Difference between revisions of "Robotic Power System Activity Guide"

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! Energy use (PJ)
! Energy use (PJ)
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! % of the total

Revision as of 20:00, 1 June 2016


Power model.jpg

The Power System activity is designed to help teachers bring high tech making into the classroom. This is a multi-day activity, and consists of building a physical model of Ontario's electricity system together! It will have models of each kind of electricity generation type: nuclear, wind, hydro-electric, etc. We'll bring craft materials, and you will ask the kids ahead of time to bring in recycled materials.

This activity was designed with Ontario's power system in mind, but can easily be adapted for any other location.

Curriculum Connections

This activity has many specific connections to the Ontario grade 6 curriculum. This makes it easier to dedicate the classroom time to it, since progress is being made on this curriculum.


The Ontario grade 6 science curriculum is available online here: http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/curriculum/elementary/scientec18currb.pdf

Core concepts of the Electricity unit covered:

  • Electrical energy can be transformed into other forms of energy.
  • Other forms of energy can be transformed into electrical energy.
  • Electrical energy plays a significant role in society, and its production has an impact on the environment.
  • Society must find ways to minimize the impact of energy production on the environment.


The Ontario grade 6 math curriculum is available online here: http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/curriculum/elementary/math18curr.pdf

Core concepts covered:

  • Problem solving
  • Fractions and percentages
  • Collection and Organization of Data
  • Representations of mathematical ideas


The Ontario grade 6 art curriculum is available online here: http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/curriculum/elementary/arts18b09curr.pdf

Core concepts covered:

  • Creating and Presenting
  • Reflecting, Responding, and Analysing
  • Exploring Forms and Cultural Contexts


Parts and materials to obtain:


  • Computer(s)
  • Soldering iron and soldering supplies
  • 3D Printer

For the 3D printer, we recommend Ultimaker or Printrbot. Both companies make very good quality printers, consistently scoring near the top in Make Magazine's 3D Printer tests. Ultimaker is more expensive, but is also easier to use and maintain.


The Particle Photon does not put out enough electrical current to directly power the motors. The motor driver board is required to amplify the Particle's output and power the motor(s).

Craft supplies

  • Glue guns
  • Recycled materials such as cardboard tubes, boxes, plastic cases
  • Craft foam for colour details
  • Foamcore sheet for the base
  • Duct tape
  • Any other craft materials you like!


In addition to ordering the materials, you must also plan for the sessions.

Seek out a way to present the power system model when it is complete. This gives the kids a purpose - they are going to actually use the model to teach people about our power system.

Session 1

The goals of the first session are to introduce the concept to get the kids thinking about the power system, and to introduce them to the technologies that they will use to build their model. Each session is designed to be approximately a half day each.

Introduce concept

Start with telling the kids that they are all science centre exhibit designers! This is a real project to teach science to kids and adults. The first step is to start a discussion about what makes a good exhibit. Guide them towards these key points:

  1. Information
  2. Interaction
  3. Fun!

Next, dissect some existing exhibits that they have seen in science centres and museums. Start a google document to add information about their favourites, keeping in mind the three points above. Have them work in groups adding this information about each one:

  • Find a picture of the exhibit
  • What does it teach you?
  • List the good things about the exhibit

This google doc will be useful for assessing the students understanding later.

Power System Research

Now that they have a good idea about what makes a good exhibit, in order to plan their own, the students need to know more about the power system itself.

As much as possible, have the kids teach each other this section! They will collectively know a fair amount about the system, so teach them by asking them questions. When they are stuck, or wrong, fill in the gaps with your own knowledge, or by researching online together. This will get them in the habit of learning for themselves. The sections below contain resources to bring up on a video display if you have one, so that you can use them as research and visual aids.

Power Producers

Where does our power come from?

Tell the students that there are 4 main ways our power is generated, and a bunch of smaller ways. Their job is to identify at the very least the 4 main ways, and as many of the smaller ways as they can. As they come up with ideas, write them on the board. Usually they will come up with some related technologies that aren't quite what you meant. Run with it, and explain how that fits in! For example, a student might say "Turbines". Turbines are used as a part of many the systems for generating power! Water flowing through hydroelectric dams turns a turbine, which turns a generator to make power.

Main power producers:

  1. Nuclear
  2. Hydroelectric
  3. Natural Gas
  4. Wind

Secondary power producers:

  1. Solar
  2. Biomass
  3. Diesel

No longer used in Ontario:

  1. Coal

Resources for power supply information:

Live production data: https://cns-snc.ca/media/ontarioelectricity/ontarioelectricity.html

Power supply history: http://www.ieso.ca/Pages/Power-Data/Supply.aspx

Once the power producers are identified, it's time to make groups! Make sure there are people who want to make the main 4, and as many as are interested in the Balance the groups so that an approximately even number of students is in each.

Power Consumers

Where does our power go?

The next step is to identify what we use power for. Following a similar process, the class will identify the main types of power consumers:

Main power consumers:

  1. Residential (Homes)
  2. Commercial (Offices, schools, stores, etc)
  3. Industrial (Factories, mines, etc)
  4. Agriculture
  5. Transportation

Any other examples that the students come up with of power consumers should be consolidated into these main groups. Once these 5 have been identified, show them the mix of the use percentage of each type from the Natural Resources Canada Energy Fact Book 2015 page 86 https://www.nrcan.gc.ca/sites/www.nrcan.gc.ca/files/energy/files/pdf/EnergyFactBook2015-Eng_Web.pdf

Next, tell them that our model will contain miniature 3D printed models of these power consumers. We'll have room for 60 of them on the model, so how many from each sector should we include? Guide them towards the answer that they should be proportional to the amount of power that each sector uses. If one sector uses more power than another, there should be more of those model buildings.

Power system houses.jpg

Using percentages, have them calculate how many models should be 3D printed of each category. Adjust the numbers to make sure they add up to 60, since they may not due to rounding errors. For example:

Sector Energy use (PJ) % of the total Number of models
Residential 543.3 29.7% 18
Commercial 532.8 29.2% 17
Industrial 714.2 39.1% 23
Transportation 3.8 0.2% 1
Agriculture 33.0 1.8% 1
Total 1,827.2 100% 60

Introduce technology

The next section is designed to expose the students to the technology that will be available to them to build their exhibit. This first session will give them a chance to play with the tech, and see what appeals to them. Later, they will be split into teams based on this interest to learn more and to build specific parts of the model.

Three technology activity stations will be set up, and the kids will have the opportunity to try all three, depending on their interests.

3D Printing

All the kids will start with this station, and learn to 3D print. The final power system model will have small 3D printed models of the power consumers - residences, offices, factories, etc. They can each design and print their own buildings. Just make sure that the small consumer categories such as Agriculture and Transportation only have one building, since that is all that is needed.

Use TinkerCad.com, a free online 3D design tool to make the buildings. You can use our [3D Printing activity guide].

Power system factory.png


Set up the Neopixel strip

Web Coding

- Plan the physical model - Gauge tech interest and existing skills