Instructor: William Fenton, Science Department, The Hotchkiss School



This is a hands-on, self guided course that will focus on problem solving, teamwork and the scientific method. You will use the Vex Robotics Design System to design and build autonomous robotic vehicles that sense and react to their environment. Basically a lab course, you will spend your time learning about electronics and programming, designing, building and refining robots and keeping careful notes in a research journal.

Office Hours

I don't typically keep regular office hours since very few students' schedules would sync with them very well. If you have something you'd like to talk about and email is not appropriate, find me in the SB106 or check my schedule to see when I have free periods and send me an email asking for an appointment. Also, if you need to get into the robotics lab to work outside of class that can probably be arranged.

Text and Materials

You are required to buy an Arduino microcontroller and a research notebook, available at the bookstore.


Academic Dishonesty

The Science Department's policy on academic dishonesty is outlined in a class handout.


Homework will be assigned a couple of times a week and will be done individually. Usually you will be required to write a small program and submit it online.

Research Notebook

Each student will be required to keep and maintain a research notebook. There are a few reasons why I require you to do this:
You only have 45-85 minutes to work with your robot every day and it's important that you are able to get to the lab and get started immediately without having to recall where you left off.
I will periodically read and grade your notebook to get a sense of how you are doing in class.
The notebook will give you and others information on what you did months or years ago, which will likely turn out to be valuable.
You will use a bound (no spiral, no perforation) notebook, as pages should never be removed from a research notebook.

Guidlines for keeping a research notebook

  1. Your full name and contact information should go on the outside of the notebook, as well as the year (semester) of use.
  2. If the pages are not already numbered, number them.
  3. The first two pages will be a Table of Contents. You fill this in as you go, noting any significant transition in your work.
  4. If you make a mistake, draw a thin line through it. Under no circumstances should you erase, scribble out or white out an entry.
  5. Write legibly and logically!

What goes in a research notebook?


The class has two major projects that you will spend the majority of your time on. Building a robot for the Trinity Firefighting Robot Contest and an independent project with the Arduino microcontroller. You can find some info on past projects here.

Topics Covered


Assignments will be given through the course page at The majority of the work you do will be in class and be assessed in the form of robot challenges. As the course moves quickly it is important to meet all deadlines. Since there are no tests and most of class time is given to work extensions only really apply to homework. The School's policy on extensions is reprinted below.
If a student has two or more hour tests, major paper, or projects due on the same day, the student has the option of having the paper or test which was assigned last postponed until the next day. It is the student's responsibility to inform the teacher whose assignment is being postponed as much in advance as possible. It is not acceptable to inform the teacher on the day of the test.

Tardiness and Absences

Be on time. Every three classes you are late, you will receive a class cut. You are responsible for all material covered in this course whether or not you are present in a given class and must get in the lab to catch up as soon as you can.


The Science Department Lab Safety Policy is outlined in a handout.

Dress Code

Read pages 81 and 82 of Blueprints for details. You are expected to abide by these rules.
If an adult member of our community informs a student that he or she is out of dress code, the student should go and change clothes as instructed.
Blueprints, p. 81
If I deem necessary, I will send you back to your room to change and you will receive a tardy or cut.