Category Archives: Robotics for Young Programmers

Bring the Maker Mindset to Kids

I’ve missed blogging. It’s been a busy August and I’ve been occupied with other pursuits, but I am ready to get back to writing. (We’ll see if my schedule agrees with me). In the meantime, I wanted to call attention to my new Udemy class, “Bring the Maker Mindset to Kids.

Udemy Course: Bring the Maker Mindset to Kids

Bring the Maker Mindset to Kids

I created this course hoping that other teachers (and parents) will find a single starting point with regards to children’s “maker education.” So much of being a maker is a willingness to tinker, to explore and to learn on your own.  However, there’s a lot of information out there and it can be overwhelming.

In this course, I focus on three main areas: simple electronics, sewing and coding using MIT’s icon-based programming language, Scratch. Each section starts with a “take-apart” lesson, followed by some hands-on activities, and includes a follow up for teachers to integrate these lessons into the curriculum. There’s even a link to some of the research being done on maker education.

Simple Electronics

A year ago, I took a course from the Tinkering Studio. It satisfied the “missing link” of my maker education. I’ve been teaching computer programming concepts to elementary and middle school students for a few years, but was a little nervous about dismantling and building with electronics. Thankfully, after a year of tinkering – and acquiring a soldering iron – I now feel more comfortable introducing simple electronics to kids.*

At summer camp, my students used the circuit blocks to learn about electricity (and short circuited batteries by accident). They made marker bots and messed around with design principles. “Bring the Maker Mindset to Kids” adds to these projects by introducing a take-apart lesson which is then re-purposed into a sewn LED flashlight. I’ve also included an experiment for conductors and insulators, videos on how to make a simple flashlight, and my favorite way to make circuit art.


Sewing with Kids

I’ve been sewing for many years; it was one of the first things I had to learn completely on my own. I had to design my own curriculum, find mentors, make mistakes and practice deliberately.  This was my first (unknown) foray into the “maker movement.” These days – with kids, work and homemade dinners – I don’t sew nearly as much as I did fifteen years ago.

Instead, I’ve been sewing with my own children. In a Montessori primary curriculum, we introduce sewing at age three. These activities are broken down into steps (stringing, making a knot, sewing with burlap, etc). As my children grow, we continue to sew, but the projects are more advanced. This past summer, I also taught sewing at our local “college for kids” camp.

I think sewing is a key component of maker education and I’m excited that it’s part of the course, “Bring the Maker Mindset to Kids.” Hand-sewing topics include: taking apart a t-shirt, making a wristband, making a LED flashlight and incorporating sewing into a classroom.

sewing with kids - learning stitches

With an ink pen, I draw out dashes and dots to teach two simple stitches.

Code to Learn with Scratch

Although I’ve been sewing for a number of years, I came to computer programming and robotics through my oldest son. At the age of six, he said he wanted to be a robot engineer. I set out to find hands-on materials that broke down advanced concepts. I stumbled on Lego Education kits and the icon-based programming language, Scratch. I started a business for others kids who were interested in robotics. For the past three years, I have been teaching classes and hosting summer camps.

Along the way, I noticed that many kids came to Scratch because they loved video games. They wanted to make their own – so we did. But we also created stories, conversations and short animations. While creating these programs, the students were learning programming concepts – without even trying.

In my Udemy course, I demonstrate how to use Scratch, but I focus on simple, creative projects that you can do with your students. For upper elementary and middle school students, the sky is the limit. They can create all sorts of games, animations and stories that can reflect their learning. They can use Scratch as a paintbrush to demonstrate their knowledge. Learning can be creative and fun.

I had a lot of fun creating the course and I learned a lot. About everything. Especially movie editing and breaking down concepts. If you are interested in taking the course – “Bring the Maker Mindset to Kids” – use this link for 50% off.

pciture of a projected screen with a scratch project

In the computer lab – sharing projects was an important part of the class.

*With regards to electronics – I still have a lot to learn. My soldering is ugly and I need more practice. As my oldest child takes more of an interest in electronics, we’ll learn this stuff together, but in the meantime, we’re happy to stay at the level of batteries and bulbs.




Marker Bots 2016

Today the kids made their own marker bots. They started with a single cell AA-battery, a broccoli band and a 3V motor. Once they figured out how to get the motor running, they grabbed a “marker bot body” and began to create. To see a more in-depth explanation, check out my previous “how-to” post on these cute scribbling machines. Otherwise, check out their drawing machines:

Five ipad apps for computer programming concepts

I prefer to use technology as a tool, not necessarily as the objective of the learning. We didn’t purchase an ipad for our home until our youngest child was almost five. Dr. Montessori’s method for learning clearly shows that young children (under the age of six) need a lot of hands-on tools for learning – manipulatives to engage all of the senses.

Technology as a toolMy youngest son is drawing a butterfly by looking at a picture of one

That being said, I think the ipad is a really cool tool for learning. We’ve purchased a lot of apps that mimic Montessori-style work without having to host the extra shelf space. It’s great for young homeschoolers (and my small house). My favorites are here and here.

My children (especially the youngest) really enjoy these Montessori apps, but they also spend an equal amount of time playing around with the other apps we have. These apps are specifically designed to mimic useful skills in computer programming – namely solving problems, breaking down steps, and being creative.


These are the apps that I find beneficial, which are simultaneously used and enjoyed by my children.

