Computer Science, Creative Thinking, Critical Thinking, Education, Fun Friday, K-12, Problem Solving, Teaching Tools


from Modular Robotics
from Modular Robotics

So, weirdly, today’s “Gifts for the Gifted” post has to do with cubes – again.  If you have been reading my last few Friday posts, you may have noticed this pattern. It was not pre-determined, I promise.  In fact, when I realized the odd coincidence, I almost chose another product to review for today.  However, I am just too excited about this one to wait.

In a perfect world, every child would have access to a set of Cubelets.  I cannot emphasize enough the educational value of this modular robotics system.  And the absolute fun factor is best expressed by my 5th graders today, who got to test it out for the first time.  “It’s awesome!”  “I could play this all day!”

The magnetic Cubelets easily combine to create all sorts of robots.  Each robot must have a Battery Cubelet, but that is the only requirement. Using different Sense, Action, and Think Cubelets, you can design a robot that turns on a flashlight when the room grows dark, or sounds the alarm when the temperature gets too warm.  You can make a robot that flees from your hand or one that follows it.  There are infinite possibilities.  These little cubes contain lessons in systems thinking, logic, creative problem solving, programming, engineering, and collaboration all rolled into one hands-on, interactive set.

We were fortunate enough to receive a grant from our PTA to purchase the Standard Kit, which is a hefty $520.  The kit comes with 20 cubes, and really is almost perfect for a center for small groups of 4 or less.  We ordered an additional Battery Cubelet as the kit only provides one.  This way a couple of robots can be going at the same time.

If you want to start out smaller there is the KT106 Kit, which offers 6 Cubelets for $160. Or you can go whole hog, and buy the Educator Pack, which includes 4 KT106 Kits and a Standard Kit at the educator’s discount of $999.

You can also buy Cubelets individually if you see a need to add certain types to your collection.

So far, no kid I’ve put in front of this set has wanted to leave it.  Once they do some exploring and get the gist of each Cubelet’s capability, they eat up the challenges that are listed on the Educator page – and then start thinking of their own challenges.

This is a relatively new product. (Our box says “Beta Release” on it.) There is a community forum for suggestions, and I have a feeling educators, students, and parents will have many ideas. It’s definitely a work in progress with a great future. The Education page offers some Lesson Plans and Challenges, and I predict there will be more to come.

It was interesting to see the different ways my students, who voluntarily separated themselves into small groups by gender, initially approached the Cubelets.  The boys enthusiastically attempted to build things with them immediately, while the girls started by trying to identify and organize them.  The boys would start a challenge, but go off on tangents almost immediately with new ideas, while the girls preferred a more systematic approach.  In the end, however they all agreed on two things – the awesomeness, and the need for more time with them.

If you think that your budget might be a bit too stretched by Cubelets, I urge you to try to get some funding, as we did, from another source.  Cubelets are not a “flash in the pan” type product.  They have outstanding educational value, and you will not be disappointed if you purchase them.

Below: Video of my students creating a “conveyor belt” with some of the Cubelets.

(For my gift ideas, visit my Pinterest board.)

Apps, Critical Thinking, Education, K-5, Teaching Tools

Daisy the Dinosaur and Systems Thinking

I’ve been using this blog and Pinterest to promote the importance of teaching programming to students for awhile now. One of the benefits that I see is how coding makes natural connections to Systems Thinking.

Nested Systems Task Card

Some of my favorite FREE programming apps are:  Daisy the Dinosaur, Cargo-Bot, and Hopscotch.

While these are definitely fun apps, they can also help our students to learn some valuable life lessons.  I sat down this weekend to come up with some task cards that would help my students (K-5) relate Daisy the Dinosaur to some of the Systems Thinking tenets that we cover in class.  Depending on the level of the student, these can be done as a class, independently, at a station, or in groups.  I thought it might be fun to show them on the big screen, and use Socrative for some of their responses.

These are designed to be activities done after the students have had a chance to play Daisy the Dinosaur in “Challenge” mode, and some time to experiment with “Freeplay.” They do not have to have access to the iPad at the time they are doing the activities below, however.

Systems Thinking Tenet #1 – If you want different results, you can’t keep doing the same exact thing.  (PPT, PDF)

Systems Thinking Tenet #2 – You can do things differently (sometimes more efficiently) and still get the same results. (PPT, PDF)

Systems Thinking Tenet #3 – When you have a problem, find the true source, or your “fix” could make things worse.  (PPT, PDF)

Systems Thinking Tenet #4 – The objects within a system are interdependent. (PPT, PDF)

Systems Thinking Tenet #5 – There are often systems nested within systems. (PPT, PDF)

Apps, Creative Thinking, Critical Thinking, Education, Games, K-12, Problem Solving, Student Products, Teaching Tools, Websites

Next Year Will Be Even Better – Programming for Kids


For many of us, at least in the United States, another school year is over.  Even as we eagerly embark on our rejuvenation journeys for the summer, you might be thinking, as I am, of new ideas for the next school year.  This week, I would like to share some of the improvements I hope to make in my classroom for the 2013-2014 school year.  Today’s post is about the benefits of teaching programming to our students.

