3-6, 6-12, Apps, Computer Science, Education, Games, Teaching Tools

Lego Mindstorms Fix the Factory App

What do you do when you have 24 students on their way to a Robotics Club meeting and you find out from a technician that your laptop hard drives have mutinied and need to be re-imaged?  If you are like me, you consider asking the technician if he would like to switch jobs for the afternoon.  The kids have spent three meetings building the robots and are eager to start programming.  I had kind of promised that the laptops would be ready for action yesterday, so I wasn’t looking forward to breaking the news that it would be at least two more weeks before the students could start.

Screen shot from Lego Mindstorms Fix the Factory app (this level was HARD for me!)
Screen shot from Lego Mindstorms Fix the Factory app (this level was HARD for me!)

But then I remembered something.

During a recent Twitter chat (#kidscancode – 8 PM EST on Tuesdays), @reesegans mentioned a Lego programming app.  I’m not embarrassed to admit that I immediately downloaded it, and spent two hours trying to climb through the levels. I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I almost tweeted @reesegans at one point to ask her how in the world to solve one of the levels (and it was not a very high one).  I am really proud to admit that I made it through 23 levels. On. My. Own.

I’m waiting for just the right moment to conquer the last level, 24.

Anyway – back to 24 students about to be disappointed…

I have enough iPads so groups of 3 could share.  Thankfully, Lego Mindstorms Fix the Factory is free, so it was a quick download.

As soon as I demonstrated the first level, one of the students asked for a piece of paper so he could write down the name of the app to play it at home.

Fix the Factory fixed my problem.  The students still got to practice programming a Lego robot.  They were helping each other, engaged, and using creative problem solving skills.  Thank you, @reesegans!!!!!

It’s not the perfect app for a school setting, as you can’t set it up for different players on the same device.  But you might want to consider it for next week’s Hour of Code if you are planning to participate.  I would recommend Fix the Factory for 4th grade and up.  There are a few jumps in the scaffolding of skills, so you really need to guide the kids through thinking things out and persevering.  It’s similar to Cargo-Bot, but has the added bonus of an actual robot to program.

Speaking of the Hour of Code, check in tomorrow for a last-minute round-up of resources!

Apps, Computer Science, Education, K-12, Student Products, Teaching Tools, Websites

More Coding Resources

I recently started dipping my toe into Twitter chats, and participated in a few regarding teaching kids how to code.  During these chats, I’ve come across a few more fabulous resources that I want to share with any of you who are considering the idea of teaching programming to kids.

from: "Why Children Should Learn How to Program"
from: “Why Children Should Learn How to Program”

I recently started dipping my toe into Twitter chats, and participated in a few regarding teaching kids how to code.  During these chats, I’ve come across a few more fabulous resources that I want to share with any of you who are considering the idea of teaching programming to kids.

Here is a free ePub book from Wes Fryer – Hopscotch Challenges: A Free Curriculum eBook for iPad Coders (You will need an ePub reader on your computer to view this.  I like Adobe Digital Editions, which is also free.)

Also, here are a couple of Google Docs:

First is an amazing Coding/Robotics Learning Continuum that is a Google Doc.  It was created by Verena Roberts (@verenanz), and shared with me through Margaret Powers (@mpowers3)

Another fabulous Google Doc is “Making the Case for CS in K8” from Patrice Gans (@reesegans).

Both of these are chock full of links to products, sites, and apps that support teaching kids basic programming skills.

If you are interested in participating in a Twitter chat about coding for kids, the #kidscancode chat takes place at 8 PM EST on Tuesday evenings.  This past week, it was co-hosted by the #patue chat.  It seemed to be quite a hot topic, because tweets were flying all over the Twittersphere!  As a relative newbie to chats, I had a bit of a hard time keeping up, but I learned a lot, and made some great new connections.

Not interested in chatting?  No problem.  I can hook you up with tons of additional resources.  E-mail me at engagetheirminds@gmail.com, or take a look at my Programming for Kids Pinterest Board.

Apps, Education, K-5, Teaching Tools

Programming Without a Computer

I’m finally introducing my third graders to programming.  We are studying systems thinking this year, and I feel like computer programming fits right into this.

One of my students follows instructions for navigating the obstacle course.
One of my students follows instructions for navigating the obstacle course.

