One of the funniest writing professional developments I ever attended included a live demonstration of the teacher following written instructions for making a Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich. By following only the instructions on the paper, the teacher ended up making a huge mess. The point was to show that we often forget some important specifics when writing a “How To” paper. YouTube’s Josh Darnit has a video you can show your students to get the point across without having to stick your own hand in a jar of Jiffy. He assigns his children the task of creating “exact instructions” for making a PB&J sandwich, and chaos ensues.
I showed the video to my students in Robot Camp, and they immediately understood the connection – that programmers can’t assume the robot or computer knows what they are thinking, and if something goes wrong you need to go back and fix your mistake instead of blaming it on the device.
You should note that this particular video is labeled, “Classroom Friendly,” and I can attest that it is appropriate. I can’t vouch for any other Josh Darnit videos or “Exact Instructions” on YouTube.
With two posts in a row related to Wonder Workshop it might appear that I work for them or get a commission. I don’t! The Undercover Robots Camp curriculum I wrote about yesterday could technically be used with a variety of robots, but I do like to use the Dash robots because they are so engaging and user-friendly for younger students. Today I wanted to review one of the newest products from Wonder Workshop, which is customized for their Dash and Cue robots – Sketch Kit.
Students love to program their robots to write/draw, but anyone who has tried to rig contraptions for this purpose knows what a nightmare this can be. It’s a good problem-solving experience, but not the best use of time if programming is your main goal. Wonder Workshop has solved this issue by designing a unique harness to attach to Dash or Cue. This harness allows the robot to lift a marker up and put it down – and the free app updates include these accessory options for coding.
The $39.99 Sketch Kit includes the harness, 6 dry-erase markers, and 6 project cards. The markers are customized to fit the harness, as you will note in the picture. Marker Refill Kits (6 markers) are $14.99. We haven’t had our kit long enough for me to tell you the typical number of uses you will get out of a marker.
As nice as it is to have the Sketch Kit, the whiteboard mat that I purchased for $99.99 is even more worthwhile to me. Mats for robots are expensive, unless you DIY, and this one screams out versatility. It rolls up fairly easily, but it is definitely durable. With measuring guides on the side (100 cm x 200 cm), there is plenty of programming potential. The marker erases nicely without leaving residual color on the mat. Knowing I will be using it with several groups of students, I feel that it was definitely a good investment.
Programming the robot to draw what they wanted proved to be more challenging than my students expected. I put my 5th graders in pairs and they had about 7-10 minutes in each group to create a program in Blockly. Before we ran the programs, we projected each one on the board so the students could try to predict what the robot would draw. This was great visual/spatial practice, and it was funny to hear the opposing ideas that were thrown out at the beginning. No one’s program was perfect the first time, so I also gave them time to “debug” after each initial run.
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.
When participating in Hour of Code in our GT classroom this week, the 2nd graders were introduced to the free Scratch Jr. app on our iPads (also available on Android and on the Chrome Web Store ). Before we started exploring the app, I thought it would be good for them to learn a little bit about computer programming. BrainPop Jr. has a great free video that explains computer programming and some of the terminology. As an added bonus, the sample screen in the video looks very similar to the Scratch Jr. interface, so this particular video was an excellent introduction to our lesson.
You can find Hour of Code lessons for Scratch Jr. here. Additional lesson ideas can be found on the “Teach” tab of the Scratch Jr. site. As I was looking up resources to use with my students, I also found this PBS site that includes lessons integrated with some of the popular PBS kid shows, as well as printable task cards.
Scratch Jr. works very well as a starting point for block coding for primary students. My 2nd graders quickly found many “cool” things that they could do after about 10 minutes of exploration on their own. Familiarizing themselves with this app will make the transition to Scratch (a web based program for computers that does not currently work on mobile) almost seamless.
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!