Building a Robotic Gardener is a 3-4 week, project based unit that provides an interesting platform upon which to teach content such as electricity/electronics, ecology, plant science, and robotics. Some essential questions to anchor such a unit could be:
What is electricity? How does electricity power our society and in particular our modern microelectronics? What do we need to know about electricity to build robots?
How do plants work? How do plants get water, do photosynthesis, and get nutrients? Why do plants grow in some places and not others? How can we apply robotics to scientifically control plant science experiments?
Will it be possible to produce enough food in the future given the same amount of arable land and decreasing water resources? How will food be produced in the future? What will power future food production systems and what will they look like?
The resources available on this website are the following:
a list of necessary electronics including a quick links to a supplier (makes ordering easy)
a list of working programs for use with the electronics (gets projects up and running quickly)
a set of "task lists" for major tasks such as lighting, temperature, and watering (focuses students)
The resources coming soon include the following:
help with specific problems associated with the electronics (already identified potential problems)
Building a Robotic Gardener shows students how to follow the engineering cycle:
Research -- Find and acquire the right microcontrollers, sensors, and actuators for the job
Set-up -- Build components into working mechanical models
Test with Code -- Find and Run programs that produce desired results
Fail Safe Test -- Demonstrate understanding of how system works by making it malfunction
Adjust -- Fix the malfunction and make system work better
Employ -- Build and use the robot for its designated job
The project also asks kids to use a general --> group --> specific approach to design. The idea is to start with the big idea and work down into smaller parts. The flow goes like this:
Purpose -- Build a robot that keeps plants alive for a period of time
General plant needs -- List and understand general needs for all plants
Taxa specific plant needs -- List and understand needs for a specific group of plants (temperate vegetables)
Individual plant needs -- List and understand needs of the individual plant we’ve chosen to grow (e.g. tomato)
Specific ideas -- Decide on program for automating growth for specific plant (e.g. tomato)
Prototype -- Build the robotic gardener (the engineering)
Acceptance -- Adoption as a research vehicle for plant science experiments
Middle School Curriculum
The Leysin American School launched its middle school program in the 2016-2017 academic year. The middle school program includes 5-week long "academic exploration" courses. Dan Patton and Bill Tihen developed this Middle School Robot Gardening Curriculum to be taught as one of these 5-week course. This curriculum has also been adapted to be taught as a unit within a 10th integrated science course.