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I am teaching robotics at something like an afterschool but is free for everyone aged 12-19 years.

The first problem I encountered was poor equipment and facilities, but I obtained some funds and I was able to buy laptops, new soldering irons, Arduino starter kits and more. I was reticent to put into use all at once and I opened up only one soldering iron to see how pupils would use it.

Of course, we have safety instructions which include rules like do not degrade lab equipment and I repeated rules but after a few weeks pupils started to play putting soldering tip to wet sponge so water boiled and sounded nice to them, and what disappointed me was some holes in the soldering iron plastic case.

I am the only teacher, I can't supervise all pupils at once and teaching here is consuming because everyone is at a different phase of constructing an electronic circuit for example.

I was thinking to track the usage of equipment and with the very first occasion to punish the children by calling home to his parents or even to exclude them, but this seems unfair since everyone could damage equipment intentionally.

What should I do to be able to have all of the equipment on the table but this kind of damage to not exist?

I don't care if damage occurs when equipment is operated wrong or damaged by mistake. I don't want pupils to think of equipment like toys and play with them damaging them and workspace.

Other cases of damage: - Cutting wires with wirecutter even if they don't need it - drilling holes in worktable with a drill bit - melting plastic with the soldering iron tip

I know, partially it's my fault because I can't keep everyone at the same time captivated but damage should not occur.

Thank you for attention

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  • $\begingroup$ This question has nothing to do with Computer Science, it is unclear why it was migrated. $\endgroup$ – user2768 May 29 '19 at 7:14
  • $\begingroup$ Robotics isn’t part of computer science? $\endgroup$ – JeffE May 29 '19 at 8:47
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    $\begingroup$ @JeffE Soldering irons aren't part of computer science $\endgroup$ – user2768 May 29 '19 at 9:10
  • $\begingroup$ @user2768 If robotics is part of computer science, and soldering irons are part of robotics, then yes, soldering irons are part of computer science. $\endgroup$ – JeffE May 29 '19 at 15:33
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    $\begingroup$ @JeffE: By that definition, metallurgy (robot frames) and fluid dynamics (hydraulic pistons) and chemistry (since we're using matter, right?) should all be counted as part of computer science as well. Robotics is not part of computer science. Robotics is partly computer science, but it also contains bits and pieces of other fields. $\endgroup$ – Flater Jul 4 '19 at 10:21
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How should I prevent damage to equipment?

Number each piece of equipment, assign each student (or each group of students) a number, and instruct students (or groups of students) to use only their numbered piece of equipment. Explain that each student (or group of students) is responsible for their piece of numbered equipment and they will face punishment if equipment is damaged.

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    $\begingroup$ “They will face punishment” should include “Their parents will get an invoice” $\endgroup$ – JeffE May 29 '19 at 8:48
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    $\begingroup$ @Steve Supervision, no matter how adequate, does not absolve the children (or their parents) of responsibility. In the original question, the children are adolescents, not toddlers. $\endgroup$ – JeffE Jan 25 at 17:54
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    $\begingroup$ @JeffE, oh it does. If this is a random selection of teenagers who don't use such tools at home, then you're bound to get a degree of mischief and horseplay initially, as with toddlers and hammers, and it needs robust adult leadership and oversight. Even then, not all people are suited by habit and background to use fine tools, and he may find some may need to be weeded out - their future will be as users of pickaxes and shovels, not soldering irons. (1/2) $\endgroup$ – Steve Jan 25 at 21:04
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    $\begingroup$ I realise the OP means well - what he is doing is enormously commendable - but he should not be disheartened, and ought to be prepared for a degree of irresponsibility and to use it to set an example. I remember one of my first chemistry classes in school, which ended with a chemical concoction spewing over the desk having mixed a quantity far in excess of our instructions. I meant no disrespect to the instruments or the teacher, it was simply a fascinating process that I'd proceeded to experiment with during a slow-moving lesson, and I hadn't considered the consequences. (2/2) $\endgroup$ – Steve Jan 25 at 21:11
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    $\begingroup$ @JeffE, holding them to account doesn't mean them being financially responsible for equipment, or using parents as financial whipping-boys. The most appropriate disciplinary measure for what the OP described, aesthetic damage, would be simply expressing fury about misbehaviour. At a higher level of seriousness or persistence, he could inform parents about events and ask for their cooperation in setting a standard (rather than being belligerent by sending invoices or impugning their own standards of responsibility), or in the extreme ask them to reconsider their child's attendance. (1/2) $\endgroup$ – Steve Jan 26 at 20:56
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Some ideas, not all of which may be useful to you:

But you need to be aware that the age group is problematic, having little realization of the consequences of their actions. The older students can be expected to behave a bit better, but even those have only the beginnings of adult sensibilities.