This group has not been exposed to programming, yet.  So, I thought I would use a fun activity suggested by Kodable in its Learning Guide to get the ball rolling.

Kodable, for those of you who don’t know, is an iPad app specifically designed to teach kids how to code.  The first 30 levels are free (the Smeeborg portion, and then there are in-app purchases available.  The folks at Surfscore are making real efforts to include parents and educators in the learning process.  There are sections for the adults to access on the app, and it is very classroom friendly as it includes an option to add different players to the game.

Downloading the app also gives you access to learning guides with activities.  One of the activities does not even involve using the app.  A real-life obstacle course is set up, and the students use a sheet with supplied symbols to write directions for navigating the course “in code.”  They can add their own symbols to the page as well.

My classroom course included a requirement to crawl under one of our tables.  The results were hilarious.

The kids finished writing their “codes” in record time – quite confident that they had each designed the perfect directions.  I asked them to give their codes to a different student to read out loud one at a time while another student had to follow the instructions precisely. The original writers were not allowed to insert any explanations during the process.

The kids immediately saw, after one kid walked into the table with no instructions to get down to crawl under it, that their directions needed modification.  Back to the drawing board.

The second time around was better, but not by much.  There were still major flaws in their codes, resulting in kids rotating the wrong direction or crawling for half the course because the programmer forgot to include instructions to stand back up.

I think we probably could have done this activity all day.  The students were more than happy to keep refining their codes and testing them.  We finally reconvened, though, and discussed what they had learned.

  • The importance of clear communication
  • Interdependency
  • Problem solving
  • Begin with the end in mind
  • There is more than one way to achieve a result, but not all ways are the most efficient.

Since I see each grade level once a week, we will not get a chance to dig into the app itself until next Tuesday.  I am eager to see how the students transfer their physical experience to the digital one!

For more resources for Programming for Kids, visit my Pinterest Board, or this awesome Symbaloo from Shannon Miller.

Apps, Critical Thinking, Education, K-5, Teaching Tools

Daisy the Dinosaur and Systems Thinking

I’ve been using this blog and Pinterest to promote the importance of teaching programming to students for awhile now. One of the benefits that I see is how coding makes natural connections to Systems Thinking.

Nested Systems Task Card

Some of my favorite FREE programming apps are:  Daisy the Dinosaur, Cargo-Bot, and Hopscotch.

While these are definitely fun apps, they can also help our students to learn some valuable life lessons.  I sat down this weekend to come up with some task cards that would help my students (K-5) relate Daisy the Dinosaur to some of the Systems Thinking tenets that we cover in class.  Depending on the level of the student, these can be done as a class, independently, at a station, or in groups.  I thought it might be fun to show them on the big screen, and use Socrative for some of their responses.

These are designed to be activities done after the students have had a chance to play Daisy the Dinosaur in “Challenge” mode, and some time to experiment with “Freeplay.” They do not have to have access to the iPad at the time they are doing the activities below, however.

Systems Thinking Tenet #1 – If you want different results, you can’t keep doing the same exact thing.  (PPT, PDF)

Systems Thinking Tenet #2 – You can do things differently (sometimes more efficiently) and still get the same results. (PPT, PDF)

Systems Thinking Tenet #3 – When you have a problem, find the true source, or your “fix” could make things worse.  (PPT, PDF)

Systems Thinking Tenet #4 – The objects within a system are interdependent. (PPT, PDF)

Systems Thinking Tenet #5 – There are often systems nested within systems. (PPT, PDF)

Apps, Education, Games, K-12, Problem Solving


Cargo-Bot is a free iApp that I can’t decide if I love or hate.  Currently, I am stuck on one of the levels – and it’s in the Easy Category.  But, I can’t stop!  I will keep working on it until I figure it out.  This is why it would probably be a good app for gifted students.  They need challenges that they cannot immediately solve, but that they really want to unravel.

While navigating Cargo-Bot, users are learning the basics of computer programming.  This may not sound like fun, but this app is strangely alluring with its simplicity.  The user is asked to direct the program to move colored crates into certain configurations.  It gives tutorials, and then progresses to the challenges, which begin at Easy.  After Medium and Hard are the Crazy and Impossible levels.  I am halfway through Easy.  I think this says more about my ability to do logic than it does about the difficulty of the app…