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A.M.9 | Engineering Problem Solving

Created by: Modular Robotics

Lesson Overview:
Students will now practice the Engineering Design Process cycle by working with Cubelets. Students will define problems, build a potential solution, test their innovation, evaluate, and go through the cycle until they find a solution. They will also be introduced to a new Cubelet – the Bar Graph. You may choose to set up this lesson as a series of stations for the students to rotate through.

The Basics:
Ages: 10 – 12 years (grades 4-6)
Time: 30 -45 minutes
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Lesson Goal (for the educator): Students will try to solve a problem using Cubelets and the Engineering Design Process cycle.
Lesson Objectives (for the students): My team will solve problems using Cubelets by following the steps in the Design Process cycle.
Essential Questions: How can I use the Design Process to help me build a robot that successfully fulfills the task at hand?
21st Century Skills: Creativity and Innovation, Critical Thinking and Problem Solving, Communication and Collaboration, Adapt to Change, Be Flexible, Manage Projects, Produce Results, Work Effectively in Diverse Teams
Concepts: The Design Process cycle, innovative thinking, problem solving, testing, collaboration
Vocabulary: Brainstorm, innovate
Required Cubelets: Bar Graph, Distance, 2 Drive, Battery, Brightness, Flashlight, Rotate, Passive, Inverse, Blocker, Knob, Bar Graph – enough for each group of 2-5 students to have one of each
Additional Materials: Student Robotics Journals and A.M.9.WS

The Standards:
ISTE: International Society for Technology Education

CCSS: Common Core Standards

NSTA: National Science Teachers Association

Prior Knowledge Necessary for the Student:
Prior Knowledge Necessary:
  • Understanding of Cubelets and their properties and how to reconfigure them to make changes to the robot’s behavior
  • An understanding of the Engineer Design Process
If no prior knowledge:

Prior Knowledge for the Educator:
  • Make sure you know how to build the robots to solve the problems outlined in the lesson.
  • The Bar Graph cube is a great way to reinforce the concept that information is flowing from Sense cube and the magnitude of it can be measured. It can also act as an extra cube when needed for maintaining balance in a robot – or just extending the robot in some way.

Educator Tips:
  • You may choose to assign certain problems to certain groups.
  • If you have students who might find these problems easy to solve you should have them come up with their own problem and solution (the last puzzle in the chart below).

  • Divide the class into groups of 2-5 students.
  • Decide how much time you have for students to spend at each of the stations. Or, plan the lesson so that a team remains at one station for the duration of the lesson. Then, you may need to consider how many more times you will need to repeat this lesson depending upon how many stations you wish to have the students work at.
  • On the worksheets (A.M.9.WS) check off the boxes of the puzzles you want each of the students/teams to solve, or have the students check these if you want them to rotate through the Learning Stations.
  • For each station/group, place in a container the Cubelets they will need.

Lesson Plan Assets and Resources:

