Reflections on Collaborative Constructionist Learning

Learning experience:


I was looking forward to this part of our project work until the day we got our kits. On mature reflection little has gone to plan from that day and I am now, after many hours of sheer frustration, resigned to my own limitations and those of the materials I have been given to work with on this particular project. It was unfortunate that the kit was missing the manual, the software, had a tower that was defective, two defective motors and wheels that were missing tyres. The first two copies of the software I managed to locate were defective, the discs were ‘manky’, to use the vernacular of many of my pupils. I spent time each day for the first week trying to get the tower to talk to the RCX without success, patch 146 seemed to be talked about as the panacea of all problems related to the tower but not the ‘yoke’ I had. What a waste of time! Would I hand a kit in that state to my pupils? How might they react?
The physical construction of the model was a simple matter, a buggy with four wheels, each wheel separately powered by a motor. A number of different types of wheels were tested for movement, traction and manoeuvrability. The body of the buggy remained basically the same with minor adjustments as the project progressed. Attaching the motors firmly to the buggy proved problematic and also the positioning of the sensors on the buggy. How I longed for my old mecchano set when what was put on, stayed on!

A touch too much touch!What a dumb tower! The tower of Babel

I expected the physical construction of the model to be the most satisfying aspect of the project. The model once constructed would stay constant, it would be a work completed and ready for action, specific action for which it would be programmed. This was not to be and on reflection was an omen of things to come. The motors were a little problematic at first as they were easily detached but better positioning helped to overcome this. The RCX seemed limited in it's ability to remain attached to various lego parts and different types of wheels reacted differently during some actions. Overall the first phase was none too satisfying.

lego site

The programming of the RCX brought a new awareness of how intuative we are in our physical movements, how getting from pointA to pointB is done automatically, subconsciously and with little thought.Working with the lego buggy requires exact, sequenced instructions, to take account of everything you require it to do. A simple command has to be broken down into precise detailed instructions but the RCX rarely delivered the same movement twice in a row.
A set of detailed commands, programmed to the RCX, should give the same pattern of movement each time but even with endless adjustments this was nigh impossble to achieve. After the problems with the defective software, the faulty tower and the broken motor I began to suspect the RCX itself was faulty. Both Geraldine & Rahel, my teammates, had similiar experiences with this project. Personally this project together with our initial assignment has made me pause for a long look at how the course will pan out. The logic behind this project and, more importantly, how it will be assessed is something I look forward to knowing.
The fact that my ten year old son was driving his €12 remote controlled car with fully functioning headlights and reversing lights around the other end of the sittingroom, underneath chairs and tables and scaring the snoozing cat, did nothing for my confidence in this project. The more I tried the less I achieved, this was beginning to seem vaguely familiar, didn't I do something like this in my first assignment only to have it all reduced to mulch by a form of adjudication I have never before encountered.

Team Work.

Initially Geraldine asked if I would work with her on this project and we set about the task. One morning before lectures I met Rahel in the reception area. She had a small Dunnes paper bag and poured it's contents on the floor to show me what she had. There was very little there and later up in the room, as she appeared not to be paired, I invited her to join us though Geraldine had not yet arrived. As Geraldine had initially invited me to join her, it was something she should have been consulted about.Mea culpa! Thereafter Brendan asked if Rahel could join with us and I am glad she did come aboard.
I have enjoyed the teamwork on this project as we set about the task with gusto and drive. Much thought and lots of energy were deployed in our activity. Rahel knew little if anything about Lego so hers was a complete new learning curve. Geraldine and I were familiar with the basic of Lego. As a team we listened to each other and I believe heard each other. We swopped ideas, possibilities, plans for our robot to perform. Some of my ideas, in hindsight,were pie in the sky as the RCX was not, for whatever reason, delivering the goods. As a team member I felt well supported by by teammates and I hope I returned that support. Our personalities may be quite similar and this may have helped us to function well as a team yet may have not brought out the best in us. I flagged in my energy for the project as we seemed to achieve less by the day and it was the switching to the new Lego robot which reenergised me on the final stretch.
The process and the product in this project are both important. The process, because it tells us how we can productively cooperate in a project, what we can bring to the project, what we can learn from our teammates in the process. The product, because all our efforts can be symbolised in it, even those which only the team know of, the failures along the way, the frustration, the insignificance of it all when you are on your knees putting your robot together for the umpteenth time and your daughter comes in to tell you her pal has just died suddenly and asks you why she died so young. Time is precious. Am I spending it well, I wonder?











Geraldine Rahel Nick Team Index