Iterationists

I would like to give Krissy Venosdale (@krissyvenosdale) credit for the awesome image below, and possibly for coining a new term: “iterationist.”  When I saw the image tweeted by her the other day, I knew right away it would be a new mantra for me.  Considering the experience I described from our robot camp on Monday, Krissy’s quote perfectly states what I need to encourage more from my students (and myself).

“Iteration”  is a word that is used quite a bit when people discuss Design Thinking.  Anyone who has created something of substance will agree that a new work goes through many drafts before the maker feels satisfied.  Those iterations are important to the process; in fact some even argue that they are more important than the final product.

What I learned from my robot camp experience is that I not only need to make students more aware of the importance of iterations, but also how to learn from them.  As I mentioned, some of the teams had no problem trying again when their designs didn’t work. However, they didn’t spend enough time on trying to figure out why they weren’t working, and subsequent iterations tended to be just as inefficient.

In school, we usually don’t give students time for multiple iterations, unless we are preparing them for a standardized writing test or telling them to correct failed assignments. If we could make “iterationism” a habit, rather than a consequence or forced strategy, students would be more comfortable about taking risks and we would see a lot more “bravery.”

by Krissy Venosdale
by Krissy Venosdale

 

Undercover Robots Camp – Pageant Edition

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, we had our second session of Undercover Robots Camp last week.  The theme was, “Pageant Edition,” with the scenario being that the Dash robots had been sent on their first undercover assignments to the Annual Robot Pageant, where they were to investigate a potential saboteur.

Only a few of the students had attended our first session, Spy School, the week before, meaning that there were various levels of skill.  This is what I love about programming with open-ended challenges, especially with the Dash robots.  The activities allow for the contributions of all abilities.

The week was interspersed with design and logic activities.  Of course, costumes needed to be created since it was a pageant. Puzzles needed to be solved to find the identity of the saboteur.  I even borrowed some ideas from Breakout EDU.

One of the favorite activities was the pageant interview.  The students had to program their robots to respond to my questions – but they didn’t know what the questions would be!  I told them to come up with three responses: a plural noun, a verb ending in -ing, and a name of a place.  I had a set of questions for each robot, who also had to be programmed to come out on stage and then leave the stage.  I embedded an example below (make sure your volume is high so you can hear the robot responses).

The students also had challenges to program their students to do an art project, launch ping-pong balls into cups to gather evidence, and to save the other contestants from the saboteur. The latter is when the students learned that less can be more, as the least elaborate contraption attached the robot actually “saved” the most plastic figures (see the pic with the colored pencils attached to the robot below)!

During the week, we also worked on choreographing a final dance number for the pageant.  It’s good we started early because there were many, many, many flub-ups!  The video embedded below is what we showed the parents.  Unfortunately, it still didn’t go quite as planned; we learned that “tired” robots get a bit rebellious about their programs as their batteries wear down!

I absolutely adored seeing everything the students accomplished last week, and I can’t wait to do Undercover Robots Camp again next summer!

The Bravery Deficit

In yesterday’s episode of TED Radio Hour, “Nudge,” one of the featured talks was by Reshma Saujani, founder of Girls Who Code.  In her TED Talk, Saujani speaks of our nation’s bravery deficit, saying that, “Our economy, our society, we’re just losing out because we’re not raising our girls to be brave.”

I listened to Reshma Saujani with interest, but froze when I heard her relate this anecdote from her experiences with Girls Who Code, “During the first week, when the girls are learning how to code,a student will call her over and she’ll say, ‘I don’t know what code to write.’ The teacher will look at her screen, and she’ll see a blank text editor. If she didn’t know any better, she’d think that her student spent the past 20 minutes just staring at the screen. But if she presses undo a few times, she’ll see that her student wrote code and then deleted it. She tried, she came close, but she didn’t get it exactly right.Instead of showing the progress that she made, she’d rather show nothing at all. Perfection or bust.”