Click the button to download A.M.9.WS – Robot Puzzles

Click the buttons to download the Robot Journal and Extra Journal Pages


“In our last lesson, we learned about the Engineering Design Process. You now know that the process is repeated, or works in a circular method as you can see by the posters you made (or the diagram your class came up with to outline the process).”
    Time: 5 Minutes
  1. “Now we are going to practice being engineers and problem solving, using the Design Process and using these Cubelets to build robots.
  2. “As you know, engineers often deepen their understanding of how things work by starting with something, disassembling it, and examining how each of its parts works. In engineering design, FAILURE is useful! Engineers can decide to go back to the original design, or they can reassemble parts, add parts, or delete parts – they may even make a totally new creation based on their evaluations.”
  3. “As an engineer, one always needs to keep in mind how the pieces contribute to the whole. We can better understand the components by testing them in several different ways – just as you have done with the Cubelets.”
  4. Review the Objective and introduce/review the vocabulary.
  5. “Let’s remind ourselves of a few characteristics of the Cubelets. The black Cubelets have senses like our eyes, the clear Cubelets are the action parts that behave, and the colored Cubelets are the thinking, or logic, parts of the robot. We can make robots of all kinds using different senses, actions, and thinking cubes.”
  6. “I also want to introduce a new Cubelet – the Bar Graph. This Cubelet measures the amount of information passing through it. The black Sense cubes sense some property of their surroundings and turn that information into a number – the more the Cubelet senses, the greater the number. For example, if the Brightness cube takes in a lot of light the number will be higher and as it passes this information to an Act cube, such as the Flashlight, it will shine brighter. If we want to know how large or small this number is we can use the Bar Graph Cubelet.”
  7. “Let me show you what I am talking about.” Demonstrate by connecting the Battery, Bar Graph and Distance Sensor to create a simple robot.
  8. Move your hand close to the Distance Sensor “eyes” to increase the data value. High data values are displayed as a fully light bar graph.
  9. Gradually move your hand away from the Distance Sensor to show how decreasing data values translate into a lower displayed value on the Bar Graph Cubelet.
  10. “Now, let’s use the Bar Graph to see the effect when we use the Inverse cube. Remember that high data values from nearby objects resulted in a fully lit bar graph.
  11. “Now, when I place the Inverse cube between the Sense and Action cubes, notice how the Bar Graph output has changed?” Now, the closer an object is to our Distance Sensor, the lower the displayed value is on our Bar Graph Cubelet. The further an object is from the Distance Sensor, the higher the display value is. That’s because the Inverse Cubelet inverts data values when it is placed between a Sense and Act Cubelet.
  12. “You may not need to use the Bar Graph to see what is happening with a simple robot, but as your robots become more complicated you will see that it can help you figure out how your robot is behaving and why. It is a good tool for visualizing data within your robot.”
  13. “Now it’s your turn to explore. On your worksheet you will see different problems to solve. Your team is to work together, use the Design Process, and come up with solutions to the problems. Your team will need to figure out what the problem is, design and build a robot that will solve the problem, test it, then repeat the process until you know you have been successful at solving the problem. Use the worksheet provided (A.M.9.WS) to guide you in this process.”
  14. Time: 10-20 Minutes
  15. Allow students to work in their groups.
Robot Stations/Challenges:

  • Category: Warm-Up
  • Station: Build an Aggressive Robot Battery, Drive, Distance
  • Problem: Make a robot that drives faster as it gets closer to objects

  • Category: Warm-Up
  • Station: Build a Scaredy-Bot Battery, Drive, Distance
  • Problem: Make a robot that drives away from things

  • Category: Warm-Up
  • Station: Build a Crazy-Bot Battery, Drive, Distance
  • Problem: Make a robot that drives in circles

  • Category: Getting Started
  • Station: Build a Lighthouse Robot Battery, Brightness, Flashlight, Rotate, Inverse, Passive
  • Problem: Build a robot lighthouse that knows to come on in the dark to let the ships know that land is near.

  • Category: Getting Started
  • Station: Build a Steering Robot Battery, 2 Distance, 2 Drive, Blocker
  • Problem: Build a steering robot that has sides that drive and sense independently.

  • Category: Getting Started
  • Station: Build a Flashlight Robot
  • Problem: You are in a dark basement and don’t know where the lights are. You don’t have a flashlight or candle, but you do have Cubelets! How can you make a robot flashlight that will stay lit while in the dark?

  • Category: Moving On
  • Station: Build a Cave Investigator Battery, 2 Distance, 2 Drives, Blocker, 2 Inverse, Brightness, Rotate, Passive
  • Problem: Build a robot that can explore a newly discovered cave. The scientists want the robot to precede them in to the cave.

  • Category: Moving On
  • Station: Build Your Own Robot Battery, 2 Distance, 2 Drives, Blocker, 2 Inverse, Brightness, Rotate, Passive
  • Problem: Define your own problem or situation you would like to solve and build a robot to address the issue.

    Time: 5 Minutes
  1. Allow the students to share their solutions.
  2. Time: 5 Minutes
  3. Give students time to record their thoughts about this lesson in their Robotics journal.
  4. Time: 1-2 Minutes
  5. Allow time for students to put materials away and plug in the Battery Cubelets for recharging.

End Results:

Students will use the Design Process to solve problems using Cubelets.

Extension Activities:
What did you learn while building robots today? Be sure to discuss how the Design Process worked for your team as you sought solutions to the problems.

What to go to Next:

For More Review:

  • Repeat this lesson, Engineering Problem Solving A.M.9
If Objectives are Met:
  • Using the Design Process A.M.9.5
To Enhance and Extend:
  • Using the Design Process A.M.9.5

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