PBP Phase 1 Combined Class 6: Screws and Worms

Today we built a worm gear as well as screws and the students were allowed to reverse engineer a demonstration model I had built. We learned how the worm gear worked including it’s ability to be driven in only one configuration. The students loved making the model and quite a few students showed great ability to reverse engineer the model. The topic for next week will be a difficult build, the Walker, and since there wasn’t any pieces left on the ground today the students will get chocolate next week.

ECA Phase 3 Topic 5: Pneumatics Basics

Today we built a demonstration model for the kids to get comfortable working on pneumatics and familiar with the pneumatic systems that we will be using in the coming classes. We did not manage to cover many STEM topics today, instead we covered safety with pneumatic devices and their operation. The students had fun but a few found it difficult to actually put the air hoses on the connector, this is not too large of a problem as many of them simply lack the finger strength that adults have. The topic next week is the Scissor Lift which will use a pneumatic cylinder to raise a platform. The students did a good job of cleaning up today however I would like the older kids to help the younger kids out just a bit more.

Sweeper Car

Hello everyone!

My apologies for the later post. Last week we built sweeper cars! This was a fun way to learn about gears and rotations. We noticed that a gear turns another gear an equal circumference to itself, for example when a larger gear turned a small gear, the small gear rotated extremely fast because it needed to be rotated according to the circumference of the larger gear.

This week we worked in teams and that worked out nicely. Next week you will be working in teams but with other students. I may include a prize for the fastest group! Next week we will be building a Fly Wheeler.

Communication ECA Phase IV Class 5: Traffic Lights Detection and Point Turn 20181010

In this Lesson Part I, students will use the Color Sensor to make their wheeled robot move more autonomously in order to simulate how an autonomous car might respond to traffic lights. In Part II, the students’ mission is to program your robot to complete a point turn to an exact angle by using the Gyro Sensor.

Program 1: Red Light Detection

  1. Start the program.
  2. Start motors B and C (drive forward).
  3. Wait for the Color Sensor to detect the color red.
  4. Stop the motors.

Program 2: Turn your robot clockwise for 45 degrees

Rotating using a wheel is not very precise. If you try to turn your robot in the dust or on a slippery surface, it may not reach the right angle. What the Gyro Sensor does is to help you make much more precise movements.

  1. Move Tank
  2. Wait – Gyro Sensor – Compare Angle – Type [3] (Greater Than or Equal), Degrees [45]
  3. Move Tank – Off

Program 3: Red and Green Light Detection Loop

The “Loop” block will be used.

  1. Start the program.
  2. Start motors B and C (drive forward).
  3. Wait for the Color Sensor to detect the color red.
  4. Stop the motors.
  5. Wait for the Color Sensor to detect the color green.
  6. Repeat steps 2 to 5 forever.

Program 4: Line Following in Loop (Optional)

The students will create an automated, driverless vehicle that can follow a line. They will explore how an automated vehicle might be guided along a road or track. The “switch” block will be used, which works very similar to the “time” block who can control almost all sensors. The program will work best using black or blue tape on a very light (or white) surface.

  1. Start the program.
  2. Start motors B and C (drive forward with a curve toward the line).
  3. Wait for the Color Sensor to detect the color black.
  4. Start motors B and C (drive forward with a curve away from the line).
  5. Wait for the Color Sensor to detect the color white.
  6. Repeat steps 2 to 5 forever.

The Mind of an Engineer: First Principles Thinking and How to Solve Big Problems

Have you ever wondered how people such as Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla Motors and SpaceX, think? How do they figure out a way to create a fast electric car or land a rocket the size of an apartment building on a robot ship in the middle of the ocean? How did they even managed to think that something so outlandish would work in the first place? The answer to this is a thought process known as “First Principles Thinking” and it is a powerful tool in the engineer’s toolbox to solve problems that seem far too large. This Immerse is intended for parents to read and in it I will explain the thought process of “First Principles Thinking” and how it can be used to solve big, as well as small problems and what you can do to help develop it in your children and your own life.

First Principles Thinking (FPT) is a way of reducing a problem down to the very core, taking it apart and examining those parts and then combining them in various shapes and ways to see which one might be the most effective. These parts are known as “First Principles”and form the components from which to build a solution, often these are very basic things that most people might see as easy or ignore altogether.

Let’s try reasoning from first principles in order to learn how to do it.

Say you want to get to work faster, wouldn’t it be nice if the roads were clear and that one person didn’t fall asleep behind the wheel leading to a 4 car pileup?

“Well maybe a flying car!” is what most people would answer, but that doesn’t really solve the congestion problem and then the sky will be just as congested as the roads.

So now we’ve identified the underlying problem: congestion. Congestion is what is causing people to be late for work. But congestion is a large problem that may never be adequately solved.

