Tag Archives: STEAM

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!

#WhyIMake

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.

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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.

Pool Noodle Projects – Reblog

I was at a dollar store this weekend, and saw a plethora of pool noodles.
It reminded me of this post I did a few years ago, and I thought it would be the perfect time for a repeat!

from http://www.babble.com/home/20-clever-ways-to-use-a-pool-noodle/#marble-run
from:  http://www.babble.com

After coming across one article on ways to use pool noodles, I did an internet search, and found a lot more creative ideas than I dreamed could exist for using these long pieces of foam!

My students use every spare moment they can get in my classroom to build elaborate marble runs, so the above picture caught my eye immediately.  You can find it, along with 19 other ideas for pool noodles here.

You can find the idea for pool noodle flash cards here.  To kick it up a notch for gifted thinkers, why not call out a word in a foreign language, or a definition, and have them find the noodle pieces that spell its counterpart?

Along with the Pool Noodle Super Sprinkler, you can find 29 other ideas here.

Of course, with all of these innovative suggestions I did not find any that matched the one drawn by one of my students!

from my Summer Pool Party packet
from my Summer Pool Party packet

Steamography

Leland Melvin is a former football player.  He also happens to be a retired astronaut. (The two careers happened in that order.) Steamography has joined with Leland Melvin to create a site that tells his story as the first in what they plan to be a series of “ographies” about people who have lived STEAM-driven lives.  You can learn more about Steamography’s mission here.

I can’t think of anything that might be more interesting to children than a football player turned astronaut – except a football player turned astronaut who loves dogs.  Fortunately, Leland Melvin fits that description, as you can see from the cover of his recently published book, Chasing Space. (There is also a Young Reader’s Edition of this book.)

On Steamography’s Leland Melvin page, your students will be greeted with fun comic-like graphics, short videos from Melvin on such topics as, “What it’s like to spend Thanksgiving in space,” and eight STEAM activities.

If this site is an indication of the future Steamographies that will be featured, then I am looking forward to this being an incredible resources for my students to inspire and motivate them to learn more about STEAM careers.

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Chasing Space, Young Reader’s Edition

 

 

Word Mandalas

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.

mandalaword art
Word Mandala created with Mandific

H/T to GeekMom for sharing this tool on a blog post.

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.

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Created with MyOats.com

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.

Word Cloud
Made with 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.

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created with WordFoto 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.

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created with TypeDrawing app

Photo Mar 22, 7 44 12 PM

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.

Joey’s Mental Health Recovery

Three years ago, I decided to host an online class that would encourage students to “make things” over the summer.  It was called, “Design a Theme Park,” and I invited some famous makers to help judge the different categories each week.

Joey Hudy was one of those makers.  Well-known for the video of his appearance at the White House Science Fair with President Obama, Joey was an inspiration to many of my budding “makers-in-training.”  I invited him to be a guest judge of the student-designed theme park rides.  Joey’s mother kindly responded for the teenager that he would be happy to do it.  I wish I had kept copies of his mother’s comments, because I remember that she was excited about any program that promoted maker-education and/or STEM, and her supportive words were very motivational.

Joey had a difficult time choosing a winner from my students’ projects. The day before he announced his decision, he posted this, “I’m sitting here getting to judge your awesome projects. I don’t really like picking winners, you are all winners. You all did exactly what I want kids to do..
Don’t be bored…make something!
Ok..the winners are..drum roll.”

Joey’s mantra of, “Don’t be bored…make something!” has lived on in my classroom since then.  I have been following him on Twitter over the years, and often chant those same words to my own students – particularly right before they are about to leave school for long vacations.  The enthusiasm of Joey (and his mom) have directly and indirectly affected my teaching style and educational priorities ever since the first time I viewed his marshmallow cannon demonstration.

Today, I saw a Tweet that announced sad news about Joey.  He is now 20 years old, and was recently diagnosed with schizophrenia. In this “GoFundMe” post, Joey’s sister makes an impassioned plea for help with the staggering medical costs facing his family as they navigate the difficulties of identifying the appropriate treatment and care.

This post struck a chord with me for many reasons.  First of all, I benefited from the great kindness of Joey and his mother when they donated their time to my students as proponents of STEM and maker-education.

Secondly, I know, first-hand, the treacherous havoc that mental health issues can wreak on the sufferers and their families.  Over 15 years ago, I was diagnosed with clinical depression and PTSD.  This was not a surprise to me, as other family members had received similar diagnoses or exhibited symptoms that were never treated.  Therefore, I have great sympathy and empathy for Joey and his family.

I write this post for two reasons: to ask you to consider donating to the Hudy family to help cover Joey’s enormous medical expenses, and to also ask you to consider what our country and/or world can do to educate people about how to better identify and aid the people who suffer from mental illness.

I wish the best to Joey, Elizabeth, and the rest of the Hudy family.  Thank you for all of the contributions you have made so far to “making” this world a better place.  It’s time for the world to help you now.  With so many people behind you, I guarantee you will continue to be a positive force on this planet for many years to come.