Tag Archives: STEM

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.

Wow in the World

“Wow in the World” is a new podcast from NPR that brings interesting science and technology topics to families.  Hosted by Guy Raz and Mindy Thomas, this weekly show is between 20-25 minutes long, making it the perfect listening entertainment for carpools, short road trips, and family hangouts in the kitchen.  Designed to appeal to adults and kids, the topics so far range from space vacations to hermit crab wrestling.  With its quick pace, fascinating subjects, and (somewhat goofy) jokes, “Wow in the World” is a fun way to integrate STEM into the busy lives of families. You can listen and subscribe here.

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Click here to listen or subscribe to Wow in the World from NPR

Turing Tumble

It has been awhile since I’ve succumbed to my Kickstarter addiction, but felt the need to place a pledge last night for “Turing Tumble: Gaming on a Mechanical Computer.”     The good news is that the project has already far surpassed its funding goal, and there are still 27 days to go in the campaign.  The bad news is that the projected date I will receive it is not until January of next year.  Turing Tumble looks like it will be a great addition to my classroom.  Because marbles!!!!  And logic puzzles in a comic book!!!!  And learning the basics of how computers work!!!

If I haven’t convinced you yet, check out their Kickstarter page, which gives a very thorough explanation (better than mine) and video of the Turing Tumble in action.

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Check out the Turing Tumble, invented by Paul Boswell (above) on Kickstarter!

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

 

 

Clothesline Math

Chris Shore is quick to note that he did not invent Clothesline Math.  However, he is the author of the Clothesline Math website, and producer of many of the materials on the site, so I think he definitely deserves some credit!

When I first ran across this site, I was a bit dubious of the value of a Clothesline Math activity.  Basically, the teacher gives out a set of number tents to students, who then must hang them on a clothesline (which represents a number line).  However, once I watched Shore’s video explaining how he introduces Clothesline Math, I realized how this seemingly simple activity could really start some incredible math class discussions.  There are many decisions students need to make when they determine what benchmarks to use on the numberline, the order to place their numbers, and the amount of space in between.  Even with a set of 3 fractions (1/2, 1/3, and 1/4), you could take up an entire class period.

Shore provides different sets of printable numbers (from various math disciplines) and an answer document on his site.  Of course you can DIY with your own supplies and number sets based on whatever you are studying in math class at the moment.

I like the idea of students reasoning through this, and having to justify their responses.  It can also be a great visual and kinesthetic activity that will be much more meaningful that choosing from multiple choice answers on a worksheet.

For more intriguing math sites, take a look at 15 Math Sites That Won’t Make You Fall Asleep.  Let’s get our students excited about math!

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image from: MaxPixel