Fighting Robots of the Napoleonic Era (LS-PT-357)
Imagine the following scenario: we find ourselves at Quinta do Estrangeiro fort, in the long-ago days of 1810. The Anglo-Portuguese garrison mans the wall, nervously vigilant for the French Army movements.
There are rumours that General Masséna, commander of the invasion force under Napoleon‘s orders, has mobilized the fearful Division Mécanique. It is objective: raze the line of fortifications, organized by Wellesley, that dot the hilly territories near Lisbon, and capture the Portuguese kingdom’s capital.
Still, the allied forces are not without their secrets. Their cannons and muskets are supplemented by a mechanical secret weapon. In the coming battle of robots, will the mechanical Napoleonic overrun the fort and open the way to the fall of Lisbon? Or will the Anglo-Portuguese robots under general Wellington’s command be able to defeat the powerful Napoleonic robots?
This scenario is tailored around the local history of Venda do Pinheiro, a village near Lisbon where we teach. Near the school lays the archaeological site of Forte do Estrangeiro, one element of the line of fortifications that during the Peninsular War defended Lisbon. These defensive structures are collectively known as Linhas de Torres, and where a ring of defensive positions lining the hilltops between the Atlantic ocean and the river Tagos, essentially circling Lisbon.
In the historical reality, these lines were effective in stopping French forces under Masséna from conquering Lisbon, which is a port city served as a vital communications link in the British global strategy to fight Napoleon.
The site itself is awaiting historical preservation. Other forts were restored, allowing visitors to see what defensive position from this era was like. However, Forte do Estrangeiro at Venda do Pinheiro looks to the untrained eye as a wild woodland. You can see a 3D scan of a trench form the Fort here, scanned by the pupils as part of this project’s tasks: Forte do Estrangeiro.
This project is a part of an interdisciplinary effort, coordinated between several teachers. Its main goal is to understand local history while framing it in the larger historical context. However, since the fort lies in a wild woodland zone, the project goals can go beyond just historical knowledge.
Several curricular areas were involved, each one contributing ideas to mobilize deeper learning. ICT was tasked with developing a learning scenario where robots would simulate a battle, using Europeana resources as visual references for elements to be used in the scenario.
Goals and objectives
History: understanding the Napoleonic era and Portugal’s role in it; discovering local heritage.
Science: studying local flora, and geomorphological characteristics of the local landscape; understanding the importance of ecological behaviour (cleaning of the site was included in the project).
Arts: creating models of the fort, as well as a large map to be used in ICT.
Physical Education: physical activities such as trekking, during field trips to the site.
ICT: developing coding and robotics skills; developing online search techniques.
ICT had the most ambitious part of the project. The final goal was to develop a large scenario, were Anprino robots would be programmed to simulate a battle. The robotic battle would take place in a large (about 2×2 meters) map of the fort. Within the map, other elements, such as soldiers, weaponry, flags, insignia and historical figures would be included as well. These elements would have been created as cutouts, or 3D printed models created by the students.
The project was divided into several interlocked tasks. Students were self-organized into groups, each choosing a task to complete. The list of tasks included developing the robot’s programming, creating 3D models of weapons and soldiers from the Napoleonic era (using 3DC.io, a 3d modelling app for smartphones), creating 3D or cardboard accessories for the robots, drawing and painting flags or military insignia, creating cutouts of important historical characters and developing a 3D model of the fort.
As a side project, some students collaborated in a 3D scanning experiment, using mobile devices and the Display.land photogrammetry app to 3D scan parts of the fort during a field trip.
Students worked on the tasks using the PiNG methodology. This acronym stands for Progress, Needs, and Goals (and the i as in “there’s no I in team”) and stems from a hackathon strategy that helps groups to develop projects with regular self-assessment and mentoring moments.
The role of Europeana
So, why are you reading about robots on the Europeana blog? Europeana resources are paramount to the success of this project. The coding part is pure ICT. But everything else in this scenario needed a heavy investment in references. Pupils tasked with weaponry needed to know about cannons and rifles in the Napoleonic wars. Those who had to model the soldiers needed visual references.
Other search themes included flags and insignia of the Napoleonic era, maps and depictions of historical characters. With its focus on European cultural heritage, Europeana would have been the main resource for all activities that needed references. Thus, this project is about more than coding and robotics and drew heavily on Europeana resources to enrich the scenario.
And then, Covid-19 happened
At the time of writing, Portugal, as well as Europe is under lockdown to help fight the coronavirus pandemic. This had a direct impact on our project. When schools were closed as a social isolation measure, our students were into the second week of developing this project on ICT class. They were starting work on the chosen group tasks, learning to code and searching Europeana for visual references. Suspension of educational activities put a halt into this project at its final stage. Students completed the goals in other curricular areas except for ICT, which were timed to be developed at the end of the second term and during the third term of the school year.
Against our better efforts, this project stands unfinished. Still, even though it’s a coding and robotics project, it is depending heavily on Europeana’s resources. Our goal was not to teach coding per se, neither learning digital information management techniques in isolated contexts. Using Europeana we planned to integrate several learning experiences into a comprehensive learning scenario.
Due to the coronavirus outbreak, this learning scenario was not completed. At the time of school closure, all activities on other participant areas other than ICT were completed. In ICT class, students were beginning coding and research using Europeana activities to begin the development of the final stage of this months-long project.
Is the project feasible? If classes went as predicted, in the middle of June we would have a completed learning scenario for coding and robotics where Europeana resources would be essential. The proposed timings and rhythm of work of involved students allow us to believe that, if not for pandemic emergency school shutdown, this project would have been successfully completed within the allowed time frame.
Would you like to know more about this learning scenario? You can download it below:
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CC BY 4.0: the featured image used to illustrate this article has been found on Europeana Collections and provided by the Wellcome Collection.
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