By Taylor Ryan

Ann Arnold’s classroom at the Alternative Learning Center (ALC) is looking a little more like a racetrack these days.

Watch your step as small robots programmed by students navigate this masking tape course stuck to the classroom floor. Each group constructed their own robots using pieces sent to the class in a kit. The small rovers are able to communicate with commands via the internet, use sensors to determine when objects are in front of them, and emit sounds and light, all based on what students automated them to do.

After building the bots, students got to work calculating their way through the track, twisting and turning along the way. The objective? Complete the course without crossing the tape border. Trial and error led them through the second week of class, adjusting careful measurements as they went. “One group, after mastering the track, got the robot to go down the hall and knock on an office door,” Arnold said.

The ALC uses January to focus on project-based explorations. Arnold’s course spotlights problem solving which can be applied to different concepts and functions. Using the computer program “Scratch,” students learned about programming before finally putting their block codes to use.

The next goal takes it a step farther, adding claws to the ends of the robots and a whole new layer of obstacles. But if the students can solve it, the robots will do it. Arnold often jokes, however, that the bots occasionally seem to have a mind of their own, just like her creative students.

About the Author: Taylor Ryan is a 2014 graduate of Dubuque Senior High School who recently completed her first semester at Drake University studying accounting and public relations.