Tag Archives: STEM

Book Review – Edible Inventions

In an effort to utilize my librarian background, I review books. It keeps my librarian skills sharp, and I love talking about  – and analyzing – books. These reviews cover science and art education books, for and about children, as well as reality-based children’s books for a Montessori lifestyle.

A picture of the book, Edible Inventions.

Edible Inventions is written by Kathy Ceceri (a former homeschool mom)! Pictured next to the book are C’s homemade “Juicy Gelatin Dots.”

Ages: Teachers, Parents, Teens, Kids (with help)
Ceceri, Kathy. Make: Edible Inventions : Cooking Hacks and Yummy Recipes You Can Build, Mix, Bake, and Grow. Maker Media, 2016.

Edible Inventions = Kitchen Science

Ceceri’s latest contribution to the maker movement is a strange cross between cookbook and science textbook.  It’s a useful resource for teachers, parents and curious kids.

That being said, the title put me off – just a little. I wouldn’t have willingly picked up a book on edible inventions. It sounded too much like a cookbook. At our house, we have some food intolerance issues, and an aversion to sugar overload, so we do a lot of cooking. The last thing I want is more time in the kitchen (or a book that doesn’t respect those choices). In fact, some of the projects she showcases are ones we’ve done in the past. For example, we’ve made our own edible inventions (homemade marshmallows ) and have been composting (and gardening) for years.

Unlike her other books, I was familiar with most of the information presented because I’ve been cooking from scratch for decades (as opposed to creating with robotic legos). Just ask my family about my early failures – they are legend!  Obviously, I wasn’t expecting “a cookbook” to knock my socks off. However, like most of her books, Ceceri caught my eye in the very first chapter. I skimmed the table of contents until I saw this project: “Make a Hydraulic LEGO 3D Food Printer.”  It was at that moment I realized book covers (and titles) can be deceiving. This is a science textbook disguised as a cookbook.

Lego 3D Food Printer

In fact, once my oldest son playfully wrestled the book away from me, the first page he found described the pancake bot. This real-life invention is the inspiration for the food printer project. I love the idea that we can replicate one without using (or damaging) our EV3 brick. As a teacher, I want a real-life connection between the “craft project” and the information I’m presenting. Thankfully, Ceceri understands this concept completely. Learning can be fun, but there needs to be a bridge between the real world and the scaled down project.

In our “learning at home” life, the kids pick and choose their science interests. For many years, my oldest son has been enamored with computers, so he has stuck with Lego robotics, Scratch programming and First Lego League. I have not formally taught them chemistry (nor do I intend to do so), but a fellow homeschool parent did teach a basic chemistry class through our homeschool co-op. Some of the projects in this book (i.e. baked foam meringue cookies and juicy gelatin dots) would have been great compliments to that class – especially when talking about liquids, gases and chemical reactions.

Science Cookbook

Although the Lego project caught my eye, it was my youngest son who requested that we make something together. Both boys enjoy cooking, but my youngest seems to enjoy it more. He picked out the gelatin dots project, and after a slight delay (we had to chill the oil overnight), we were off.

picture of Great Lakes gelatin container, Grapeseed oil and POM juice, required ingredients for a project from the book, Edible Inventions.

Everything was easy to find at the store or in our pantry.

This project was surprisingly easy to make. My youngest son recently turned eight, but he made (most of) the gelatin dots on his own. Once his older brother saw what was happening, he swept in and asked for a chance to create. There was enough gelatin to share, so everyone had a chance to make (and eat) some jello-like dots.

A picture of a boy using a medicine dropper to create gelatin fruit dots from the book, Edible Inventions.

C is concentrating on creating perfect-size dots. Ceceri recommends a picnic-style ketchup or mustard dispenser, but we had an old, unused medicine dropper that worked just fine.

If you are so inclined, Ceceri provides an additional chemistry project to accompany these gelatin dots. With grape juice dots and lemonade, you could take this project further and introduce acids and bases. I think it would have been neat to include some additional “academic” connections here, perhaps some PH paper? Since this was for my eight-year-old, we ignored all formal learning and went with hands-on experimenting.