The reason this example electrified me was because I had just witnessed the same phenomenon last week, but hadn’t recognized it.

During the “Undercover Robots Camp” session I held last week, the teams were tasked with programming their robots to “save” three plastic figures at various locations on the floor.  The groups immediately headed for the craft table to design augmentations for the robots to help pick up the plastic figures.

As I observed the groups, I noticed that a few of them felt the need to add more to their robots when they noticed their designs didn’t work.  They didn’t take things off – just kept adding things.  A couple of them began to look like robot anteater hybrids because the teams kept adding longer “scoopers” to the front, and I found it very intriguing that they never reflected on what might need to be changed or subtracted – just that they needed “more.”

Those groups, interestingly enough, were comprised almost entirely of boys (1 girl out of 7).  I had one all-girl group, who seemed to have the opposite strategy – do nothing.  They looked like they were doing something every time I strolled by the table, but nothing stayed on their robot, and they had not even begun the programming part of the task.

After a break, where I talked to all of the groups about really thinking about what might need to be changed instead of just randomly selecting new things to add to the robots, the other 3 groups took my suggestion to heart and began to modify their constructions.  The all-girl group continued to struggle.  I was concerned that they weren’t getting along with each other, and encouraged them to discuss their ideas, or maybe delegate tasks.   Nothing I could say seemed to help, though.

When time was up, the girls had nothing on their robot, and only a few lines of code.  I felt like I had failed in helping them, and I’m sure they didn’t feel too happy, either.

All weekend, I wondered how I could have handled the situation differently.  And then I heard Reshma Saujani.  I realized why my advice to those girls had been useless; I wasn’t addressing the real problem.  Although communication may have been a factor, the true issue was that they just couldn’t figure out how to do the task perfectly.

Now, I don’t believe that every girl strives for perfection and that boys never do.  But I have seen students of both genders who don’t know how to adjust to making mistakes; they treat errors like kryptonite.  As Reshma Saujani states, it is quite likely our society contributes to this type of mindset in girls – particularly by raising boys to be “rough and tumble” and girls to be “safe.”

If I could rewind back to last Friday, I would sit with those girls and ask for their ideas.  I would ask them to choose one to try, and we would try it together.  We would reflect on it afterward and make some changes to make it better.  I might even tell them about Reshma Saujani’s talk, and ask them what they think.

Just to be clear, I am not advocating for us to teach children to deliberately make mistakes or fail.  What we need to do is to teach them to deliberate thoughtfully, and to learn from imperfection rather than to be paralyzed by it.

Brave

Musicmap

Musicmap is an incredible interactive website project by Kwinten Crauwels, which endeavors to offer an  encyclopedic collection of music genres and their histories.  When you first visit the site, you will probably be familiar with most of the titles on the home page.  Click on any type of music, however, and you will be able to access many genres that, if they ever crossed the thresh-hold of your eardrums, you would be hard-pressed to identify their names.

Pop music, for example, offered up “Brill Building” and “Shoegaze,” two genres that sound more like commercials for men’s products to me than musical categories.  In case I had any doubt these existed, though, all I had to do was click on either one to get a definition, time context, and a suggested playlist of examples.

I can’t attest to the accuracy or reliability of Musicmap, but I certainly can recommend it to anyone with an interest in the history of music and in learning more about its extensive diversity.

Pop Genres, according to Musicmap
Pop Genres, according to Musicmap

 

 

Osmo Coding

It seems like just yesterday when our class was asked to beta test a new product from a company called Tangible Play.  It was a tangram game that integrated physical pieces with an app on your iPad using a special base and mirror.  Our students even got to teleconference with the developers to give feedback on their experience.

Since then, the un-named set we tested has become Osmo, and there have been many evolutions of the tangram game as well as new additions to the suite of games available.  It has been gratifying to see a company that is so interested in education to grow and continue to contribute to educational technology in such a positive way.

