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:
The ‘Maker Movement‘ is slowly worming its way into mainstream culture. Maker Faires are being held throughout the country and Etsy is thriving. Not only do we have a National Week of Making (June 17 -23), but a number of universities are conducting research on the maker movement. Harvard’s ‘Project Zero’ has been collecting data for the last couple of years. While their conclusions are still underway, they recently published a white paper on their preliminary findings.
Preliminary Research on the Maker Movement
In the white paper, researchers mentioned the connection between maker ideas and the economy. Most of the press articles connected the maker movement to business. For example, people are excited at the prospect of STEM-trained children. Will the maker movement increase our ability to remain an economic superpower ?
Not surprisingly, that isn’t why I like the maker movement. And it’s not why I became a maker myself.
Thankfully, it seems the research is proving my point. After analyzing articles and books from the last five years, Harvard researchers proceeded to interview maker-educators. They discovered we aren’t consumed with making to increase STEM knowledge. We like the maker aspect because it helps a child recognize the process of creating. They begin to see. They deconstruct objects and build something else. Students become comfortable iterating their designs.
That is not to say that students don’t develop technical skills along the way. But, for the
educators we spoke with, technical skills and expertise are by-products in the service of the
larger outcome of self-development. To focus on STEM skills and the like as the primary
outcome of maker education would be to sadly miss the point—like saying that learning to cut your food with a knife and fork is the most important outcome of eating a nutritious meal. In contrast, what we have been hearing from maker practitioners on the ground is the power of maker-centered learning to help students develop a sense of personal agency, a sense of self-efficacy,and a sense of community. – White Paper on MakerEd from Project Zero
Finally, I have a voice for the thoughts in my head. It’s not about creating the next tech-maven, it’s about empowering students so they can figure it out on their own.
More Research on the Maker Movement
This article, from the Journal of Pre-Engineering Education Research, describes three elements that comprise a ‘maker’ education: low-cost and available (tech) tools, a community of teachers and business people who are utilizing them, and the ‘maker mindset’ which requires an acceptance of researching, prototyping and iterating their creations.
One of the author’s first citations is from Dr. Montessori. Dr. Montessori was not the first to use discovery through hands-on materials, but she took it further than anyone at the time. The Montessori Method was a pioneering educational method. Is it any wonder I feel a strong connection to the maker movement?
In addition to the previous two articles, I recently discovered the work of Dr. Kylie Peppler. Pepper has shown some links between using wearable electronics and an increase in girls’ scientific interest. As a female who found math easy (but boring) in high school, I was thrilled I never had to take it again (thank you, AP Calculus). Therefore, I am fascinated by the idea that perhaps science and math are taught in a way that discourages girls – not because we feel dumb – but rather because we find it uninteresting. What if upper-level science and math combined art and hands-on creating? Would that bring more girls into STEM-related fields?
Recent findings indicate that introducing such novel, cross-disciplinary technologies can broaden participation, particularly by women. This STEAM (STEM + arts)-powered approach also improves learning outcomes and thus has ramifications that extend beyond the issue of gender in computing. – IEEE Computer, September 2013
Positive Impact of the Maker Movement
I hope further research shows the positive impact a maker-based education can have on our students. In my most vivid, idealistic dreams I see a lovely vision for the future of public schooling. We start with a Montessori environment, free of standardized tests and homework for PK-6th grade. Those years are followed by a maker-based, project-focused education for grades 7 – 10. The culmination of a student’s twelve years of education would include apprenticeships and gap-year experiences, allowing for some discovery before they go off to college. At that point, they should be more than equipped to choose a major and potential career.
A pipe dream, perhaps? But, it’s looking closer than it did five years ago…
This past spring, the parents in our homeschool co-op chose drama and theater as one of the classes for our weekly co-op day.
Thankfully, the parent who suggested doing a play recognized that he might have an uphill battle with this group of kids. They are mostly boys who love technology, playing ‘battle’ and building with legos.