Conclusion

All of Ceceri’s books are well-researched and provide project details, background information and real-life connections. They are fabulous additions to any resource library and they offer a great way to get more hands-on, educational projects into your home or classroom.

I received this book in exchange for my honest review. If you’d like to see my other (non-compensated) reviews of Make titles, check out Making Makers, Making Simple Robots, and Tinkering.

Elementary Electronics – Toy Take Apart

I’ve been facilitating an elementary electronics class with our local homeschool co-op and this week we took apart an electronic toy. The toy take apart was messy, chaotic and hopefully, a lot of fun.

The idea of a toy take apart came from the Tinkering Studio; it was one of the suggested activities in their course that I took two years ago. We’ve taken apart a lot of things at our house, but this was the first time I had the kids draw out their thoughts ahead of time. Since we’ve been studying circuits and playing with batteries and bulbs, I felt they would have a better understanding of how their electronic toy might work.

C, age 7, takes apart an old kid-friendly walkie-talkie.

Making Thinking Visible – Toy Take Apart

I was really hoping for a detailed drawing of how they thought the circuits would be connected to the sensors, however, I didn’t plan for the pure excitement (and impatience) of a group of 8-11 year-olds. They were itching to take their old toys apart. Their hands were filled with screwdrivers and hammers (eek!) and exacto knives (for those with plush toys). Since we are a small group, each kid had his own toy to take apart.

R has been wanting to take this doll apart since we found her at Goodwill last year.

Initially, I was going to do a toy take apart as the first class. I thought it would be a fun activity that would get the kids excited about electronics. The timing didn’t work out and I had to postpone it, but I’m glad I did. The Tinkering Studio had it right – the kids had a better understanding of what they were looking at since they had done some experimenting beforehand.

There were still a lot of things that they didn’t recognize (and I didn’t either), but I think it gave them the same sense of power that I get every time I discover the mystery behind a product:  this isn’t nearly as complicated as it looks and there’s no reason to be frightened of it.

Lessons Learned – Toy Take Apart

Since we are a homeschool co-op, most of the parents are around, if needed. For the younger kids, they definitely needed a parent. I was busy helping another child when my youngest son, age 7, cut himself with a screwdriver. He was trying to pry open a piece of plastic and had watched some older kids use a screwdriver with much success. Sadly, the piece he was trying to crack open was still screwed shut. He didn’t look around to see if there was anything he could undo first. He ended up being fine – it just sliced the surface of his hand – but it gave me something to think about. I think it would have been helpful to pair the kids up – an older kid with a younger one, and add a parent to watch over the group.

That would be tough to do in a large classroom – unless you had parent volunteers. You could probably get around that problem if everyone had the same thing to take apart, such as a simple push flashlight. That’s how I solved the problem in my Bring the Maker Mindset to Kids class, but I was hoping for a little more creative license for this one. Oh well – lessons learned. Safety first.

Diary of a First Year FLL Coach

First Year FLL Coach – Me?

August 22, 2016
Today, I asked the 4-H robotics leaders if our club was going to participate in First Lego League this year. “Sure,” they said, “and would you mind being one of our first year FLL coaches?”

August 30, 2016
The FLL challenge comes out today. It’s called Animal Allies. I can’t wait to find out more about it.

September 5, 2016
Today, I gave a brief presentation to our club about First Lego League. I think I scared some parents, but gained the interests of the more experienced student members. We now have a team of seven students.

The coaches and mentors navigated the FLL computer system and got our team registered and the kit ordered. I had an easier time since I had gone through a Jr. FLL season with my older son two years ago.

September 18, 2016
One of our mentors (and 4-H robotics leader) built the game board. The kit and game mat arrived and the kids spent the meeting building pieces.

A picture of two 4x8 robot game boards

This was from our practice competition.

September 25, 2016
The game board is fascinating and the students finally finished putting together all of the pieces. We did a team building exercise and ran out of time.

October 2, 2016
We now have nine team members. The team has decided to split up into three groups and begin building a base robot. The team will then vote for the best design.

October 16, 2016
It took another meeting to finish and decide on the robot design. Now, the other teams are copying the robot design so that each team can work on the robot game. There has been little discussion about the animal project; everyone is more interested in the robot game.

