During Robopots, students use electronic components including a resistor, transistor, a pump, and microcontroller to create an indoor plant pot that automatically waters itself every 24 hours. The video embedded on this page shows the overview how-to; additional videos show details of the electronics, mechanical, plumbing, and optional computing sections. Those videos can be found on pages linked to the green buttons.
What Students Gain
- Develop a self-image of belonging and being capable in the engineering-rich environments they will find in today's workplaces.
- Take pride in their original contributions to their RoboPot designs through their self-expression during artistic pot making.
- Begin to feel comfortable with the functions of electronic components and with how control is exercised over those components by computers in automated systems.
- Practice the hand skill of inserting electronic components into a breadboard. (There is no soldering required to assemble RoboPots if you are using kits supplied by Gizmo Garden.)
- For older students, understand the math of Ohm's law, the chemistry of how a semiconductor transistor switches and how a battery produces voltage, the physical science of electric potential energy, and other science principles at work in the RoboPot. Understand how the RoboPot's computer follows an algorithm to operate on memory, creating the output of turning on the water pump every 24 hours.
- Gain experience in sticking with a project, overcoming obstacles, and enjoying the satisfaction of seeing their RoboPots work.
The basic RoboPots program can be completed by 5th-8th graders in about 3.5 hours. High Schoolers may require more time because there is more potential for discussions tying in algebra, chemistry, physics, and allied arts such as pottery, woodworking, or 3D printing. For older students, this website also provides optional extension activities exploring how the microcontroller in the RoboPot works.
Beyond the obvious workspace for each child, there are facilities that RoboPots needs. If the program is to be completed in one block of time so that the clay pots don't have time to air dry, you will need access to an oven that can be set on low heat to speed the drying process. (If the pots will air dry over several days, an oven is unnecessary.)
Because the RoboPots pump water, you will need a work surface and floors that are splash tolerant. Water reservoirs will need to be filled somewhere, but they can be filled in advance if there's not a convenient water faucet near the classroom. Water will need a place to end up when students are testing the pump. If there are no drains in your classroom, buckets or plastic food savers will work fine.
For the short period that RoboPots will be tested in the classroom, they can run on battery power and therefore outlets are not needed. However if you plan to keep and display the RoboPots for longer than a day, they will need to plug into outlets.
Prerequisites for Students
Previous knowledge of simple circuitry (e.g. ability to: light a bulb using a wire, battery and bulb; trace the flow of electricity through a complete circuit; and describe open vs. closed circuit) is helpful, but not required. No other prior experience is required.
Teachers, librarians and after-school leaders in Maine are welcome to apply for Gizmo Garden grants of one parts kit per student, plus a supply of spare parts. Parts kits will include all electronic/mechanical parts and hoses, modeling clay, tools, paints & brushes, and plant seeds. If you'd prefer to use plant cuttings or plants, you are responsible for obtaining those. We also request that teachers provide scissors and potting soil. If you plan to create your pots out of materials other than modeling clay, you also are responsible for providing those materials. The microcontroller in the parts kit will be pre-soldered and pre-loaded with software. Folks who are experienced in programming are welcome to edit that software, but that is not necessary and not part of the curriculum.
For out-of-state leaders who want to procure their own supplies, a parts list and software can be found by following the Downloads button. If you are ordering supplies straight from the vendors, minor soldering will be required.
All homemade electronic devices can be hazardous. Gizmo Garden LLC assumes no liability for injury to people or property. To minimize risks, we recommend that you have a high-enough adult/student ratio to minimize horseplay during gizmo construction, that you keep water away from the power plug, that you inspect all circuits before applying power, that parents acknowledge that small parts can be a choking hazard for small children before the finished RoboPots leave the classroom, that RoboPots not be left powered up in an unoccupied location, and that RoboPots be kept out of the reach of pets.