But, then he suggested a few scenes from a Shakespearean rendition of Star Wars. Well…you could have heard a pin drop. Those boys started to wrap their heads around the idea of doing a Star Wars play, and the rest they say, was history.
The book is directed at adults,and not children. The language was sometimes odd and the first few readings boiled down to a translation session. The play was a little bit above their heads, but they learned something about Shakespeare, old English and how to make some costumes on the cheap.
Each family was responsible for creating their own costumes. After initially paper prototyping a C3PO costume, my husband and youngest son declared it ‘perfect’ and finished. (Thanks to two grocery store paper bags). We added some gold acrylic paint and his costume was ready to go.
As usual, my older son already had something in mind for how he would dress as a short robot. After scouring the house for the perfect-sized box, he created his costume entirely on his own. He drew out R2D2, and then painted the box, taking a few days between coats. He even cut a whole in the top so that he could pop his head through and say his lines.
Overall, the play was a success, they had a fabulous time and they flexed their creative making skills.
On Tuesday, Gwen and I were fortunate to be a part of School Notes‘ 1st Annual, Book-Swap-Palooza. It’s a mini-celebration that promotes books, reading and pizza. 🙂 The outdoor event was held behind Domino’s Pizza on Archer Road.
We already had a lot of fun, hands-on activities, but we also created these fairy tale finger puppets to go along with the reading theme.
Making in Action
Coincidentally, these puppets also promote our “Making in Action” camp, where students will design, create and film their own stop-motion animation movie. This year’s theme is fairy tales, fractured tales and Greek or Roman myths.
As usual, I didn’t take nearly enough pictures. Thankfully, we were kept busy as we met a lot of nice, creative kids and they took their time playing with LittleBits and Legos, while also making a finger puppet (or two).
Making in Action camp takes place on June 20 – 24, from 8:30 a.m. – 3:00 p.m. To register, go to the Making in Action camp page.
We hope to see you there!
In an effort to utilize my librarian background, I am embarking on a series of book reviews, to be published on Fridays. These reviews will cover science education books for and about children, as well as reality-based children’s books for a Montessori lifestyle.
Audience: Parents and Teacher
Thomas, AnnMarie. Making Makers: Kids, Tools, and the Future of Innovation. Foreward by Dale Dougherty. Maker Media: Sebastopol, CA, 2014
AnnMarie Thomas is an engineering professor (and parent) whose research focuses on technological literacy in K-12 environments. She is a leader in promoting play and learning, especially with regards to hands-on science materials for young children. Her five-minute TED talk on squishy circuits is fabulous, and I’m including it here:
Making Makers – the book
‘Make’ publishes some great books, and Thomas’ Making Makers is no exception. Many are written in narrative form and provide tons of examples and anecdotal stories. It would be nice if the grainy black and white pictures were better, but I think that keeps the price down. I would much rather read about the inspirational projects featured in each book.
While interviewing a number of professional “makers,” Thomas discovered a few traits that many makers seem to have. They don’t have every trait, but they might have a few, or they might have many. It seems to depend on what type of medium they are working with (robots, electronics, fabrics). Obviously, since she is an engineer, there is a heavy emphasis on electronic and engineering projects, but she is quick to note that sewing is definitely part of the maker movement. Who knew that all of those years ago when I taught myself how to sew, I really wanted to be a maker?
This book is sprinkled with interviews and stories about “makers” around the country. Most of them are well-respected in their fields and it’s fascinating to find out how they “fell” into their professions. Some had a love for it as children, while others were just creative, make-do kind of people and could switch mediums as they discovered a new interest.
Becoming an Engineer
As a parent, I was interested in finding out how I could assist the “making” process that is already going on in my home. In her book, I found a lot of similarities between the skills I learned during my Montessori training, and those that I picked up from reading current educational research. Some of the best practices seem centered on encouraging your children’s “tinkering” interests, facilitating their learning (or finding someone who can) and making a point to continue learning yourself – all while trying to maintain a growth mindset.