 

The Robot Game, The Robot Presentation & The Project

October 23, 2016
Teams are finally working on programs to complete the robot game challenge. There have been some problems with such a big team. Everyone wants to work on the robot. Our initial talks about animal projects are centered on reducing ocean pollution. We are also registered for a practice tournament November 12. I have spoken to my sister-in-law twice in the last few weeks to clarify FLL rules. (She’s a FLL veteran coach and is immensely helpful).

October 30, 2016
More work on the robot game. My co-coach is amazing at finding team building challenges so the kids can develop their “core values.”

November 2, 2016
Our animal project is looking too much like a pollution/trash problem (which was last year’s FLL challenge). We have a mid-week meeting to focus on one animal and to flush out a general presentation idea for the practice tournament. The kids chose to study manatees.

November 6, 2016
I am out of town. More robot game. More team building.

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November 12, 2016
Practice Tournament. Everyone did very well and it gave the students (and coaches) a better idea of what FLL is all about. Our team did better than we thought they would.

November 19, 2016
The robot design has been modified so that there is now only one robot to compete in the robot game. That means two to three kids work on the programming while the coaches help the other kids flush out the robot and manatee presentations. Team building happens at the end of every meeting.

December 4, 11, 18
The holiday season is in full swing and we are only getting three to four kids at each Sunday meeting. This has made it difficult to move forward with our presentation since no one wants to make a group decision with only part of the team present.

December 25 & January 1
Since we meet on Sunday, we have cancelled these meetings to enjoy the holiday season (and because a lot of people are out of town).

 

Getting Ready for the Qualifying Tournament

January 5, 2017
We have an afternoon meeting at the library/park to refine the manatee and robot presentations. The students decide what they want to talk about and we (the coaches) help them by writing down main points on an index card. They are to take them home, write down what they want to say and try to memorize it for Saturday’s qualifying tournament.

January 7, 2017
The tournament is an hour away and the day is very cold and very wet. It’s a bit of a shock for our central Florida area. Thankfully, the gym is warm and the 24-team double tournament is buzzing with activity. I sent our schedule out yesterday and made a couple of copies to leave on our table. Everyone arrived on time and we were busy all day long. Our team table was close to the robot game area and the students took advantage of the location. They watched how the other team’s competed and enjoyed hanging out with one another.

This was one long day. We had to be there by 8:15 and the award ceremony finished at 4:00. Our team won the mechanical design/programming award and received an alternate bid to the regional tournament. My co-coach and I were thrilled. This is such a fabulous run for a first year team – and 7 out of 9 members can return next year! They will have a better idea of what to expect. I definitely see some areas for improvement. For example, we left more than 30-seconds on the clock for the robot game and they could do a better job at learning to share speaking roles during the presentations. But more importantly, everyone was well-supported, courteous and focused on building a good team (and good people).

January 2017
My co-coach contacted the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission in our area and our team will visit their office to learn more about manatee rescue and how to write a regulation. Although our FLL season is over, we are still helping our team to go out into the community and hopefully, make a difference.

 

Reflections on Being a First Year FLL Coach

My co-coach and I were often coaching “from behind,” as he likes to say. We were trying to guide and ask questions (and sometimes direct) so that the students owned most of the decisions. That was really hard – especially as we tried to figure out the FLL rules. It took a lot of time to give everyone an equal voice, but I think it made for a stronger team. I also returned to being an adjunct instructor this past August and was trying to balance teaching on top of coaching. I felt like I didn’t prepare as much as I could (or should) have, but the students led the way and asked questions when they needed information.

I can’t say enough about First Lego League. This tournament is amazing and the purpose is not to win, or to get better at robotics. It’s to work as a team and to become familiar with the design thinking process. The purpose is to solve the world’s problems and to help kids (and their coaches) to know they have a voice and some power. They have power to work cooperatively. They have power to talk to government officials and business owners. This is project-based learning in action – with a little bit of legos and robotics thrown in for fun.

Review – Code Monkey Island

Have you ever wanted to like something, but just couldn’t bring yourself to do so?

