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Practical Applications in STEAM – The Evil League of Evil


I honestly believe that we are beyond keeping our best lesson plans for ourselves. Yes, you might take my unit of work and give it to a graduate and that saves you from hiring me at the top pay scale and…

I honestly believe that we are beyond keeping our best lesson plans for ourselves. We need to improve education in general in this country, and the best way I can see that happening is if everybody can take the best lessons out there and make them their own.

My plan here is, each month, to look at a subject area and present some practical ways to incorporate STEAM, and best-practise education, into a unit of work. I want to build up a library of lessons that you can just take and run with.

As much as possible, I also want to provide alternatives to the gear I’m using, so it’s about the learning, and not the tools.

To start with, I’m going to give you an Engineering/Technology lesson with Maths and Science built in. Next issue, I’ll try a Maths lesson, then an Arts, and a Science, and by then hopefully you’re getting in touch with what you want me to do after that.

So without further ado, I present:



Some of you might know this reference from Dr Horrible’s Singalong Blog. The league is an invitation-only group of Super Villains, intent on taking over the world.

To get the students involved and progressing, I have made them all Minions, and told them that minions are expendable and often get used to clean out the shark tank – from the inside.

They want to become henchmen as soon as possible. From there, they can work towards becoming true Super Villains in their own right, and finally, they can apply for entry into the ELE.

That’s the background. From an educational point of view, the best way to take over the world is by completing projects in robotics and programming.

At St James College, we’re using Lego EV3 robotics kits.*

Lesson Structure and Differentiation

* Some other options:

  • Buy Lego NXT kits from eBay for half the price.
  • Makeblock mBots are about $100 each.
  • An Edison Programmable robot for about $50 each.
  • And of course, you can do it all virtually with Scratch.
  • Dagu drawing bots and Dagu Line Tracers range from $30 - $70 a pop.

A key part of STEAM education is making sure every student is working at a pace that works for them. Differentiation is key. For these units of work, I use Stile to create different classes for Minions, Henchmen and Villains.* It’s not blatantly obvious who is a villain, henchman or minion, except to the student and the teacher.

And now, the lessons:

I always start with play. Get the kids to show me how comfortable they are with the hardware and (with Lego) have them create a machine that moves along the ground. I give them two periods ONLY. I get an idea of where they are at. They get a sense of time management and (hopefully) achievement. I also have them video their progress and testing to prepare them for the creation of a portfolio of evidence, moving forward.

From there, whipping through a few lessons, we build our TaskBot. They demonstrate - and are marked on - preparation of materials, following instructions, working in teams and evaluating their work and collaboration. That’s basic technology stuff.

Our first Maths integration is our first programming exercise. The boys create programs to move the robot forward 1 second, 2 seconds and 3 seconds. They record the distances travelled after three trials of each program, get an average and then graph that average in Excel. They have to explain which graph type they use, and what the information is showing us, as well as how the graph could be used to predict future results.

And they learn the basics of how to program their robot.

* Again, alternatives:

Instead of setting up classes within Stile, you could sign your school up for Google Apps. Set up folders for each level and place the classwork in those folders.

Alternatively, you could do the same thing on your local network drive.

The rest of the programming unit is basic technology stuff. Make the robot do stuff. Record and edit tests, evaluate your learning. Move onto something more challenging. Two or three groups will shoot ahead (becoming Minions+ - exempt from shark-feeding duties) and getting access to advanced lessons that allow them to push themselves.

The term ends, they pull their robots apart. We go on holidays and they come back, ready for their henchman exam.

The second term is when we go nuts. The semester culminates in a class-wide BATTLE ROYALE with a Winner-Takes-All approach and a 3D printed trophy.

But before that (and in anticipation of that) comes the learning.

Letting a Minion loose on robots is asking for disaster, so before they are allowed to build, they need to pass the Henchman Exam. As henchmen, they are required to prepare for our first building challenge and prove that they know enough to get the job done.

Our first building challenge is the Racer Bot. How fast can you make your robot travel over two metres? The focus of the challenge is the use of gears to make our robot go faster. The Evil Rationale behind it is that we need a getaway robot to escape with the loot from our bank heist.

The Henchman exam is the application of Scientific Method to predict the best combination of gears and body type to create the fastest robot possible. I teach them the basics of gear ratio (ah! Maths!) and introduce torque, friction and momentum as concepts.

They design and draw a gear system*, draft a design for their robot and submit designs and gear worksheets for assessment.

I have simpler work for continued minions to consolidate their knowledge while still progressing into building. The Henchmen move onto creating, testing and racing their Racer Bots.

(E)ngineering – and summary
The progression of skills and the ability to differentiate the classwork has made this my most successful subject of work. It hasn’t come easily – the subject has mutated over 10 years.

From the Racer Bot, we move onto a Camo Bot – a robot that hides by pretending to be something else. The boys need to create a Lego robot that looks and acts like something from real life. I push them in the direction of carnival rides, cranes and household appliances, as they have definite programmable movements. But in the past we have created trebuchets and catapults to link in with Humanities, animals that move without wheels and dancing robots.

Teaching STEAM in the classroom doesn’t have to be onerous. It doesn’t have to be assessed. I don’t mark them on their ability to average three numbers, or to correctly predict the best ratio for a racer bot between speed and power. But I have ex-students coming back to visit during university holidays who tell me they still remember what they learned in Engineering and Design back in Year 7.

We have to assess, but we got into this profession to teach.


After a couple of years of doing this, I had a word with the Art teacher, and she tutored the Tech teachers in simple techniques for technical drawing. I pass this onto the students and the quality of their designs gets better and better.

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