Traditionally, many of our strong engineering students came from farming backgrounds. They would arrive at the university with hands-on experience maintaining and building equipment….while the mechanical savvy that many “farm kids” possess is often discussed, I see that as just one attribute shared among this group. Farm families depend on all members to do their part in getting the work done, and thus most farm kids grow up with a strong sense of responsibility. AnnMarie Thomas, Raising Makers.
My oldest son has been saying, since before the age of six, that he wants to be a robot engineer. Will he become one as adult? Who knows? My husband and I don’t care either way, but I do want to prepare him for the eventuality. As the grandson of two mechanically-inclined grandfathers, if there is an engineering gene – he has it. One grandfather was a “farm kid” who has a degree in engineering and the other can build anything out of wood. But, our sons aren’t being raised on a farm, and while we do have some backyard chickens, I don’t think they count toward “farm life.”
So how is a Montessori tech librarian supposed to change her behavior to accommodate all of these future engineers? Thankfully, it seems that all of the sewing and reading that we do also contributes to an engineering mindset.
Significance of Being a Reader
There was one point Thomas made that has stayed with me. She mentioned that most of these makers were avid readers as children. They weren’t all “good” students in school. Some struggled, some didn’t do the work, and some did well, but still had to work for their knowledge. However, they all knew how to find out more information – through books.
Although the web has made it “easier” to find certain things, the fact remains that books are still a great resource to begin your research. Certainly, I’m not discounting the wonderful information online, but I have found that we still need a good combination of both tools. Books and web research, combined with a good mentor, seems to be the path to successful learning. Of course, the interest has to be there first.
When I was initially asked if I wanted to be a part of Space Camp, I was hesitant to say yes. I think space and stars are pretty amazing, but I do not feel confident teaching others about them. I have a lot of varied interests, but space is not one of them.
Then, the director asked me if I was interested in the art and craft class. Oh my – yes!!!
While they were completely open to new ideas, they had already thought about some sort of LED constellation art project. I thought that was perfect and right up my alley. I’ve been playing a lot with LEDs and I’ve always been interested in art. This was in November and I quickly began prototyping. I was hoping that we could hard wire the LEDs, but I expected that it might be too difficult for inexperienced students.
Although my family and I like to look at the stars, I don’t have a strong background in space. I needed to read more about constellations and how to identify them. After choosing some books from the library, I realized that I needed something with accurate, but simple illustrations of the constellations. Thankfully, I stumbled upon these two activity books:
Wiring the LEDs
I probably should have started with getting the paint ‘just right,’ but instead I grabbed some black and glitter paint and did the quickest job I could…so that I could figure out how to light up the stars.
My first attempt was with copper tape and SMD LEDs. Fail.
My second attempt was with copper tape and Chibitronic LED stickers. Not bad, but I thought it might be too much of a dexterity issue to get them onto canvas. Fail.
My third attempt had me stripping copper wire and twisting LEDs. Success!!! But…way too difficult for young kids. Not to mention all of those exposed wires.
Finally, I stumbled across these micro LED lights and knew that this would make it easy for the kids to light up their constellations. After another quick ‘night’ paint job, I made the prototype from which I based my lessons.
For my class, I was lucky enough to have two sessions that lasted an hour and a half. This left plenty of time for discussion and work time. On the first day, we talked about a variety of constellations, but I asked them over and over again, “what do you notice?” I wanted them to see that the night sky was made up of many different colors. There were heavy concentrations of stars in certain areas, but depending on the time, or location that the picture was taken, the stars might have been a light sprinkling. I wasn’t teaching about the constellations (thank goodness), merely reinforcing the other lessons they were getting from the head of the Planetarium (the guy with the PhD in Astronomy). Thankfully, I found the series, ‘Crash Course for Kids,’ and showed my students the videos on groups of stars and the one on how to locate constellations. Since we were painting and doing other art activities on the first day of camp, I wanted to draw their attention to the colors and patterns. To truly observe.