That’s how I feel about the game, Code Monkey Island.

picture of code monkey island

It has a lot going for it – it’s pretty, it has a catchy name and it does a beautiful job explaining how code works. The accompanying “textbook” is just fabulous and is a wonderful resource.

 

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Sadly, the game mechanics are somewhat lacking, and the game instructions are only 2-pages long. There is no description of how to move your monkeys from their start bubble and there are too many similar playing cards.

But the real deal killer?

It’s tedious to play. It’s right up there with Monopoly Jr., Chutes & Ladders and Candyland. All which were played once, and then banished from the house. It’s annoying to play a game that can go on forever, just for the sake of continuing.

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To be fair – Code Monkey Island did last for more than one playing. I had initially purchased it last summer for camp and my campers and I played it one afternoon. Unfortunately, those 8-10-year-olds found it a little too boring for their liking. Maybe that was because we had played (and enjoyed) Robot Turtles and Be the Robot.

However, before I gave up on it completely, I pulled it out last week and my own children and I sat down to play. We set up the game, skimmed the limited instructions and set off to immerse ourselves in the world of boolean logic, variables and monkeys. Sometimes we weren’t sure what to do (like how and when our monkeys could leave their start circle), so we made up some rules. All of that would have been okay, but then my kids started to play the dreaded “remove one of the monkeys from the banana stand” card. This allows a player to take another player’s monkey out of the “home” section. Thus, dragging on the game.

IMG_2606

Of course, you could always remove those cards, but I still think the overall game play is too tedious. My kids likened it to the game, Sorry! That’s a game they somewhat like, but that doesn’t get played as often as Settlers of Cataan or Ticket to Ride. Plus, they said they liked it even less than Sorry!, so it won’t be residing in the game closet.

This game might be better used as a tool to teach programming concepts. Perhaps, it could be made into a Montessori-like ‘work’ that could be placed on a shelf. Students could follow teacher-made cards (taken from the fabulous programming explanations) and create simple scenarios that students could run through. Or, maybe students could use it to write their own “monkey” programs using boolean statements…

Did I mention that it’s pretty?

IMG_2605

 

Circuit Blocks, Circuit Cards

Circuit Blocks

In anticipation of teaching next week, I have been creating more hands-on activities to go along with my lesson on circuits and batteries. Circuit blocks, circuit cards, sewn circuit components…

A picture of 3 AAA batteries, alligator clips and a small, un-lit lightbulb

This circuit is open and the light bulb is not lit.

A picture of 3 AAA batteries, alligator clips and a tiny lightbulb.

These circuit blocks are a great way to help students learn about direct current.

Last summer, I made these wooden blocks during the free, online course from The Exploratorium Museum. The course, ‘Tinkering Fundamentals‘, showcased circuits and how to use these blocks as part of a constructionist approach to learning. For me, they were somewhat frustrating to make, so the thought of making more was not that appealing. Thankfully, I recently stumbled across these paper-based circuit cards.

 

A picture of paper circuits wth copper tape and connected with binder clips to keep the electricity connected.

The copper tape conducts the electricity that flows from the battery. When the switch is pushed, the LED will light up.

A picture of homemade cardboard circuit cards to teach about direct current

I used a switch from the Lectrify set, but had to solder it to the copper tape.

Circuit Cards

I had everything on hand – copper tape, binder clips, extra battery holders and some Chibitronic LED stickers (which made the whole process a heck of a lot easier). Add in an old cereal box and I was able to quickly make these cards, all while waiting for the soldering iron to heat up.

It was really nice to make something with copper tape, especially something that works consistently. For the last few days, I have been messing around with copper tape and Lectrify components, but nothing was working. I even tried conductive paint, but that didn’t work either. I’ve come to realize that soldering the components might be the key.

Unfortunately, that’s disappointing for a teacher who isn’t allowed to have soldering irons in a classroom. And, perhaps, isn’t quite ready for her young students to have access to such tools.

WizzBangz owner Gwen Thompson turned me on to these kid-friendly circuit components.

WizzBangz owner Gwen Thompson turned me on to these kid-friendly circuit components. The parts break off the board when you are ready to use them elsewhere.

