Physics with Robotics

Physics with Robotics: An NXT and RCX Activity Guide

For Secondary and College Physics


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About the Authors

William Church

William received his Bachelor of Science in Physics from Binghamton University in 1992.   He received his Master of Arts in Teaching from Cornell University in 1997. He began his teaching career in Dover, New Hampshire, USA in 1997 and currently teaches Physics, Physical Science, and Robotics in Littleton, NH.   William has been using engineering design challenges and digital technology tools in his physics curriculum since 1997.

In 2003, William began consulting with the Tufts Center for Engineering Education and Outreach (CEEO).   With Tufts, he works on developing activities, giving presentations, and leading teacher workshops related to using LEGO® MINDSTORMS® in secondary level physics classes.   He also works on projects such as a high school to elementary school science and technology outreach model; Stop Action Movie (SAM) modeling software, hardware, and curriculum; and LABVIEW for High School.   In 2006, William met fellow authors, Natasha Perova and Tony Ford.   The group shared an interest and experience with utilizing LEGO MINDSTORMS in physics curricula.   After conducting a presentation and workshop together at Tufts University, they began actively collaborating on this book in 2007.

William’s work has been supported by funding from the Tufts CEEO, the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation’s Christa McAuliffe Sabbatical program, the Lemelson-MIT program, (WIRED Science), NH SAU 35 and 84, North Country Educational Services, Antioch New England’s COSEED project, and the General Electric ELFUN Foundation.

Tony Ford

Tony has the following qualifications:

  • Bachelor of Applied Science in Math and Physics at the University of Southern Queensland completed in 1974.
  • Diploma of Education from University of Queensland
  • Graduate Diploma in Computer Education from the Queensland University of Technology completed in 1990

He has been a high school teacher in Math, Physics and Chemistry for 33 years. He is the Head of the Science Department at Redcliffe State High School, Redcliff, Queensland, Australia.   He has held this position since 1991. Tony has been teaching Robotics Technology as part of the school’s Physics course since 2002. In that time Tony has presented workshops in robotics and data logging throughout Australia.

He received a Westfield Scholarship in 2006 to study Robotics Education in the United States at Tufts University and at the Carnegie Mellon Robotics Academy. It was here he met the coauthors and fellow physics teachers Bill Church and Natasha Perova. They worked together to present at the first LEGO Engineering International Conference in 2007 and collaborated for this book to produce practical activities for teachers of Physics using LEGO technology.

Tony has a vision to see science education integrated with engineering through technology applications such as LEGO robotics. He has implemented technology-based courses at his school where students have a valid preparation and pathway to a career in physical sciences and engineering. Here he has seen more than 70% of his students, who have completed these courses at the high school level, continue to tertiary studies in these areas. At the junior high school level, all students have education in robotics programs as part of their science course and this has motivated enough students for two full elective physics and engineering classes in year 10, from a cohort of 200 at a public high school.

Tony is dedicated to the project and inquiry based approaches to physics that leads to motivated students, particularly boys who engage well with both a hands on and background theory approach. This book is part of that vision to see students enjoying physics with the latest technology.

Natasha Perova

Natasha received her M.S. in Mathematics, Science, Technology and Engineering education in 2008 and M.S. in Electrical Engineering in 2005 from Tufts University and B.S. in Electrical Engineering from Suffolk University.  Natasha is currently working at the Harvard Graduate School of Education as a research assistant focusing on students’ learning algebra. She also teaches an introductory physics course for Suffolk University.

Natasha is very interested in finding ways to engage students in meaningful learning and sees LEGO robotics with data logging capabilities as an opportunity to teach students physics concepts in an exploratory and exciting way. By providing students with some ideas for projects in this book, we hope to provide a framework for learning where students will engage in scientific discussions, develop technical literacy, and most importantly have a chance to test out their ideas in creative ways.


Table of Contents

Chapter 1  Overview

1.1 Introduction
1.2 Supplement to Your Existing Curriculum
1.3 LEGO® as a Physics Learning Technology
1.4 Companion Website

Chapter 2   Getting Started: Part I. Hardware.

2.1 Introduction
2.2 Comparing your Software and Hardware Options
2.3 NXT Motor and Sensors
2.4 Building Primer
2.5 Classroom Organization, Tips, and Techniques
2.6 Resources

Chapter 3   Getting Started: Part II. Software.

3.1 Introduction
3.2 LEGO® MINDSTORMS® Education NXT Software 2.0
3.3 ROBOLAB™ 2.9
3.4 ROBOLAB™ Front Panels
3.5 Logger Pro®             

Chapter 4   Motion

4.1 Going the Distance
4.2 Investigation of NXT Motor Speed.
4.3 Testing Speed versus Acceleration of Drag Cars
4.4 Projectile Motion
4.5 Simple Harmonic Motion
4.6 Swinging with Gravity
4.7 Terminal Velocity

Chapter 5   Force and Motion

5.1 Gear Ratios and Speed
5.2 Gear Ratios and Force
5.3 Newton’s Laws Demonstration
5.4 Newton’s 2nd Law Investigation
5.5 Measuring Friction

Chapter 6 Energy

6.1 Microphone Sound Reduction
6.2 Wave Intensity versus Distance
6.3 Conversion of Mechanical Energy into Electrical Energy
6.4 Battery Investigation
6.5 Investigating the Solar Cell
6.6 Parallel and Series Circuits

Chapter 7 Challenges

7.1 NXT Distance Match
7.2 Smooth Ride
7.3 Ten Second Timer
7.4 Time for Robot Golf
7.5 Motorized Crane Challenge

Chapter 8   Projects

8.1 Automated Control Project – An Engineering Challenge
8.2 Study of Real Motion – An Open Investigation



Title ISBN # Price
Physics with Robotics

William Church

Tony Ford

Natasha Perova

Copyright 2009,  344 Pages








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