Tag Archives: STEAM

Rock the Lab with Hour of Code

I love Rock the Lab, an incredible resource from @learnmoorestuff.  She has recently updated her Hour of Code page, and the layout is awesome.  It includes links to the basic computer science lessons for each grade level, the activities that have been especially developed for Hour of Code, an Hour of Code Hyperdoc, and a link to the newest Flipgrid Explorer series, which is all about coding!

Be sure to get involved with the 2017 Hour of Code, which is happening next week from December 4-8.  This has been one of my favorite annual events, and I’ve seen incredible student learning ever since my classes started participating the very first year.  Trust me, you don’t have to be knowledgeable about programming to facilitate a great Hour of Code experience!

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Image from Pasco County Schools on Flickr
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Interactive Onomatopoeia

When my students were working on their cardboard mini golf courses, I casually suggested using a Makey Makey to make things interesting – and realized that I hadn’t yet introduced this group of kids to the wonders of this invention tool.  When I saw a post from Colleen Graves about making interactive stories and poems using Makey Makey and Scratch, I knew this would be the perfect project for my 4th graders.  They are studying literary masterpieces right now, and learning about figurative language.  It seemed to be a natural transition from discussing onomatopoeia to designing simple Scratch programs that would allow us to add sounds using the Makey Makey.

After teaching some of the basics of Scratch, I showed the students an onomatopoeia poem to which I had added some heavily penciled symbols (the graphite will conduct if you lay it on pretty thick).  I attached the Makey Makey to the symbols and my computer, and started my Scratch program, reading the poem and pressing the symbols at the appropriate moments.  Then the students got to choose their own poems from some I had printed out to program in pairs.  They got to share their creations on Seesaw, and were pretty excited about the way their projects turned out.

This was just the beginning.  Now that the students know the concept, they will be able to apply it to poetry they will be writing in the next couple of weeks.  I’m hoping to also guide them toward creating more complex artwork using copper tape or conductive paint for the Makey Makey triggers.

The Makey Makey was on “Gifts for the Gifted” list in 2014.  Since then, I have seen many more uses for it.  In fact, I just ordered Graves’ book, 20 Makey Makey Projects for the Evil Genius, which may keep my 4th graders busy for the rest of this year!

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image from Josh Burker on Flickr

Cardboard Mini Golf

I am a recovering control freak/perfectionist.  So, when my students work on projects for #cardboardchallenge, it takes every ounce of restraint to not turn into a raving lunatic.  Nothing goes as planned; in fact plans are pretty much a waste of time.  My classroom looks like an episode of “Hoarders,” and I find duct tape hanging off of my clothes for months afterwards.

I constantly tell my students that empathy and mistakes are part of the design process, but it turns out I should be lecturing myself more than them.  While I watched over the mass production of cardboard miniature golf courses this year, I had to keep reminding myself that I shouldn’t be disappointed that my students’ visions were completely different than mine and that it’s not very encouraging to have a teacher keep telling you, “That’s not going to work!”

During the entire week leading up to our first project “reveal” at a school festival, I worried that it would rain.  On the day of the festival, bright sunshine greeted us – along with hurricane-worthy gusts of winds intent on adding the extra challenge of giving us moving targets as we ran around the basketball court chasing our golf courses.

The tech enhancements we had made for a few courses disappointed because they kept getting disconnected or weren’t loud enough to make people “ooh” and “ahh.”  Some students abandoned supervisory shifts of their courses to go play elsewhere, and one group took an hour to get their course working because one of the students had a picture in his mind of what it should like that none of the rest of us could understand, and he wouldn’t compromise.

I am not telling you this to complain or to discourage you from attempting a similar project.  I like to be honest on my posts, so people don’t get blindsided by obstacles when they decide to try out a “good idea.”  The question is, was this a good idea?

After we put some weights on the courses to keep them in one place, and students began to stream over to try out swinging the putters, I saw a lot of smiles.  I heard a few students talk about how proud they were of their work, a few who mentioned some adjustments they wanted to make, and a few who already had ideas for next year.  Some students took extra shifts to make sure their courses could stay open, and there were many kids who would try a course and then get back in line to try it again.  In other words, kids were having fun.

I had told the students this was our first big “test” of the courses, because we are hoping to take some to a S.T.E.A.M. Festival in December.  To be honest, though, it’s tempting to forget about that – just clean everything up and move on to other projects.  I am desperate to get back to some semblance of order and leave the chaos behind for awhile.  Fun was had, lessons were learned, so let’s call it a day, right?

But Design Thinking isn’t about giving up.  So, next week we are going to reflect on peer feedback, discuss improvements that can be made, and continue to make messes that will create knots in my stomach, but that I will accept as part of the process. We are going to move those projects from good enough to great.

But first I need to buy a lot more duct tape…

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).

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