Category Archives: Computer Science

Wonder Workshop

It has been amazing to watch Wonder Workshop evolve since the days of Bo and Yana  (the original names of the Dash and Dot robots) 4 years ago.  The robots are incredibly engaging for elementary students, and the company has been extremely supportive of educators.  Dash and Dot appeal to students because it is easy to apply personalities to them.  Programming the robots becomes an exercise in imagination as well as logic.  The ability to augment the robots with bricks, such as Legos, increases the potential for storytelling and problem-solving.  In addition to all of this, there is flexibility in programming (in addition to the free Wonder Workshop apps, 3rd party apps like Tickle and Apple’s Swift Playground can be used), which means students from beginners to advanced can code these robots on pretty much any mobile device.

Wonder Workshop is constantly expanding its offerings.  I was excited to visit their booth at ISTE to see some of their new products.

The first thing I got to check out was their idea for using Dash to develop spatial reasoning. Using foam core cut-outs, a course had been laid out for Dash to navigate with a pattern of bricks attached to its head.  With careful programming, students can send Dash under each piece of foam core successfully by making sure its head is turned correctly at the right time.  Wonder Workshop hopes to provide the instructions for creating this course on its website soon.

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Some of the most exciting products that has just been added to the store are the challenge cards and curriculum subscription.  The curriculum offers 22 NGSS & Common Core aligned lessons for classroom integration.  The challenge cards are colorful, leveled activities that match Code.org’s Computer Science Fundamentals.  I personally think the best deal is the Getting Started Curriculum Pack for $99. (By the way, I do not work for Wonder Workshop, but have received some free products for review in the past.)

Wonder Workshop will be sponsoring another Wonder League Robotics Competition this year, but the structure will be different than previous years.  You can learn more here.

I’ve been told that Wonder Workshop has more surprises coming up in the fall, so you will definitely want to keep up with their announcements on Facebook or on Twitter (@WonderWorkshop).

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Makered at ISTE

For today’s ISTE post, I thought I would cover a couple of the sessions I attended that were related to coding and makered.

Leah LaCrosse (@llacrosse) and Jon Jarc (@trendingedtech) spoke about the ways they have used the design process with their classes as the students worked with digital modeling for 3d printers.  They included a great diagram from nngroup.com that my colleague and I like because it uses arrows to show that the design process is often not linear, with many steps repeating.  We are also hoping to, as they have, find more “problems” that students can try to solve with design thinking.  (They gave an example of 3d printing a piece for the school’s long-broken water fountain.)

An interesting suggestion for introducing 3d modeling to students was to have them begin by making something fairly simple with Legos, and to then ask them to duplicate the design using a program like Tinkercad.  One workflow tip is to have a Google Form for students to enter the links to their print files to put them in a queue (after they have been critiqued) for the 3d printer.

The 3d printing project that really caught my attention was one in which the students designed vehicles that had to fit the following parameters: multiple parts, multiple colors, no glue, and able to roll across a table.  As Jarc described it, this project took nearly an entire semester, but the students were taking precise measurements, iterating repeatedly as they learned more from mistakes, and putting their own creative spins on the designs – making this a deep learning activity that they will never forget.  Another fun idea?  Fitting the vehicles on top of Spheros to propel them across the room!

Another makered session I attended was sponsored by Microsoft.  I know very little about the hardware featured on their “Make Code” website, so I was curious to learn more about at least one of the pieces, the Adafruit Circuit Playground Express.  This little kit is actual hardware that you can connect to your computer with a usb cord, and use block coding or java script to program.  Even if you don’t have the physical hardware (only $24.95, but it seems to be out of stock), you can use the simulator on the site to code this fun product to do all sorts of things – such as play sounds and light up.  Here is some advice on getting started.  I had to leave the session early, so I missed out on the awesome magic wands they were making once everyone programmed their Circuit Playgrounds.  However, I loved some of the features of the website – including that you can easily transition between block coding and java, the site can be used on practically any device (though you do need USB for the hardware), and you can even use it offline.  As you can see from the pictures below, there are lots of things you can do with the Circuit Playground.  Since it has a battery pack, you can program it and “wear” it without being wired to the computer.

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Sample Projects from Microsoft that can be made with Circuit Playground Express and MakeCode

Of course, these two sessions were only a small sample of all of the makered possibilities showcased at ISTE this year.  It’s amazing to recall the years when makered was relatively new to the incredible impact it is having on educational technology now!

How About Them Apples?

Monday at ISTE began with me frantically trying to find my first session in the San Antonio Convention Center (not an easy place to navigate – especially for those of us who are spatially challenged), only to discover that I needed a ticket to enter.  Fortunately, it was the one Apple morning session that wasn’t full, so I boomeranged between the usher at the entrance and the ticket stand with admirable speed and found myself one of the last people to be welcomed into a hands-on session centered on Apple’s Swift Playgrounds app.

