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A.M.7 | Cause and Effect

Created by: Modular Robotics

Lesson Overview:
In this lesson, students will explore cause and effect and practice noticing and naming important properties of their robots. In doing so they will use If/Then statements in order to:
  1. Look more critically at what is causing their robot to behave, and
  2. Figure out how they can change their robot to get the effect they want.

The Basics:
Ages: 10 – 12 years (grades 4 – 6)
Time: 45 – 60 minutes
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Lesson Goal (for the educator): To help students understand cause and effect and write If/Then statements. To introduce students to emergent behavior in a hands-on exploration.
Lesson Objectives (for the students): I will explore cause and effect and be able to construct If/Then statements.
Essential Questions: What is cause and effect and why is it important in scientific investigations? What is emergent behavior?
21st Century Skills: Creativity and Innovation, Critical Thinking and Problem Solving, Communication and Collaboration
Concepts: Cause and effect, If/Then statements, emergent behavior
Vocabulary: Classification, properties, cause, effect, emergent behavior
Required Cubelets: Distance, 2 Drive, Battery, Brightness, Flashlight, Rotate, Passive, Inverse, Blocker, Knob – enough for each group of 2-5 students
Additional Materials: Student Robotics Journal

The Standards:
ISTE: International Society for Technology Education CCSS: Common Core Standards NGSS: Next Generation Science Standards

Prior Knowledge Necessary for the Student:
A.M.6 | Properties and Categories, or equivalent experience with categorizing and naming properties and characteristics.

Prior Knowledge for the Educator:
Build the robot outlined at the end of this lesson. Test it out to make sure you will know how to explain how its behavior is an example of emergent behavior.

Educator Tips:
Think of some times when your students have discussed cause and effect while discussing a passage they have read or a math problem they have solved. Be prepared to share these with the class.

  • Review the worksheet the students completed in A.M.6. | Properties and Categories.
  • If you plan to use worksheet A.M.7.WS, print out copies for the class.
  • Divide the class into groups of 2-5 students.
  • For each group, place in a container the Cubelets they will need.


    Time: 3-5 Minutes
  1. “In our last lesson we built robots with many different properties to see if we could categorize them. Why do you think this was an important exploration?”
  2. In this discussion you want students to realize that asking “why” and investigating the relationships between actions and results is the basis for all scientific exploration. They also need to understand that there needs to be a common language of terms so they (or scientists) can accurately diagnose problems and come to conclusions based on evidence. Also, understanding and using the discrete functions of each of the Cubelets is essential in designing and building the robots to perform in the manner they wish them to operate.
  3. Review the objective and introduce/review the vocabulary.

  4. Time: 3-5 Minutes
  5. Review cause and effect statements, as you deem necessary, from past exercises in science, math, and language arts. Write out some If/Then statements together so that everyone knows how you expect these statements to be written. Go over what is a cause and what is an effect and how these statements can be used in many different aspects of science and other fields of study.
  6. Remind them that they can use If/Then statements as they are building their robots to make predictions about how they think their robots will behave. Remind them that predicting is like making an If/Then statement ahead of time.
Time to Explore:
    Time: 5-10 Minutes
  1. “I have handed back to you the worksheets you filled out in our last lesson where you built and categorized your robots. Keeping in mind to look for similarities and differences in properties. Today I would like your team to build a robot with one Sense and one Action. Predict how your robot will behave, test it, and (using your worksheets) write an If/Then statement.” “Then, using the same Cubelets, reconfigure them to make at least two more robots where the cause and effect statement is different. Write these new cause and effect statements on the same worksheet.”
  2. “Remember, the action is the effect and the robot only carries out the action when it gets input, or information, from the Sense Cubelet. So, what is the cause? The cause is what the robot is sensing.”
  3. Allow time for the students to carry out this task.
  4. To facilitate this, walk around the room asking questions:
    • What are you discovering about cause and effect?
    • What properties/characteristics are you changing when you reconfigure your robot?
    • Are there several different ways to configure your robot to have the same effect?
    • How do you decide which configuration works best?
    • How can you test to find out what the cause is?
  5. Allow the students to share some of their discoveries and lead a discussion about cause and effect.
  6. Remind them that they can use If/Then statements as they are building their robots and making predictions about what their robots will do. Predicting is like making a cause and effect statement ahead of time.
  7. Important: Be sure the students are understanding cause and effect and how they change according to the relationship between the Cubelets. In other words, building robots using different Cubelets will obviously produce different behaviors. But changing the order, arrangement, or orientation of the same Cubelets can also produce varying behavior.

  8. Time: 5-10 Minutes
  9. “Now I want you to build a robot with two Senses. Predict how it will behave using your knowledge about the function of the individual Cubelets – this is essentially making a cause and effect statement ahead of time. Then, as before, record your findings on the worksheet. You may find that you have to be more specific in describing the cause and effect.”
  10. Allow time for the students to carry out this task.
  11. After a few minutes of exploration, stop the class and ask them what they are noticing. See if they can articulate that there may be more than one cause to produce a robot action.

  12. Time: 5-10 Minutes
  13. “Ok, with that in mind, now add a second Action, predict the cause and effect, and write another If/Then statement.”
  14. At the end of this exploration, lead a discussion about emergent behavior. You need to see if the students can articulate that the behavior of their robot is now based on a number of factors – in other words, several inputs and outputs – or causes and effects which can be impacted by where each Cubelet is placed. Their robot may exhibit behaviors that were difficult to predict ahead of time. Their action may be controlled by different inputs, or the magnitudes of those inputs; for example, their robot might spin faster or slower according to the input of two different Senses. This complexity is the beginning of emergent behavior.

  15. Time: 5 Minutes
  16. If the class needs more clarification build this robot:
  17. Change the amount of input to the Brightness Cubelet, and the amount of input to the Distance Cubelet, and point out how the Rotate speed changes.
  18. Discuss with students what they have now learned. Be sure they see the importance of taking into account what causes are affecting the behavior of their robot and that they must carefully look at the relationship of the Cubelets to determine the cause and effect – especially when dealing with more than one input and output.
  19. Give students more time to build and test robots with multiple senses and actions asking them to take note of the causes and effects of the behaviors. You may also want them to collect this data, making conclusions, so they will better understand how to configure Cubelets to get the behaviors they desire.
    Time: 5-7 Minutes
  1. Give students time to record their thoughts about their new knowledge in their Robot Journals. Encourage them to use words and other methods of recording such as charts, sketches, flow charts, etc.

  2. Time: 1-2 Minutes
  3. Allow time for students to put materials away and plug in the Battery Cubelets for recharging.

End Results:
Students will know how to determine cause and effect and write If/Then statements. They will also see emergent behavior in action.

Optional Quick Write For Prompt and/or Evaluation:
Sketch a robot you might build, label it, and write an If/Then statement about the behavior you would expect. Describe the cause(s) and effect(s) in your robot.

What To Go To Next:
For More Review:
  • Repeat this lesson.
  • If Objectives Are Met:
  • A.M.8 | Engineering Design Thinking
  • To Enhance and Extend:
  • Have students build robots with two senses and two actions, describe how they work, and how they might be used to solve a problem in the real world.
  • This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.