The students finished their canvases that first day and by our second session, they were dry and ready to light up. On that second day, I turned my focus to discussing circuits, LEDs and coin cell batteries. I even brought my homemade circuit blocks.
The output device only works when it’s a closed circuit. This is a rather annoying, but effective, buzzer.
LED Constellation Art Project – Materials Needed
- 8 x 10 art canvas (from Hobby Lobby)
- Paintbrushes & Palette
- Toothbrush for flicking on glitter
- Paint (see picture below)
- Newspapers or butcher paper to cover table
- LED light string
- Hot glue gun and glue
- Exacto knife
- Pencil for tracing constellation
- Tracing Paper
- Carbon paper
- Paper to test carbon paper
- Micro LED string of lights
- Hand out small bits of carbon paper and let the kids figure out how it works.
- Choose a constellation from one of the activity books or draw your own.
- Trace or draw your constellation onto the tracing paper. Set aside.
- Note – If drawing, be sure your constellation fits in the middle of the canvas. BE MINDFUL of the wooden frame. The lights have to poke through from the back.
4. Place the carbon paper (dark side down) in the middle of the canvas. Set your traced constellation on top and retrace the constellation with your pencil. Remove the carbon paper and see that your constellation is on your canvas.
5. Circle the stars so that students know to paint around them. Have students write their name on the back of the canvas. Include the name of the constellation, direction and months that you can find it in the sky. Example: Cygnus, December – February, facing North
6. Play around with the paints – mix orange and blue and see how you can get darker blue. Add gray to black, what happens? You can mix glitter paint into the black to get very subtle sparkles.
8. Take your canvas outside and bring along the toothbrush, the glitter paint and some red paint. Love the red stars.
9. The stiff bristles on an old toothbrush are used to make a nice splatter effect of stars.
10. Set aside and let dry for 24 hours.
Adding the LEDs to our LED Constellation Art Project
Since I really wanted to make this an art & tech project, I built the second day’s lessons around circuits and batteries. We started with a discussion on what they knew about LEDs and coin cell batteries, passed out some single LEDs and watched these two videos from Adafruit’s Circuit Playground: B is for Battery and D is for Diode.
Then, we unwrapped the micro LED set of lights and everyone put in the batteries to make sure the lights worked. Surprisingly, they all did.
The coordinators felt that it was safer if the adults used the exacto knives to cut into the canvases, so the kids each had their stars marked by a little “x.” Then, off they went to the pre-heated hot glue guns to secure the lights to their canvas.
An instant project that will help students remember the layout of their favorite constellation. Coin cell batteries do not have a long shelf life (8 hours, I think), but thankfully, these lights come with an on/off switch.
Last week I read an article that made me worried for the future. I was afraid for my children’s future, for my own future and for the future of everyone in the United States – which was probably the emotion the author intended to invoke. Will there be enough jobs for everyone? How will the less fortunate children thrive in this new digital economy? What’s that going to mean for the peace of our nation?
Quite a way to start the weekend, no?
After the fear came annoyance and anger. Then, I stopped to consider the evidence provided by the author. There were a few links. I followed them and researched others that he didn’t directly cite (this review suggests another side to the research by the MIT professors). Yes, I don’t doubt that he has some credentials (so do I), but ‘predictor of the future’ does not seem to be one of them.
No one knows what the future can hold. Yes, we can make some assumptions based on past evidence and yes, we should have important conversations about the future (hello, global warming).
According to the 1999/2000 Occupational Outlook Handbook, there was going to be a glut of master-degree librarian jobs available. The need was going to be much bigger than than the current graduates coming out of school. And then the Internet grew and grew (and grew). The housing bubble collapsed and it affected the local tax market and now librarian jobs are hard to come by these days. Why didn’t anyone see that coming?
