team presented in different sessions during the day.

robotics      Robotics Kickoff 2015 (1)

Once our team found out the challenge for this year they got to work. The next event was a scrimmage and they didn’t do bad.  New wheels and a base were created using the shopbot and 3D printer. A couple of bumps in the competition but overall they did okay. This is the time the team usually will redo and improve on their build. Hint for mentors and coaches in robotics, give the students as much time as possible and allow them to experiment. Sometimes we need to let them fail to succeed.

Lauren Pettibone robotics tournament (368)-X3

The next event was the qualifier on January 17th held at Cardinal Gibbons, we had 24 teams from around NC come for a day of competition.  This year we hosted the event in the Gym and broadcasted the event. We estimated about 300 people came to watch throughout the day. If you missed it  check it out the broadcast is on High School Cube Channel. Over 600 people have watched so far. We didn’t do as well as we wanted to and had to go back to the drawing board. But that’s the point, making the robot better every time. We had two weeks to improve the robot. Our next qualifier was at Trinity High School. There we did well in our first two matches and then had a servo break on us. Overall the robot ran well. But again we needed to make some more modifications if we were to do well at the next competition. Ended up we won the Think Award, for our engineering book. We qualified for States. So the young men and women who worked hard on the robot are now getting a chance to go to States and try to qualify for the super regionals.

Through this whole thing I think the team learned a great deal about persistence and teamwork. Never expecting to place the team’s hope was to win something so they would qualifier. They did that and also came in second for another award. They might not have won the tournament. But they did well. That is the one good thing about First Robotics, they do give everyone a chance to win something even if they don’t win their matches.

Next stop for the team is States at A& T University in Greensboro on February 20th.

3 Dangers Society Faces From 3D Printing –

3 Dangers Society Faces From 3D Printing – You know I love 3D printing, our Robotics Team has used it a great deal to create parts for our Robot. Students have also created some awesome items for me during Earth Day Celebration and other events. But I do also know that when a new technology becomes available there will be some pitfalls. Thing is we need to start thinking about these now. This might be a good lesson for students, they are the future. Great good/bad lesson on technology.