Well first we have to take the big impossible problem of eliminating the congestion and bring it down to something more manageable.

So let’s begin the first step of First Principles Thinking.

Step 1:  Ask why

Asking why is the most important part of FTP, like children we must constantly ask “Why?” and attempt to redefine our knowledge of the world. but above all else ask “Why does the problem happen?” in the case of traffic “why does congestion happen?”. Well from here we break it down.

Step 2: Break it down for “What”

In this step we ask “what causes congestion”. Well the answers could be anything, the moose on the road, the one bad driver who always speeds, everyone that goes 10 km/h over the speed limit, those dumb teenagers with impaired risk assessment, and maybe that you could be the bad driver.

While all of these answers may be true they all assume one thing: That the current driving system works.

Step 3: Systemic Analysis: Nothing is Sacred, Everything is Permitted

I’m fairly certain that most of you wouldn’t think that the very system of driving is flawed would you? Has it occurred to you that putting tired sleepy humans behind in control of half ton blocks of metal at speeds of 100 km/h would be a bad idea? Probably not, because you are so used to driving.

Step 4: Repeat

Repeat steps 1-3 until you have arrived at the root cause of the problem.

Step 5: break the loop

Once you have reached the base problem you can finally define it. in the case of congestion the base problem is how to move OBJECTS from point A to point B.

Step 6: Break the Boundary

Take everything you know and break it down into it’s components. What is a car? Well it’s a bunch of rubber cylinders strapped onto a metal frame with a fire-breathing engine at the front.

How about a sailboat?: It’s a sail, a mast, and a boat

A catapult? : A projectile, a launching arm, and a giant spring.

Now start mentally putting these components together.

Step 7: Invention, sort of.

Put the sail on the car and you have an car that doesn’t require any gas, only wind, to drive. Maybe we can launch a boat with a giant spring  so that it sails through the air and lands at the front door of the office!

All of these sound ridiculous but First Principles thinking isn’t meant to replace the traditional design process, instead it’s there to guide that process in a new direction. There’s no point in looking for oil where everyone else has setup wells you have to go and find your own deposit. But you’ll still need a drill if you want to drill for oil (or maybe you can find a way to teleport it to the surface)

Children are very good at coming up with solutions to problems and very often grow this way. Kids grown when facing problems they have never seen before and continually being given chances to try and solve said problem. If you want you child to develop first principles thinking then let them solve problems and step in when they ask you to. A great example of FTP is when I challenged the children in my Phase 1 class to lift a water bottle with fishing rods, I offered a few hints and helped out with their builds but that was it. What they did surprised me, instead of making stronger hooks they use more hooks! The children knew that one fishing rod could lift a certain amount of weight so they simply threw more rods at the problem and agreed to share the reward. Instead of approaching the problem from a technical point of view they came at it from a social point of view! It was amazing and incredible to watch! And the other important part of teaching is to make sure the children feel rewarded. As such I let them off easy and gave them all treats. When your child manages to solve a problem in a way you would never think of, no matter how outrageous it might be reward them a little bit for solving the problem before getting to criticism or scolding.

So now you know a little bit more about First Principles Thinking.
Have fun exploring!

Il Ho Cho

PBP Phase 2 Combined: Class 5: Simple Machines Part 1

Today we built a few demonstration models on simple machines. the students all appeared to have fun. We learned about the different classes of levers as well as steering mechanisms for wheels. Ray and Selina both reverse engineered a differential today from a model that I built, a task normally reserved for students in later Phases.

Next week we will be learning about a few more simple machines in preparation for the big build in two weeks. I decided to move the walker build behind the Simple Machines builds as the walker is a very complex models that requires a good understanding of simple machines.

Please ask the students to do some basic research into Simple Machines such as the Wedge, Pulley, Gear, and Inclined Plane.

ECA Phase 3 Topic 4: Wind Turbine

Today we built the wind turbine and used it to charge batteries as well as learning about power and what it consists of. The kids loved seeing the turbines charge the batteries and when partnered up had very little issue with building the model. Next week we will be starting pneumatics something that I’m sure the kids will find very fun. And thank you to the children who were good at cleaning up today!


Today we built a hammer. This build taught students about friction and force. Depending on the tightness of each gear the friction is different. The students discovered that larger gears had a higher friction than the smaller gears. The force of the hammer was able to push the axle into the gear as well. Next week I would really appreciate it if students would check if each piece was inside their kit to make sure no one will have trouble finding anything.

PBP Phase II Combined Class 3: Dragster

Today we built the Dragster, a fast car that it shot forward using the energy stored in it’s wheels and “charged up” using an accelerator stand. Many of the students finished on time however a few did not manage to finish.  Most of the students loved the Dragster and had a lot of fun testing them in the classroom. Parents ensure the kids pick up all the pieces as we found quite a few pieces on the ground today and had various missing part issues throughout the build.