Day 60: Robotics Will Be My Undoing

Wednesday, Dec 5

Physics: Beginning the discussion of satellite motion and what it means to be in orbit and how gravity keeps things in orbit.

Honors Physics: Standing waves! We reviewed wave reflections and went more carefully over why two identical waves traveling in opposite directions always cancel at the same location and always have max/min at the same location. Superposition is freaking weird, but I love it. We just barely barely got started on the mathematics of standing waves, looking at how the wavelength of possible waves is determined by the boundary conditions, and then we ran out of time. These 40 minute classes are SO SHORT.

AP Physics: Today we did the parallel axis theorem and rotational energy. In the first class I did things all in the wrong order and caused confusion. I started with conservation of energy for rolling without slipping and then backtracked into the relationship between tangential velocity and center of mass velocity, which was a HUGE mistake. After that I talked about the parallel axis theorem which would be on a quiz next week, but was super disconnected to be at that place and felt extremely shoehorned. Thankfully, I had a do-over with the second class. I did it in the entirely reverse order, and it went so much more smoothly. The flow made sense to them and to me, and it worked out much better. It’s so weird though how the second class is the one that overall is doing slightly worse. I guess it’s good that they get the more practiced version in that case?

Robotics: Robotics is insanity. I’ve got 21 students. There are three that may or may not continue to stay in it. One I haven’t seen at all, one who’s got a broken wrist, and a third who showed up once and hasn’t since. Still, that leaves 18 students for me, alone, to get ready for a robotics build season. Our maker space is a trailer out back the science building. If the weather is nice, we can put the back down and work out on the concrete slab at some tables and stuff, so there’s a reasonable amount of room for a handful of people to work independently. It’s been raining lately, and that means not being able to put the back down.

Which means everyone I am desperately trying to train up in how to use and find all the different tools and parts is trying to exist in the same 3’x4′ space inside the trailer. Today it was only six kids, because a handful stayed inside to work on learning CAD, but keeping six kids productively occupied in such a small space when none of them have ever used any tools before and are starting almost entirely from scratch and every single one of them needs something different and has a different question at any given moment while I am desperately DESPERATELY trying to sort out all the parts we took off the robot yesterday into some semblance of order and also take an inventory to make sure we keep track of number, type, working condition, and location of every single expensive motor, controller, gear box, network hub, internet switch, and forty thousand feed of five dozen different kinds of wires and cables that somehow ALL HAVE DIFFERENT CONNECTORS.

And while I’m working with those kids in the trailer, the entire rest of the team (a dozen kids for those not keeping count) are left to their own devices up in the science building. They’re good kids, I’m not worried about them getting into trouble, but I am worried about not having anyone there to help them stay on task, use the time productively, get questions answered, or literally everything else an adult is needed for when trying to get a robotics team all pointed in the same direction. The person who is supposed to help me hasn’t shown up even once to do so, so every time one of those kids has a question, they have to trek out to the trailer and pull me away from whatever I’m doing there so I can help them with whatever they need. No matter what I am doing, I have to stop in the middle of it to do something else that someone else needs. I know that’s why I’m there. I don’t object to the students needing me or needing help or having questions. Not even a little bit. That’s why we’re all there! I just am finding it almost impossible to actually get forward movement on any single project because as soon as I start something I have to stop to answer questions. Either that or tell the students to stop talking to me for thirty seconds so I can finish this before I get distracted YET AGAIN, which feels horrible! I’m not there to tell the kids to stop bothering me!

It’s overwhelming, exhausting, and discouraging. I just need one more adult who can be there with me on a consistent basis and learn the team dynamics and responsibilities and roles and goals. Just one. Sure, sometimes that person may not have a whole lot to do besides be present and make sure everyone who finishes one thing has another thing to do, but just that, someone manning a list I give them, would be unbelievably helpful. I hate to keep whining about it to the admin, but if that’s what I have to do to get these kids the support they need to have a successful season and build a self-sustaining team, I will be the squeakiest wheel in the world.

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