Design, build, and test a toy using a Lego Robotics NXT kit that will mimic specific behaviors of a desert tortoise (Gopherus Agassizii). Learners explore resources to gain knowledge of the Sonoran desert habitat, physical characteristics of a desert tortoise, robotics, computer programming, and the engineering design process to meet this design challenge. Through this project-based challenge, learners apply their understanding of the Sonoran desert and the desert tortoise to design and build simulations of a desert tortoise (Gopherus Agassizii) and its habitat.

Desert Tortoise: What's that?

Learners engage and explore the desert tortoise through various environments, activities, and resources. Instructional opportunities provide settings where students can: a) interact with baby and adult desert tortoises in the learning environment so learners can explore first hand the physical characteristics of the tortoise; b) meet and interact with experts, seek answers, and share ideas—interact with desert tortoise herpetologists, conservationists, and botanists to learn about the tortoise, its habitat, and behaviors; c) explore a desert tortoise habitat at a local zoo or a setting where the Sonoran desert can be experienced; and d) research topics related to the project challenge with print materials such as research publications, children's books and poetry on the desert and desert animals, materials from the state's Game and Fish Department, school and university libraries, and internet resources.

Desert Tortoise Robot: Does it behave like a tortoise?

Learners explore the Lego Mindstorms NXT robotics kit to extend their understanding of the parts (e.g., the sensors, motors, etc) needed to build a toy that will mimic chosen desert tortoise behaviors. To design a working simulation, it was necessary for participants to construct and program their simulated desert tortoise. Therefore, this unit includes both construction and programming. Participants begin by learning the skills necessary to construct a desert tortoise simulation from the Lego Mindstorms NXT kits. Each kit contains a control unit, input sensors (touch, sound, distance, temperature, and light), two motors, four wheels, gears, connecting wires, axils, connecters, and a compilation of standard Lego pieces. Through creative exploration and guided instruction, participants investigate concepts of stability, appearance, sensor interactions, and performance. Activities and experiences continue into the programming aspects of the challenge. Participants engage in creative exploration and guided instructions as a means to investigate concepts of logic, basics of computer programming, conditional statements, sensor inputs, interpretation, and debugging. Using the Engineering Design process, participants construct a desert tortoise prototype, program their prototype to engage in scenarios they anticipate the desert tortoise robot will encounter in the simulated habitat, and perform an iterative test and redesign process making necessary changes to successfully complete such scenarios.

Title: Not Your Ordinary Habitat


This unit served two purposes: 1) It will provide participants with the means to showcase knowledge gained throughout their research endeavors and 2) Construct a desert tortoise habitat that will serve as a testing ground for the desert tortoise simulations. Participants will utilize a cooperative group approach, dividing the overall challenge of building a habitat into smaller tasks assigned to individual groups. Over the span of this unit, participant groups will construct a scaled blueprint of the habitat, simulate natural plants and terrain, simulate manmade obstacles, and incorporate natural predators. Natural predators may include designated areas where the simulated desert tortoise would sense a threat in the environment (i.e. a passing shadow, a distant object, or a new sound). Once the habitat is completed, participants perform an iterative test and redesign process to fulfill both the physical and the programming demands necessary for their desert tortoise robot to navigate the simulated desert tortoise habitat. Project participants have demonstrated that they have learned the subtle differences between success in a controlled environment (i.e., inside the classroom) and success in a simulated real world environment (i.e., a desert like area in the school backyard).


Desert Tortoise Cirriculum

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