Frankly, it was an article such as this one that dissuaded me from learning more about front-end web development during my librarian years. Almost everyone was using Dreamweaver and it was said that no one would need to learn how to write HTML because computers will be doing it for you. Well, how wrong were those people? From what I’ve been reading, a lot of professional web developers still manually code their web pages since those software programs inevitably have bugs and problems. Even though I love my WordPress-powered site, I could do more if I had a deeper understanding of the code.
Besides, do we really know what type of jobs are going to be available? In what city? In what town? Certainly, it’s good advice to not take on too much debt while a learning a new trade, but learning something new, even if you don’t use it for more than a few years, is very, very valuable. It will still be valuable if all of the jobs disappear and you have to become an urban homesteader just to survive. At least you’ll be able to build your own automatic, Arduino-powered watering and lighting system. Your vegetable garden will be the most productive one on the block. All thanks to the empowerment you gained from learning a new skill. Even one that you don’t use anymore.
Meet the twenty-first century artisans. They understand the value they are creating. It’s tactile. It’s real. They made it because they wanted it themselves. They can tell you exactly how everything is made and where their materials come from. They blend the proven tools of the past with the current tools of today, picking and choosing whatever suits their aesthetic.
– David Lang, from his book, Zero to Maker.
They Understand the Value They are Creating
I love this quote from Lang’s book, Zero to Maker. I love it because he values handcrafted items and ideas, but also because Lang’s thinking mimics my own. At the beginning of his “maker” journey, Lang questioned his education and wondered if he could teach himself something about power tools and underwater submarines. I love that he didn’t know where to begin, but started anyway. To me, this is an artisan education. A self-directed quest to create something from raw materials. It’s a “back to the land” movement, but with technology instead of food production.
According to my WordPress stats, my most popular keyword search is centered around the phrase, “what is artisan education?” Unfortunately, I doubt all of those inquiries are for our small tech business (though, it’s nice when they are).
Rather, I imagine people are looking for how skilled craftsmen, known as artisans, became educated. The librarian in me wants to do a reference interview and guide the web searcher to a better resource, such as this site from The Smithsonian’s Natural History Museum. Perhaps, they are looking for the history of how artisans were educated, which was primarily through apprenticeships. However, the artisan in me wants to explain my art, my training, my self-directed path of education and the small business that grew out of it.
Meet the 21st Century Artisans
I consider myself to be an artisan. In fact, I think every good teacher is an artisan. However, I can also sew, knit, cook, manage a business, find information, and facilitate learning for a number of topics. Of course, I can do a lot more than that, but I’m especially proud that I taught myself how to sew, how to cook and how to knit. No one gave me a grade and no one stood beside me forcing me to do it. I struggled and fought for every piece of knowledge I earned.
School was fun because I loved learning and the work was easy. When I got a job, I enjoyed the novelty of it, but after a while it became tedious and monotonous. I missed learning. I thought about a PhD, but I had just graduated. I couldn’t go back to school. I needed to learn basic life skills, not just “school” skills. It took awhile, but I realized that if I wanted to keep learning, I was going to have to figure out how to do that on my own. I thought of something I wanted to learn and landed on sewing. I wanted to make my own clothes. I liked a certain style, but couldn’t always find the right color or style and disliked spending so much money on something I wasn’t too crazy about.
How Everything is Made and Where the Materials Come From
My mom knew how to sew and helped me make a few things when I was young, but I didn’t retain any of that knowledge. After running the gauntlet through AP high school classes, varsity sports and a part-time job, such frivolous skills seemed unnecessary and useless. What was the point of learning how to sew when you could just buy clothes? Purchasing pre-made clothing seemed to be a much more efficient use of time.
Like David Lang, I realized how very little I knew. Oh, I could study for a test and receive a diploma, but most of that knowledge was distributed from the top-down. Teachers or professors laid out the material, or pointed me in a direction, and off I went. To figure out how to sew, I needed to make my own path. I needed to struggle with sewing and no one was going to grade me (or pay me) for my progress. To top it off, I had to find my own teachers and resources.