The latest Osmo set is, “Coding.”  My students have been trying it out this summer during our robot camp, and I have been watching their play with interest.  The set includes magnetics blocks that look similar to the coding blocks you might see in Scratch or Blockly.  You can move them around and snap them together.  My students particularly like the “play” block with an arrow button to press whenever they are ready to start the program.

On the iPad screen, players have a friendly looking creature named Awbie, who they can direct to move toward different objects in the app while using the physical blocks on the table.

One thing I love about all of the Osmo apps is that they include practically no instructions.  There are some on-screen gestures showing where to move blocks at the beginning, but that’s about it.  The students figure out on their own where Awbie needs to go, and quickly deduce which blocks to use as the game slowly becomes more challenging.

Students from 6-11 have enjoyed the Coding game from Osmo and there is often a crowd gathered around it as the students encourage players to try certain blocks.  It has been a great warm-up activity as kids arrive for our camp each day.

Like all Tangible Play apps for Osmo, Coding is free.  However, you do need to purchase the physical pieces and the set that includes the base and mirror piece if you don’t already have it.  Coding is another great resource to introduce programming to young students.

Osmo Coding
Osmo Coding

 

Undercover Robots Camp – Spy School

My students have loved using the Dash robots from Wonder Workshop so much that I thought they might enjoy some extra time with them over the summer.  So, earlier this year, I devised a plan for an Undercover Robots Camp to be held at my house.  Last week was the first session, “Spy School.”

Using 4 Dash robots, the campers were divided into teams of 3 for the week.  Dash received a letter that he was invited to train to be a secret agent at spy school, and each team took their robot through the different spy courses, such as speaking in Morse code and surveillance.  At the end of the week, their robots “graduated” from Spy School.

I’ve never done this before, so I wasn’t sure how it would go. Fortunately, I had a great group of campers who were willing to experiment along with me.  Throughout the week, I sprinkled puzzles and crafts (such as creating undercover disguises for the robots) along with the programming challenges, so there were lots of opportunities for every team member to shine and get involved.

My favorite part of the week was the graduation ceremony.  The students got so creative with my box of random stuff as they made graduation hats and gowns for their robots!  And one of the teams leapt for joy when they finally were able to program their robot to join the graduation procession at the precise time and spot.  (Sorry that the video below got prematurely cut when I ran out of space on my phone.  Oh, and one robot got replaced right before the final ceremony due to low battery power!)

This week is our second session, where Dash has his first assignment as a bona-fide secret agent looking for the saboteur of a robot pageant.  I’ll let you know next week how our undercover spies do in foiling the plot!

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Tell Your Students to Get Lost

I was driving between appointments yesterday, and considered taking a potential shortcut.  After a quick internal debate, I decided to stick to the route I knew even though I would barely arrive on time.  Why didn’t I take the shortcut?

Because I had a guess it would be quicker, but I wasn’t absolutely sure where it would take me.  If it worked, I would get there earlier and be able to use it many times in the future.  But, if I got lost…

So, even though I’ve often thought about using that shortcut, and it would be awesome if it worked because I could forever use it, I haven’t.  I never have time when I think about it that I’m willing to give up if I get lost.

This is what we often do to our students.  We show them the way to do something that we want them to achieve, and we never give them time to discover their own route to the destination.  There is no time for them to stray from the path we prescribe.  If they start wandering, we quickly re-direct them.  Or, we sometimes tell them they obviously can’t read this map so they should just give up and move on to the next destination. It doesn’t matter that they might have found a more efficient way, or even a more scenic route, if given time.

As my students meander their way through their Spy School Missions in our Undercover Robots camp this week, I chuckle at their circuitous routes and congratulate them on discoveries that don’t necessarily relate to the mission.  I wonder what schools would be like if more learning could happen this way, if we told our students frequently, “Get lost.  And be sure to tell me all about it.”

Flickr image from Ian Wilson
Flickr image from Ian Wilson

 

Great Minds Don't Think Alike!

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