A group of four students in the Nelsen Middle School Robotics Club stared from their robot to the diagram on the screen and back again.
“Wait, does the yellow wire go there?”
“No, I think it goes in the next line down.”
They were spending significantly longer determining where all the parts went this time than last. Because of the limit focus they had the first time, wires had been cross and they burned out an Arduino microprocessor. I had another one and told them they could have it as soon as all the team members agreed that the robot was correctly wired this time.
“I think we’ve got it. Can we get the new chip?”
“She doesn’t seem convinced. You all need to agree, then you get the chip and I don’t want you burning another chip.”
“Can’t you check the wiring?!?”
“Why would I do that? You have the diagram for how it needs to be wired and you’ve shown me that you can read it. Take your time and do it right this time.”
“… uh… ok… uh… we’re not ready yet…”
The chips are only $4 each, but I didn’t have an unlimited supply of them with me. I wanted to see how they would do if I put all responsibility for this on them. It was their robot, after all.
The one who was always quick to dive in and change things started explaining why each wire was where it was. Another student who spent the first 20 minutes of the meeting reading a book about Arduinos put it down and leaned in to get a better view. All four of them asked questions, moved wires and pointed to the diagram on the screen. After 15 minutes, one of them came to me and said, full of confidence, “We’ve got it!”
“Are you sure?”
Looking back at the others and now speaking with slightly less confidence, “Yes!… ?”
“Ok, here’s the new chip. Install it on the breadboard and have everyone double check that it’s in the correct place before you turn it on.”
Three minutes later, and only about 45 seconds before the end of the meeting, they agreed that it was correct. They turned it on and the robot started to drive, exactly how they’d programmed it. They were elated.
It’s fun to see what students can do when we empower them enough to make the decisions. The consequence of failure here would have been destroying a $4 chip, but because I wasn’t going to check their work, they wanted to ensure that it was done right. They took pride in their work and the results were exactly what they hoped for. If I could get students to do that everyday at the cost of a few Arduinos, I’d take that deal for every student in the district.