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.
When introducing Design Thinking to children, it’s important to include the “empathy” part of the process. Sometimes, it is easier for students to practice this with fictional characters before they begin applying it to real people. I’ve curated a collection of both free (green) and paid (purple) resources that offer character cards you can print out to distribute to students so that when they are designing they have a “client” in mind. If you would like some suggestions for books and videos to help teach empathy, Joelle Trayers has several blog posts that address this topic.
Khandu is a set of cards that I purchased awhile ago in a crowd-funding campaign. Like Extraordinaires, it includes characters and challenges. My set also includes “Ideation,” “Inspiration,” “Action,” and “Prototyping” cards. It’s a pretty comprehensive pack of 70 full color, thick cards. Although the pricing is in euros, you can also purchase it through PayPal.
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.
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).
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.
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!
Infosys Foundation has been asking people to share why they make, and including some of their responses on their site. There are also three videos from famous makers (Nick Offerman, Noah Bushnell, and Adam Savage) who explain why they believe it is essential for human beings to create. My favorite video comes from Adam Savage, The Mythbuster, in which he says, “I make because in making I’m telling a story.” As I watch my students in robot camp this week, I get to witness their delight in making – whether it is making programs, designing robot costumes, recording crazy robot sounds, or fastening bits and pieces together to make their robot props. And I get to feel the same indescribable joy when I create the curriculum that activates these busy makers.
Jackie Gerstein offers even more reasons for making in her recent post about her “Cardboard Creations Maker Education Camp,” reminding us that making things does not have to involve expensive tools and technology. The key elements are imagination and a willingness to accept messiness – literally and figuratively – as we go through several iterations to make our ideas into reality.
Whatever our motivation for making, it cannot be denied that most of us feel compelled to do it, and feel accomplished when we succeed. That is why it is so important for educators to teach our students how to heed their inner desires to create, to persevere through those guaranteed botched attempts, and to make it a quest to improve without becoming bogged down by self-flagellation.
Even though a makerspace isn’t needed in order to encourage students to make, here is a “Makerspace Essentials” list of articles I’ve published in the past about making.
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!
I am such a geek. Last night, I was researching mandalas for an upcoming lesson with my 4th graders. I remembered that Richard Byrne had just published a post about a new online magazine creator, so I thought it might be fun to try it out and let my students collaborate on the magazine. Then, I started looking for images to put on the magazine cover, and came across a mandala that used words instead of symbols. There was no information on how it was created, so I did a search for word mandalas – and that is how I landed on Mandific. (I still haven’t discovered how the original word mandala picture I found was made, but that’s okay.)
Type a word into Mandific, and it will create a mandala for you using the letters of the word. You can adjust the color, the spacing of the letters, and the design. See if you can figure out my word in the mandala below.
Then, I continued my search (I won’t tell you how long I spent on Mandific before remembering my actual mission.) I found MyOats.com. Still not exactly what I was looking for, but it gave me another alternative for including words in a mandala.
As you can see, I didn’t spend a lot of time on that one because I had suddenly become obsessed with finding the perfect word mandala generators.
My next attempt was with using the word cloud generator, Tagul.
I also tried Tagxedo, which will allow you to upload your own image to make into a word cloud. However, I had so many problems with it not loading correctly on three different browsers, that I finally moved on to some iPad apps.
WordFoto has always been a favorite of mine. I uploaded a photograph of a mandala from the web, and then added some text. If you are not familiar with WordFoto, here is a post I wrote about the app.
My last word mandala attempt was created with the TypeDrawing app. I uploaded a mandala photo, and then traced the main lines with words and some of the symbols offered in the app. After completing my drawing, I changed the photo opacity setting so that only my drawing shows. I have to say that this was my favorite creation.
I will keep you posted on what we use! If you have any other ideas for word mandalas (that don’t require expensive software like Photoshop), please let me know in the comments below.