They Made it Because They Wanted it Themselves
Slowly, I learned how to sew and how to find the information to teach myself. I struggled and realized that to learn something well meant that I had to try again and again and again. I had to be content with poorly constructed garments because my technique wasn’t good enough. I had to find other teachers and “waste” money on trying new patterns and abandoning the ones I couldn’t figure out. I had to pay for classes and get out and make friends with people who knew how to sew and quilt. And, I did. It took awhile and it wasn’t always pretty, but I did it.
I became a twenty-first century artisan because I wanted to make something that was just right for me. I wanted to reflect my own style and to take care of myself and my family with these time-honored skills.
Which brings me to our business – Artisan Education. Artisan was born out of a need for hands-on classes for our (then) six-year-old. We wanted to help him follow his passion to be a robot engineer. Yes, he truly said that at age six. A few years ago, he was a solid right-brain learner who loved (and still loves) building with legos. He wasn’t interested in the traditional tasks of reading and writing. He wanted to build and work with his hands. A Montessori child if there ever was one, yes?
I sought out ways to incorporate his interests into his daily learning. He still had to work on learning how to read, but I also incorporated his desire to be a robot engineer. I looked for classes in our area, but there weren’t a lot of options – especially for his age. So, we stuck with legos until six months later, I discovered Lego Education. The rest, they say, is history.
Here was a company who was using hands-on materials to teach the things my son actually wanted to learn. When I realized that they made tools for learning computer science concepts, my business was born. I could reach other students who had the same interest and help them to learn about computer programming, but still stay to true to my Montessori background. All of the materials are concrete, hands-on tools and offer multiple creative options. Repetition is encouraged and so is using the materials in a new way. I also discovered other age-appropriate tools for kids to work with, specifically the icon-based programming language, Scratch.
They Blend the Tools of the Past with the Current Tools of Today
We named our business Artisan Education because we think that learning is an artisanal process. The type of material or learning path is going to be different for each person – even if those same people want to be robot engineers. Each path will be unique. We want to honor that type of learning and crafting. We strive to include a lot of creative paths for discovery, while still allowing students to work at their own pace. We utilize our tools of the past (the Montessori philosophy) with current tools of today (Lego WeDo, Ozobots, etc.)
In addition to our technology-based summer camps, we also design and review online courses, putting our instructional design skills to good use. Like good teaching, high-quality instructional design requires a unique approach. And, like a librarian, you need to conduct an interview to determine what the client truly needs. These are the tools of our past and we are combining them with the current tools of today. We are twenty-first century artisans.
It’s not always easy balancing my “simple living” persona with my crafty, creative side. But, it’s something that I eventually figure out because I have to be creating. I know a lot of parents feel the same way – especially those of us steeped in daily care. However, the maker mindset isn’t limited to parents. I also felt the creative drive as a young working professional – I just didn’t recognize it as such.
Regardless, it’s something I need to do because it keeps my mind calm and my hands active. Many years ago, I learned how to sew and I used to be an avid scrapbooker. That was my art and I loved it. But, once I had kids…well, there was no time for multiple hours of crafting, so sewing and scrapbooking took a backseat to the daily demands of young children. Thankfully, my brain took it upon itself to encourage a new craft: knitting.
I actually tried knitting eleven years ago – before I had my first child – but I found it so boring and tedious that I couldn’t understand how anyone would want to do it for long periods of time. I decided that knitting must not be my thing and went on with my other crafty projects.
But something strange happened when I was pregnant with my second child. I simply had to knit.
I can’t tell you why the time was right – maybe my pregnancy hormones were on overload?
I think I was desperate for something creative, but my tiny house and a very, very active toddler prevented any crafting time. Maybe my brain knew that knitting would be something I could take with me on our daily walks and park play dates? I can’t even claim an internal response to keeping my family warm. We lived in central Florida and were 15 minutes from the beach. It rarely got cold enough for a hat, let alone a wool scarf.
Whatever the reason, I ordered up some chunky alpaca yarn, bought this book and away I went. The first year, I made scarves and a hand-knit baby blanket. Then, I tried my hand at hats. I eventually took a class on intarsia and – with a lot of help – made a sweater for one of my sons. I had become a knitter.