Find a way to get an assistant. Paid or volunteer.

Have students work in pairs and make the pair responsible for their equipment. You should probably assign the pairs so that Beavis and Butt-Head don't choose to work together. Maybe exploit age differences to choose good pairs, with the more responsible students guiding the others.

While it is probably unrealistic that some students will "report" misdeeds of others, it is possible that you can encourage a few "influencers" in the group to positively change the bad behavior of others through word and action. That is, have a "team" of responsible students speak to others when poor behavior is imminent.

Charge every student a "deposit fee" that will be returned at the end of the class if there is no damage. If you can't asses damage against individuals, only a fraction of the deposit is returned after deducting a damage assessment. But be prepared for an accurate accounting of the funds.

Exclude, with no refund, any student seen to be damaging equipment.

Get the parents more involved, with a signed paper from them that their child is responsible for damage and they will be assessed a fee if necessary. Contact the parents for any willful damage when noticed.

Have a session in which the students are actually asked to think up the worst thing they could do with the equipment. The intent here is to get their "creative destruction" impulses out in the open but in a harmless way. When they come up with "ideas" have them speculate on appropriate punishments for the various transgressions.

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    $\begingroup$ Get a signed paper that a child is also responsible for their health. A soldering iron can be dangerous and if you cannot supervise every child which is currently using one closely you probably need some legal backing in case someone gets hurt. $\endgroup$ – skymningen May 28 '19 at 14:30
  • $\begingroup$ @skymningen the paper is not worth a thing (at least not in England). You need to do your job properly. If you can not do it safely with the equipment, then do it without. Start from a position, of you get to use this stuff, when I trust you. $\endgroup$ – ctrl-alt-delor May 30 '19 at 19:23
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Run a class/small group exercise where you ask learners to come up with good plans for making sure the equipment doesn't get damaged. They could look at topics like

  • Producing risk assessments for different types of equipment.
  • Lab rules for using the equipment safely (i.e. safely for the equipment).
  • Correct storage.
  • Publicising the need to be careful with the equipment e.g. posters.

If you have a learners who have a difficult or negative attitude but who are also clever you could give them responsibilities e.g. verifying that all equipment is accounted for at the end of the lesson, that procedures are followed. I do not mean putting these learners in charge of others or giving them a social power, I mean simply responsibilities for the equipment.

Basically get the learners to come up with their own solutions and get them involved in the deployment and enforcement of such.

Do not attempt to use punitive methods to prevent this because if you do you will only encourage that behaviour amongst a section of your cohort. Financial penalties and/or threats will be counter-productive as you risk escalating conflict between yourself and your learners.

Furthermore punitive approaches emphasise that it is your equipment or the school's equipment and not their equipment. "Unfortunately if our equipment is damaged we will have to learn using bookwork instead of practical work".

The exercises suggested could also be used for a component of your assessment as there are clear learning outcomes.

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  • $\begingroup$ This is very practical, and very applicable to the age-group. I've done similar things in the past -- that level of responsibility works wonders for kids at these ages. I really love this answer. $\endgroup$ – Ben I. Dec 17 '20 at 1:16
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Before you give your students the equipment, make sure the documentation is right. The safety instructions should be as clear as possible and easy to understand. Also, aside from this doc, make your students and their parents (since some are under 18) sign another paper that states that any potentially intentional destruction of the equipment will be investigated by you, and those responsible for the damage will pay for their misconduct.

So be more strict. It is not fair to you, who struggled to obtain those robots for the kids who really want to learn how to code them, for some kids are really poorly educated by their parents and want to destroy the equipment. It is also not fair to the others, who probably know how to take care of the robots.

You should also consider to name some responsible kids to be observers and to report to you how other kids treat the equipment. If some kids are neglectful with the equipment, then stop giving them the robots for a period of time.

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  • $\begingroup$ "make ... their parents ... sign another paper" - you're being presumptuous in assuming that parents can be made to sign such a paper or abide by it, or that (if the matter were hypothetically litigated) that a court would impose liability upon the parent free of any consideration of whether the activity which led to damage was age-appropriate and properly supervised. I'd say that this is really an attempt to impose a conditional charge for the activity, based on the equipment that each child consumes by damage... (1/2) $\endgroup$ – Steve Jan 26 at 2:24
  • $\begingroup$ and it would be best to jettison the pretense of it actually being free, and either be frank with parents that damage (and thus charges) may well result, or just levy a general charge on all parents which covers the expected cost of damage as a natural part of providing a course to children. There is otherwise a confusion as to whether the course is truly free, or whether parents (who will not be present themselves to supervise, and probably aren't familiar with the activity and its risks) are actually being expected to cover certain hidden costs and contingencies as insurers. (2/2) $\endgroup$ – Steve Jan 26 at 2:29

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