The TX Youth Code Jam is a virtual hackathon, and open to submissions from any student in the United States in grades K-12. Entries are due on April 24, 2020. Coding is not required for the projects, but any students who are registered can learn more about coding and other topics in the scheduled online workshops.(My wonderful friend, Michelle Amey, is presenting a workshop for parents to encourage creative thinking, and her son is doing an Advanced Scratch Workshop.) It is free to enter the Code Jam, and creativity is highly encouraged. The requirement for each submission is that it must be something the student (or team of students) created to solve a problem. You can view the challenges here.
The Code Jam is offering lots of cool prizes, but the hope is that children will have fun designing, problem solving, and learning as they participate. As our current quarantine situation has made us painfully aware, people who are solely consumers in our society find themselves to be far too dependent on others to provide sustenance and entertainment. If your child needs some inspiration, go to the Resources page of TX Youth Code Jam, and scroll down to the section, “Kids like you innovating during the pandemic.” It’s great to see what young people can do!
I learned quite a bit about Artificial Intelligence at a TCEA session this year presented by Anita Johnson of Austin ISD. She explained the difference between Expert Systems (where explicit rules are programmed – think “If…Then” statements) and Machine Learning (where the computer identifies and learns from patterns). Johnson teaches middle school, and introduced us to a site called, “Machine Learning for Kids,” which she uses with her students. In the “Worksheets” section, you can find many lessons, categorized by difficulty level, that can be done using Scratch, such as creating a character that smiles if you say nice things and cries if you are mean.
I haven’t had a chance to try this with my students, yet. It looks like you have an option to create a managed class account or “Try it Now”, but check out this page for details on the pros and cons of each choice.
You can also read this blog post to get more information on how to introduce Machine Learning to kids, and why we should even want to educate them about this technology.
If you read last year’s “Gifts for the Gifted” posts, then you may remember that one of my suggestions was Circuit Playground Express. After publishing the post, I found out that there was an e-book published by Rob Merrill with some fun ideas for different ways to use this product, which is an awesome introduction to development boards. I added the update to that post, but I found out this week that the Cartoon Network has developed seven new projects to try out with the Circuit Playground Express. Whether you have a child who received one of these as a gift or you are a teacher who wants to offer more options for ways to learn how to use this product, these tutorials might appeal to you. In addition, there is a link to a Flipgrid where students can share their own versions of each project.
I think I’ve finally come to terms with my Kickstarter addiction. Basically, I choose an item to “back”, and wait until that product arrives on my doorstep before I find something else to invest in. Most of the items I fund take around a year to get manufactured, so this seems to be a compromise that my bank account can handle.
Last summer, I wrote about my latest Kickstarter purchase, the Turing Tumble. I expected to receive it in January, but a few obstacles were encountered during production that delayed it to the summer. Sadly, this meant that only the few students that attended my robot camp got a chance to test it out, but I think I got a pretty good idea of its impact from them and my 15 year old daughter.
Paul and Alyssa Boswell, who invented this unique game, kept their Kickstarter backers very well-informed during the production process. Packaging is a huge part of getting products like this into the hands of consumers, and there were a lot of bumps along the way. However, I think they got it right in the end. Turing Tumble arrived in a substantial box that has a customized insert for all of the pieces. It will definitely make it easy to store.
Speaking of pieces, there are a lot, including tiny red and blue marbles that are “tumbled” in the games. The quantity of small pieces is a definite reason you should not ignore the age rating of 8 to Adult. I would caution anyone with young children or pets (like mine) who are living vacuum cleaners to set up this game in an area where accidental flying marbles won’t be immediately ingested .
The Turing Tumble is basically a mechanical computer. The different pieces represent what happens in a computer when a program runs. The set comes with a puzzle book that is written in the form of a graphic novel. Players are given 60 different objectives (challenges) throughout the story to complete using the pieces. (You can see an excellent description of the game, along with pics and video, on their Kickstarter page.)
A few of my students, ages 8-10, got to try out the game. Despite the beautiful images by Jiaoyang Li that accompany the story in the puzzle book, the students skipped straight to the challenges. Once they understood the basic structure of the book (each challenge has an objective, a picture of the starting setup, and the available parts you should add), they began to cruise through the scaffolded puzzles. A small crowd gathered around whenever they “started a program” by pressing the lever to release the first marble, and everyone watched in fascination as red and blue marbles fell in patterns determined by the placement of pieces.
My daughter was equally interested in the game. We sat at the dining room table working our way through the puzzles, and I ended up being the gatherer of pieces as she mentally visualized where to place them in order to accomplish each new objective. I was the one who finally stopped that night – mainly because I was feeling a bit grumpy about her solving the puzzles much more quickly than I ever could.
The good news is that anyone can now buy the Turing Tumble – and you don’t have to wait a year to receive it. It is available directly through their website, from Amazon, or Gameology (for New Zealanders and Australians).
Turing Tumble also has an education portion on their website, which includes a practice guide. You can submit your email address if you want to hear from the company when they release their Educator Guide.
As regular readers know, I share a lot of freebies on this blog. Usually, if I’ve made a lesson or activity, I post it here for anyone to download. However, I sometimes create collections of my work and sell it on Teachers Pay Teachers. My “Undercover Robots – Spy School” packet is one of those collections. I developed it over two summers of doing Undercover Robots Camp using the Dash robots from Wonder Workshop. This packet is a 38 page PDF that contains activities that can be used in an after-school or summer camp with robots that can be controlled by mobile devices. It is designed for use with a camp that has 6 teams of students (2 or 3 to a team) from ages 8-11. The Dash and Dot robots from Wonder Workshop are perfect for this camp, but other robots could be used instead. There are 10 missions included in this packet with unique puzzles for each team. (Note: Most of the missions depend on using a vinyl map of the world on the floor. I have a link to the one I purchased from Amazon in my packet, but you can also DIY if necessary.)
I’ve found that younger students love to get involved in stories around these robots. There are ample opportunities for creativity (you should see some of their spy outfits!), and problem-solving as they work on the puzzles I provide as well as the programming. I give some ideas for differentiation in the packet as well.
I have other curriculum that I am still testing out, but will post as soon as I work out the kinks and get it organized.
My students are fascinated with Cubelets. It would be easy to just dump the box of Cubelets on the floor and walk away for 45 minutes because they would use all of that time to explore. Exploration time is great, and I definitely recommend it (maybe not for 45 minutes), but you won’t maximize the learning potential of these modular robots without offering the students some guidance and some carefully worded challenges.
Modular Robotics recently unveiled an updated version of its Cubelets lesson plans that can help teachers from PreK-12 find ways to make the most of Cubelets. The lessons are not detailed, but they are perfect for any educator who is new to using Cubelets in the classroom and looking for how to introduce them to the students, and there are tons of ideas for taking it further.
If you are not familiar with Cubelets, here is a post I did that I included in my Makerspace Essentials list. I don’t think that you should spend a lot of money on “things” for a Makerspace or a classroom, but if you can get a grant or have the budget Cubelets are one of the few products that I recommend purchasing. They provide an endless supply of entertainment and education.