A knitter who lives in Florida.
A knitter who has some minimalist values.
Today, my knitting has to have a purpose and be very, very useful. Recently, when I felt that itch to knit, I checked out my small stash and looked at what I had – lots of skeins of cotton yarn. Not so good for hats or scarves, but just perfect for knitted washcloths.
This natural-colored washcloth was knit in Rowan Organic Cotton. I had a lot leftover from when my youngest son was a baby. The pattern can be found here. It’s a simple pattern, very forgiving, but enough to keep me from finding the knitting too tedious. Rows and rows of knit stitch can get tiresome. Thankfully, this pattern is pretty simple and as a result – this is the nicest washcloth I’ve ever made. So, of course, I started a new one which promptly went with us to the park.
Crafting while enjoying the amazing weather? I think that’s a great way to balance creativity with simple living.
This is the second post, in a series of activities, that are designed to impart logic and computer science concepts without the use of expensive technology or one-on-one devices. Check out the first post about Robot Turtles.
During my Montessori training, we encountered a lot of extension material. For example, there were extensions for the pink tower which would reinforce the original concepts (biggest to smallest and visual discrimination). These extensions would also allow the students to use the pink tower in a slightly different way. A prime example is of pink cards that mimic a tiny tower. The square shapes are the exact same size as the cubes – on one side. It’s another way for the students to grasp the concepts that the pink tower means to impart.
In that same vein, I try to find extensions for the materials I use during camp. This week, we’re talking about extensions for Robot Turtles. Last week, I talked about how I use the board game, Robot Turtles, in my summer camps. I like it because it reinforces programming concepts in a new way. I also like that you don’t have to use a computer. Does that make sense? Yes, because much of computer programming is using logic to solve design problems (or how to make your characters appear, etc.)
Since many of my students lost interest after a few rounds of Robot Turtles, I wanted to find a way to reinforce the concept of giving specific instructions. (To be fair – it is designed for 4-year-olds). I decided that my seven to ten-year-old students should make their own version of Robot Turtles.
This lesson plan evolved over the summer and toward the end, there were a few more guidelines than I initially thought I needed. My students had a hard time replicating the game, but once I helped them get started, they seemed to take off.
I walked the students through making a grid (eye-balled for accuracy). This set the game board in a semi-consistent manner. Then, they had to think about the purpose of their game. Together, we talked about the different aspects of the Robot Turtles game – how does the turtle win, how does it move, etc. After we broke down the game, I asked the students to think about a game where they had some characters that moved, but who would also have to complete a task.
I provided pre-printed “movement” cards, but they could add additional “moves” if needed (see picture below). I checked on them as they were working – making sure the final game would make as much sense as possible (it didn’t always – and that was okay). We would play the game as a way of “testing” and they found the errors in their game design – and fixed them.
When they were finished with their games, I sat and played each one and encouraged them to play with their fellow campers. Now, they all had something to take home from “robotics” camp and when the novelty wore off – their parents could easily recycle it. This is really important to me as I hate to deal with the cheap, plastic crafts that come home with my own children. I don’t want to have to store (or throw something away) that they made in camp. And, since the kids can’t take home any of the robotics (due to the expense), I want to make sure that the stuff they do bring home can be recycled or reused.
I will admit, this project found more favor with my girl campers than my boy campers. My boy campers were just as creative, but they seemed to dislike the idea of adding color to their board games, whereas the girls would spend extra time making their games look complete. My sample is self-selected (they choose to sign up for my camp), so perhaps the boys I attract are more interested in the Lego WeDos that are part of camp and thus dislike the use of paper and pencil?
Either way, it offered another way for my students to think about the concept of giving specific instructions. It wasn’t always easy, but it did offer a chance to be creative. The only requirements were that the board had to be a grid and the characters had to move by arrow commands – just like in Robot Turtles.