1. Daisy the Dinosaur (ages 5-7) – FREE
This app is for kids who need a bit of motivation and instant gratification when it comes to making things happen. Kids are given Daisy and a few commands with which to make her do something (grow bigger, smaller, walk forward, backward, etc.). It will have a short value on your ipad, but can be just enough to get kids interested in the concept of creating – rather than consuming.

2. Kodable (ages 5-7) – FREE – $9.99
One of my favorite things about the Kodable app is the “teacher mode.” Previously, I think this was called “for parents,” but the concept is the same. It’s a place where you as a parent or teacher can learn more about how Kodable works and why it is beneficial to students. They have learning guides which walk an adult through the key programming concepts that they aim to impart (loops, conditions, sequences). You can purchase additional guides (functions, and bugs) to increase your app’s longevity. The actual coding is done to a fluffy furball and you must tell him (or her) what to do and make it through the maze. You are given repeated chances if you make a mistake. Teachers have the ability to create different class accounts.

3. Scratch Jr. (ages 5-7) – FREE
This app has been a long time in the making and while I think it isn’t nearly as good as Scratch (version 1.4 or 2.0), it is meant for younger kids. My five-year-old watches his older brother make things in MIT’s educational programming language Scratch, but since he’s learning to read, Scratch has been outside of his ability. Until now. Scratch Jr. requires no reading skills and just a little bit of help from mom, dad or big brother to decipher some of the icon-based blocks. Kids can create freely or view some examples and try to remake them and put their own spin on the creation (as my five-year-old did with the farm example). He is also typing in titles and asking about spelling – all good things for a kindergartener to be discovering on his own!

4. Move the Turtle (ages 7 and up) – $2.99
This app is a bit more difficult and requires reading skills since the tutorials ask the child to perform a certain task (and there is no audio option). The support is limited to email and there is no explanation for concepts. This is definitely a “play with it and figure it out” kind of app. Thankfully, there are a number of examples so one could figure out to make your turtle move.

5. Tynker (ages 7 and up) – FREE for trial, $5 for complete app
My nine-year-old has worked with MIT’s Scratch and doesn’t play with many of these apps anymore – except for the updated Tynker. Tynker is based on Scratch and looks very similar, but has some creative limitations on the ipad platform. He understands this and enjoys creating and hacking this system as best he can – knowing that it is just different than Scratch, but still enjoyable. The complete app offers step-by-step “challenges” for those who are new to Scratch or Tynker – teaching them how certain blocks work, gradually increasing the knowledge and blocks as they go. Once they’ve mastered the teaching examples, they can use the “create” function and make their own projects.

For the adults (and older teens) in your life, I recommend Cargo-Bot. This game will simultaneously delight and frustrate you while bringing out that hidden competitive streak. My husband and I both have spent time trying to figure out the best way to “code” these bots to get them to move their cargo. Happy Learning!

Robotics for Young Programmers Mini-Session 1

I’ve been meaning to post some of the differences between the ten-week course and the four-week course of Robotics for Young Programmers. Essentially, the four-week version is a mini-version of the larger course, so I am taking to calling it “Mini-Session 1.”

The students work on different builds and focus solely on the motion sensor, motor and have more time to fiddle with the programming. For the last class, they create their own “crown gear” car, thus applying the knowledge that they learned in the previous three classes. They have built structures with crown gears and motors and have learned a lot about the programming. These cars are their own designs and programmed solely by them (with some guidance and assistance from me as needed).

Here a few examples from my students this past weekend.

  • Crown Gear Car Challenge by Rintaro


  • Crown Gear Car Challenge by Samuel


  • Crown Gear Car Challenge by Holly


Since most of the builds are different than the ten-week class, students could go on to take the longer course, if desired. If you are interested in this course or the longer course, please check out the classes page for more information on available dates and how to register.


Robotics for Young Programmers

The first semester of “Robotics for Young Programmers” is wrapping up this week and I couldn’t be more impressed with how my young students have grown as computer programmers. I began the first week with the “rules.” These are your typical rules that govern children and delicate computer equipment…helping them to become aware of how fragile a component can be and thus, how one must be gentle with it. But, that’s not my favorite one. The final rule on my list is this: make mistakes!

Many of these students have never encountered computer programming before this class and I want to be sure they know that they can succeed in their own way. Good programmers (or teachers or learners) need to practice and forge ahead when encountering a difficulty.

The course is 10-weeks long and for the first few weeks, the students learn to be comfortable with the WeDo software (put out by Lego®). We follow the recommendations in the teacher’s guide, but then we begin to change course and I begin to challenge them to think like a programmer.

IMG_7783 cropped

They work together to build and program.

After they build a brick creation from the given instructions, I start to ask them how they might program their creation. And, the beauty is that there is NO wrong answer. Sometimes their creation doesn’t always work, so they try again. Sometimes, they use a simple program and it might not do everything that it could do, but it doesn’t matter because they did their own programming.


My son makes his own program for the provided Lego® brick creation.

If they are satisfied with their program, we leave it at that. If I think they need a challenge or they want a challenge, I will provide them with a more advanced program. They can learn from others, but still retain a growth mindset (at least that’s my hope).

The final few weeks are reserved for prototyping and creating original structures and programming. It is an exciting time and it’s fun to watch their creations come alive and change from the two-dimensional drawing they had at the beginning of class.

This software and accompany set of bricks are a fabulous way to introduce young students to the concepts of computer programming. I think it’s a great entry way into more serious programming with other “languages,” such as Scratch.

It is my hope that by making mistakes and building their own creations, they learn to enjoy programming and know that they can do anything they want to as long as they try!


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