You may recall that I wrote about the iOS Swift  playgrounds app when it first entered the scene, and I wasn’t all that impressed.  It has had four or five updates since then, and there are definitely some areas of great improvement.

I still stand by my original assertion that students need to be pretty adept readers to take advantage of the app, and I wouldn’t use it with students with lower than a 4th grade reading level.  However, the new “Accessories” tab that allows it to be used to control multiple hardware devices may be a game-changer.  For example, my students could now control Lego EV3, Dash Robots, and Sphero, among other robots, using Swift Playgrounds.  The advantage of this over other apps, such as Tickle, is that students will be switching from introductory block programming to more widely used line/text programming.  There are plenty of tutorials within the app to ease this transition.

Another feature that I like about Swift Playgrounds is that it offers a recording function, so students can work on a tutorial and submit recordings of their solutions to the teacher as a reflection. You can also take pictures of your screen within the app, and export the code to PDF. There are hints within the tutorials, but later levels require that you put a little effort into solving the coding puzzles before you can receive any help.  The app is definitely worth looking into if you are an educator working with students who already have some programming experience and are looking for the next step.  Curriculum resources are available here.

My second session also happened to be sponsored by Apple (no ticket required for this one).  In this session, we learned about Apple Clips, which is a video editing app that may eventually replace iMovie.  This app is optimized for mobile use, as well as social media, and it is clear there was a lot of thought put into its development.   Just like iMovie, Clips allows you to take video, edit it, and add music.  But Clips has taken a lot of the manual labor out of video creation.  Music is automatically edited with intros and outros to fit your clips.  Cropping and “Ken Burns-ing” easily become seamless portions of your video, and you can add layers, effects, and titles with taps of the finger.  One of my favorite features is the “live titles.”  This basically allows you to create a closed-captions for your video – adding text to the video as you record in real time.  The text is aligned to the actual timing of your speech, so if you pause, so does the text.  You can also easily edit the text if your words aren’t interpreted the way you intended.

Clips looks great.  Designed for this generation of “on-the-fly” videographers, it could be the ideal tool.  However, I have heard from a few people and read in some reviews that it can be glitchy.  I have not experienced any issues myself, but I was disappointed when my somewhat older classroom iPad was deemed too ancient to be “compatible with this app.”  Like many new products, Clips may need to age a bit (but maybe not as much as my unfortunate iPad) before it takes off, but I’m ready to give it a try.

For some examples of ways that Clips has been used in schools, check out #classroomclips on Twitter.

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Be Internet Awesome

Google has just released a new, free curriculum designed to teach digital citizenship and online safety.  The program, called, “Be Internet Awesome,” consists of 5 parts:

  • Share with Care – Be internet smart
  • Don’t fall for Fake – Be internet alert
  • Secure Your Secrets – Be internet strong
  • It’s Cool to Be Kind – Be internet kind
  • When in Doubt, Talk it Out – Be internet brave

The curriculum is downloadable, and is aligned with ISTE standards.  There is also a video game for kids to play that supports the lessons.

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image from paul.klintworth on Flickr

I haven’t had the chance to explore all of the resources, but it is becoming more and more urgent that our students receive education in this area at an early age.  The internet and social media are parts of our culture that are not going to go away, and it is our job to prepare our students to use these tools safely and effectively.

Turing Tumble

It has been awhile since I’ve succumbed to my Kickstarter addiction, but felt the need to place a pledge last night for “Turing Tumble: Gaming on a Mechanical Computer.”     The good news is that the project has already far surpassed its funding goal, and there are still 27 days to go in the campaign.  The bad news is that the projected date I will receive it is not until January of next year.  Turing Tumble looks like it will be a great addition to my classroom.  Because marbles!!!!  And logic puzzles in a comic book!!!!  And learning the basics of how computers work!!!

If I haven’t convinced you yet, check out their Kickstarter page, which gives a very thorough explanation (better than mine) and video of the Turing Tumble in action.

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Check out the Turing Tumble, invented by Paul Boswell (above) on Kickstarter!

EV3 Vending Machine

I just had to share this Lego/EV3 vending machine created by one of my 5th grade students.  He is in my GT class as well as our campus Robotics Club.  He owns an EV3, and spent his spare time last week making this contraption to dispense Starburst candies every time you deposit a quarter.  There are other versions on the internet, where he got the idea, but he apparently created his machine using his own design.  Super cool!

A.I. Duet

Today’s Frivolous Friday post is in honor of my colleague, Angela Leonhardt, who is a music educator extraordinaire.  She just made it to the finals for our district’s Teacher of the Year.  That honor and many more are well-deserved by this wonderful teacher, who enriches our community with her dedication.  If I had any music composition skills, I would play her a magnificent fanfare with this A.I. Duet experiment from Google.  Unfortunately, even A.I. can’t mask my ineptitude, but I’m sure that someone with Angela’s talent can find a way to make beautiful music with this fun tool.

H/T to Mental Floss for sharing A.I. Duet with its readers.

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image from Raphael Love on Flickr