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you have probably noticed that I am a huge advocate for teaching programming to kids.  You can see this trend building in a lot of the education blogs and professional publications.  Like all trends, it needs to be done right so that it will not be a colossal failure or a “flash in the pan.” Here is why it should be done, and how I plan on doing it next year in my classroom.

Why We Should Teach Programming to Kids

I think that there is a misconception that this is all about teaching kids a new “language” that is useful in the career market. While that is, perhaps, one of the benefits, I think that it should not be the main purpose.  Programming languages evolve quickly, and teaching a specific one might be likened to teaching Latin.  It can help you to decode other languages, but it is unlikely you will use it daily.

I learned Basic when I was in high school.  I haven’t used it since.  But I still remember some very important lessons that I learned in that class that can be extrapolated for real life.

The most important lesson was that, if you are not getting the results you want, you can’t keep doing the same thing.  I remember the first couple of times a program did not work the way I wanted it to, and I kept saying to the computer, “That’s not what you’re supposed to be doing.”

Once I realized that I only had myself to blame, I would set about finding out what I had done wrong.  This led to the next life lesson – find the real source of the problem or your “fix” will make things worse.  Sometimes I had to dig deep into the code to figure it out, but would not realize that until I had tried one or two simple revisions that would end in disaster.

When programming, you also advance through the Scientific Process, and learn to change one variable at a time if your conclusion is not what you expected.

And finally, programming is not all about logic.  Once you understand the code, you can use your imagination to create unusual, unique, and even beautiful programs.

What I Plan to Do Next Year

As some of my colleagues pointed out this year, Programming falls very easily into something that we already have in our curriculum for elementary gifted students – Systems Thinking.  Now that I am becoming familiar with Tynker through the online summer class I’m offering, I plan to use Tynker with my 3rd graders during our Systems Thinking unit.  If you want to start anywhere with programming (from about 7 or 8 years old and up), I would highly recommend Tynker as you can create classes and monitor student progress very easily.  Plus, it has an engaging curriculum of projects.

I want to weave programming throughout my K-5 gifted classes, so I will begin my Kinders with the iPad app Daisy the Dinosaur. For 1st, we will move on to Kodable, and for second, Hopscotch.  (I may switch these last 2 around – I need to play with them more to determine difficulty levels.)

3rd grade, as I mentioned, will do Tynker.  4th grade will work on Cargo-Bot.  And, 5th grade will work with Gamestar Mechanic (which is web-based).

If you have any suggestions, please feel free to comment.  Also, for even more links for Programming for Kids, feel free to visit my Pinterest board on this topic.

3-12, Depth and Complexity, Education, Math, Philosophy, Science, Teaching Tools, Videos, Websites

Here is Today

Screen Shot 2013-05-14 at 8.44.07 PM

Please don’t ask me the name of this website if you ever meet me in person because I think I’ve found almost as many ways to garble the title as there are years in an epoch.  I don’t know why I can’t remember it as it is quite simple and makes perfect sense, but for some reason my inner Jeff Foxworthy keeps coming out and trying to re-name it, “This Here Day”.

As I said, this site is quite simple, and it is a great visualization of our place in time and in the universe.  I happened to be about to do a Systems Thinking unit based on the book, Zoom, by Istvan Banyai, when I came across “Here is Today“, and it really added to our discussion about perspectives, big picture thinking, and connectedness.  I was afraid the concept of “Here is Today” might escape my third graders, but the comparisons included on this website seemed to make quite an impact on them.  They made great observations about the “Big Idea”, and how this related to practically everything we have learned this year, including our recent field trip to the Toyota Factory.  This was also a great lead-in to our Old Faithful, the Powers of Ten video.

Remember, Here is Today.  Better yet, just click on the link!

Education, K-12, Parenting, Philosophy, Teaching Tools, Videos

The Monk and the Fly

“The Monk and the Fly” is a short video that I found on the Kuriositas blog.  It ties in very well with the Systems Thinking unit that I am correctly doing with my 3rd grade gifted class.  We have been discussing how our solutions to problems can sometimes cause other problems, and the monk’s methods for dealing with his challenges are perfect examples of this.  Children can easily connect this with issues that they encounter in their own lives (often, arguments with siblings are discussed), and it’s a great time to talk about alternative solutions.

If you are not able to view the embedded video, you can visit the link directly at: