Thursday, March 26, 2009

But My Kid Wants to Build Robots

Abbreviated selections from my soon to be published book!

If you have a student interested in designing and building robots you are most likely going to want to gear the studies towards Mechanical Engineering, which includes math topics like Algebra, Geometry, Trig, Calculus and Physics. With this background one can then move into other specialized fields like Mechanical Computer Aided Engineering, Nano-Engineering, Marine Engineering and Aerospace. All of these fields are well suited for the visual spatial types where abstract thinking is a way of life.

Life After FIRST Lego League, Upstairs Roomba®

Nothing is better than having robots working for you in your home. We purchased 2 “home robots” from the iRobot® Corporation. These robots are fondly named iRobot® Roomba® Vacuum Cleaning Robots, or as we call them Upstairs Roomba® and Downstairs Roomba®. I thought that my student had outgrown taking telephones and vacuum cleaners apart, and he has, but alas, now it is only poor unsuspecting Roomba that has to worry some days.

The cool part about the iRobot® Corporation is that they have a most excellent handle on nerds that like robots. They have a whole line of gear and software for those of us who have a need to build robots at home. They offer home robots, tactical robots and here’s the best part: robots for developers. If you have a kid interested in building robots, this section of “Educators & Developers” tab is worth a look.

The other robot system we have learned from is the Vex® Robotics Design System. This set is a bit more complicated and might not be good for small hands, but medium hands with big minds will have a great experience with this. As with Lego®, this company supports competitions all over the United States.

What is Mechanical Engineering?

If it is mechanical and moves then most likely a mechanical engineer designed it. It would be hard to find an area or object in every day life that has not in some way had a mechanical engineer involved. Also, mechanical engineers design robots. Robotics, any kind of automation, environmentally responsible power generation, medical devices and any form of transportation are just some of the fields that require mechanical engineers.

If your kid is interested in the way things work, you may have a budding mechanical engineer.

Because Math and Science is so weak in American schools these days, more and more foreign students are filling the needs of these careers, taking innovation and technology out of our hands to other countries. It is a tough field to get into and mostly the top Universities take these kinds of students. If you have a student that seems to fit this description, he may have a brilliant future as a mechanical engineer. Generally, Mechanical Engineering is a five-year University program with the 4th and 5th years concentrating on a specific field of Engineering, like Mechanical Computer Aided Engineering, robotics, nano-engineering or Aerospace.

Mechanical Computer Aided Engineering

As a young adult I spent many years in the Mechanical Computer Aided Engineering (MCAE) field and one of the tickets to robotic design and engineering is an understanding of how computers work in conjunction with mechanical objects. The main thrust of this area is mechanical engineering with a concentration on geometric modeling – or 3-D geometry. This is used in simple and complex product design in items such as brake shoes and other parts for BMWs to plastic and metal parts for NASA devices, to entire flight systems for Boeing, to military applications.

The field of geometric modeling involves surface modeling or 3-D imaging on computer screens and exploring this technology can be fun.


Nano-Engineering is all about engineering that gets down to the granular details of molecules and atoms.

A subdivision of this kind of study is known s Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems or (MEMS). MEMS is the integration of mechanical elements, sensors, actuators, and electronics on a common silicon substrate through micro-fabrication technology. MEMS are also referred to as micro-machines or semi conductors.

Aerospace Engineering

Aerospace engineering is often called rocket science. If you saw the movie October Sky, then you might have some idea about how a rocket scientist thinks. Aerospace engineering is the branch of engineering behind the design, construction and science of aircraft and spacecraft.

This field is generally divided into two major paths: Aeronautical engineering and Astronautical engineering. Aeronautical engineering specializes in vehicles that stay within Earth's atmosphere. Astronautical engineering deals with craft that operate outside of Earth's atmosphere.

The unabbreviated selections in this soon to be published book also include Internet and text resources for nurturing a budding robot nerd!
Copyright 2009 by Amy Cortez

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Teens & That Parental Chant: "It's Almost Over"

Before you leave for work I want to know what your plans are for the week. Make it a list of goals for the week. Get that list on my desk by 10:30.
I'm going to do the research paper that's due in my English class this week, I am going to write my TaeKwonDo paper.
Those are your plans for the week?
You know in the working world they'd expect about 40 hours and if you were in a public high school you would be expected to participate in school activities at least for 30 hours -at least I think that's an accurate number.
So those two papers are going to take 30 to 40 hours to do?
Please sit down and consider what your plans are for the week and write them down in a list. You have not been meeting some of the goals you set earlier this year and you need to get back on track. We're going to do that with a to-do list, one that we can put check marks on. Get that list on my desk by 10:30.
Where's that list?
I'm not going to write down a list.
I have decided my work for school is stupid, I don't like it and I am not going to do it.
(This from my 16 year old).
This is the work you and I determined together that you need to do to complete your high school work so you can apply to the college you want to go to. Why is it now stupid?
OK. It's not stupid it's boring.
Boring compared to what?
Everything else.
Like what?
Like my pod casts, my news forums, you know life.
OK. Here's a thought for you. Life becomes boring if your education falls behind your experiences. Education makes life more interesting because you can delve into your pod casts and news forums further with a better understanding of the nuances.
And here's another thought for you, if you're not happy about things, then it's your job to change things. There's a little thing Mahatma Gandhi used to say and that is “Be the change you want to see in the world.”
I don't like your little zingers.
What zinger?
The Gandhi thing.
Comes with education. Do the list.
I'm not writing down a to-do list.
OK. Fine. Adults make plans, children get things taken away. If you do not have a plan for the week committed to paper before you go to work, you are going to need to walk to work or ride your bike, you are not taking the car - and in case you haven't noticed it's about to snow.
It actually wasn't a bad list, especially after we added approximate hours for each task.

The power struggles you have with a gifted kid as a kid were always complex, but when you're dealing with a gifted teen, they are complex and have become downright tiring. I think in dealing with any teen there are many words that run through a parent's mind, sometimes the words are of the four letter variety type and other times they have some more syllables.

Sometimes I let the word narcissist run through my head. When we think of the word "narcissism" we tie that word to other words like "selfish", "self centered", "arrogant", "me-me-me".

According to the Urban Dictionary "Narcissistic people are not self centered there is a difference."

I don't know how accurate the Urban Dictionary is, but it is fun to read the stuff, however in the book: Misdiagnosis And Dual Diagnoses Of Gifted Children And Adults: ADHD, Bipolar, OCD, Asperger's, Depression, And Other Disorders by James T. Webb, (and others), they go into narcissism and many other "disorders" a parent may worry about, or at least let their mind wander to with a gifted kid. They can be so damn frustrating some days these brilliant ones. But as the title of the book suggests that the gifted are often misdiagnosed with a a whole slew of issues - even by their parents! I have read most of this book as I have had my concerns with the giftedness and... thing in the past but probably the best line of advice one can take away from the read of this book is a beautiful sentence in chapter 9, Relationships Issues for Gifted Children and Adults in the section entitled Parent/Child manipulation:
Though all children manipulate, gifted children are far more skilled at it than others. They are able to make their rationale for a forbidden behavior sound completely reasonable.
Yep. Especially as teens.

In getting back to the Gandhi thing, as a parent of an extremely "smart" kid, it is hard not to see the immense potential and the possibilities, especially as a parent close to the age of 50. With that vision, it is very frustrating and sometimes heart breaking when these kinds of kids intentionally go astray from the goals they say they want to achieve. We live in a me-culture that can be very distracting to any kid and imagine what the gifted kid sees. As a parent, it is important to remember that though these kids are very intelligent and it might seem they can be "left alone", they are still young adults who need parents to reel them in with things like organized to-do lists. I used to believe that teens were made in this way so that we're happy to have them go off to college and in my mind I keep telling myself it will be over soon (when my student goes to college), but a friend recently reminded me with the question - Do you really think that your role will be reduced when he goes off to college - in this world?

Pearls offered by the College Board:

Motivating the Unmotivated Student

Managing Procrastination