Algebraic Equations: Calculator Controlled Robots
Graphic from the cover of the Calculator Controlled Robots educator guide

Featured Lesson(s)

Calculator-Controlled Robots Educator Guide




Essential Question

How are algebraic equations used within robot programs to complete a series of tasks?


Students create programs in TI-BASIC to run Norland Research calculator robots. Missions are built sequentially on the knowledge of previous missions. The first missions have step-by-step programming instructions for students, gradually leading them to create their own programs in later missions. Students use and apply mathematics and science concepts to direct their robots through a variety of challenges.

Additional Resources

  Classroom Resources:


  • Videos for Students:
    • Calculator Controlled Robots Music Video: This 40-second video provides a fast-paced glimpse of the activity in the classroom.
    • NASA Connection: This video provides context for the calculator-controlled robots lessons. It features several of NASA’s missions that employ robotics to investigate Mars. The segment builds excitement and helps make the real-world connection between the mission challenges and NASA's missions.
    •  Phoenix Lander: This video provides a general overview of the Phoenix mission, which found evidence of water ice on the Red Planet. 
    • Curiosity: Students look in on the construction and testing of Curiosity, the next rover that will explore Mars.
    • Spirit: This video segment features the Spirit rover -- one of the most fascinating stories at NASA. Spirit’s mission was planned to last for 90 days but survived for six years on the surface of Mars.


  Related NASA Now Events:

  Connection to NASA:

  Extension Activities:

  • Laser Altimeter: The Mars Global Surveyor orbited the Red Planet until 2006. One of the instruments on the Martian satellite was a laser altimeter that gathered information about the planet's topography. Students program the calculator-controlled robot to use the ECHO (Earth Observing System Clearinghouse) feature to measure distances to an object.
  • Crawler Transporter: In this mission, students construct a rocket, design and create a MLP (Mobile Launcher Platform), and transport the rocket safely from the VAB (Vehicle Assembly Building) through the Mission 3 maze to the launch pad on their own crawler-transporter (robot).
  • Mission Patches and Demos: NASA's astronaut crews design mission patches to symbolize the goals and objectives of their missions. The patches are personalized with the astronauts' names. The patches are used to represent the crew's mission. Students demonstrate a robotic mission and design a corresponding patch.
  • First Robotics Competition: First Robotics is an international high school robotics competition. Teams of students compete to build robots weighing up to 120 pounds (54 kilograms), not including battery and bumpers. The robots must complete a task, which changes every year. Teams are given a standard set of parts and the game details at the beginning of January. Participants have six weeks to construct a competitive robot that can operate autonomously, as well as when guided by wireless controls, to accomplish the game's task.

Professional Development

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Lesson Information

Subject(s) Covered:

 • Mathematics • Science • Technology

Topic(s) Covered:

 • Algebra • Geometry • Measurement

Activity Type:

 Hands-on inquiry

Grade Level:


Instructional Objective:

 Students will use and apply algebraic concepts and science concepts to direct their robots through a variety of challenges.

Time to Complete the Activity:

 One class period per lesson

  Materials Needed:

Primary materials list per student group:
1 Norland Research calculator robot
  -- 1 Texas Instruments graphing calculator
  -- 1 meter stick
  -- Graph paper
  -- Safety goggles per student

Secondary materials list:
  -- Student copies of Calculator Controlled Robots guide
  -- AA batteries
  -- Small balloons
  -- Model rockets
  -- Glue gun
  -- Popsicle sticks, straws, foam meat trays
  -- String
  -- Washable markers
  -- White poster board
  -- Pen holders
  -- Drawing paper
  -- 3-inch rubber ball
  -- Data link cables and Submini Couplers

   National Content Standards:

  • 21st-Century Skills:  Information, Media and Technology Skills.
    •  Information Literacy: Use and Manage Information.
  • 21st-Century Skills: Learning and Innovation Skills.
    • Critical Thinking and Problem Solving: Solve Problems.
  • 21st-Century Skills: Life and Career Skills.
    • Productivity and Accountability: Produce Results.


  • Mathematics:  
    • Algebra: Understand patterns, relations and functions.
    • Numbers and Operation: Understand the meaning of operations and how they relate to one another.
    • Problem Solving: Apply and adapt a variety of appropriate strategies to solve problems.


  • Science
    • Science as Inquiry: Abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry.


  • Technology
    • Design: Students will develop an understanding of the role of troubleshooting, research and development, invention and innovation, and experimentation in problem solving.