The Chibitronic stickers eliminate the need for soldering tiny SMD LEDs, but at a $1 per sticker, they aren’t exactly affordable for a multi-student classroom, whereas the Lectrify components are reusable and nicely priced at $5 per set.

But, this is just the beginning of my research with the Lectrify components. I’m excited to continue researching new ways to use them. They were designed to work with Legos and my boys are already thinking of ways to test them. Up next for me? I want to try hard-wiring the components. Or, try using them in sewn circuit blocks.

A picture of yellow alligator clips connected to a coinc ell battery and a green LED

Taking an idea from The Exploratorium, I’m making multiple iterations of circuit blocks to help my students become more familiar with circuits.

But, in the meantime, I’m going to make a few more circuit cards. I need more battery holders and my ten-year-old suggested making cards of single strips of copper tape. He thinks it might be easier to create circuits. I think he might have a point.

 

CS For All

A few days ago, President Obama announced a new initiative to promote computer science classes for all students – CS for All. The proposed funding will be $4 billion for states and $100 million directly to schools to fund this initiative. Apparently, it’s even supported by both parties! It’s a definite nod toward the importance of CS principles and certainly what many organizations, like code.org, have been advocating – and the purpose of ‘Hour of Code‘!

A picture from the book, Help Your Kids with Computer Coding.

A picture from the book, Help Your Kids with Computer Coding.

I’m excited right now to be a tech educator – especially one who focuses on programming and robotics. I’m excited to see the shift to this type of learning, especially for kids who might struggle with traditional, paper-based learning, which is usually the case with reading, writing and math. This will give those right-brain learners something to feel confident about. However, I am waiting to see how these programs will eventually play out.

CS for All

My biggest fear is that CS will become one more subject that students are required to learn – rather than integrating it across the curriculum. For elementary-age students, that doesn’t mean sitting them in front of a computer and teaching them to hard code. It means finding age-appropriate resources, such a Robot Turtles, Ozobots, and Lego WeDo kits (3rd grade and younger) and Scratch, mbots, and Lego Mindstorms (in addition to many others) for upper elementary and middle school.

It also means there needs to be a lot of room for creative free expression and in-depth tinkering. Coding is fun and empowering, but there needs to be a focus on mastery and it must have a personal purpose to it (a la Daniel Pink’s research in Drive). I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again. I don’t want the teaching of computer science to be one more thing that a student has to learn.

A mini-project on the country of Greece. Programmed completely by R, age 9.5.

A mini-project on the country of Greece. An interactive presentation, designed and programmed by R, age 9.5.

I want Scratch to be integrated into math and language classes – not separated. I want logic games and math games to be integrated into daily lessons – not just pulled out as a ‘CS’ curriculum. I want students to learn how to make presentations to reflect their learning – whether that’s while learning about Greece, the Wright Brothers or the xy-grid. I want them to have time to explore and tinker, not just to memorize a piece of code.

So, I hope the National Science Foundation will look to the creators of Scratch and to Seymour Papert and base their grant funding on that type of CS teaching – creative expression and tinkering – which will lead to more students choosing computer-science-based careers.

 

 

What’s inside a laptop?

This is the fourth 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 the game Robot Turtles, extensions for Robot Turtles and the game of ‘Be the Robot.’
A collection of final projects from some of my summer campers.

A collection of final projects from some of my summer campers.

Inside a Laptop – Make a Paper Laptop

This multi-day project was one of the kids’ favorite activities. I think it impressed the adults too. Everyone seemed to like this activity – both the process and the final product. There was structure, there was learning and there was enough creativity that the kids could ‘make it their own.’
I did this activity with kindergartners, and up through fourth grade. They all loved it, although I think it was too much for the younger kids (K and 1st).

The purpose of this project was to reinforce the idea that computers are made up of parts. We, as people, construct them and we need to tell them what to do (at least at this stage in the game). I don’t want the kids to think that it is just a magic box that works. I want them to understand that there are lots of connected pieces that work together to make a working computer.

With a little bit of guidance, students can craft knowledge about the inside of a computer.

This was a great lesson on drawing attention to where the letters are laid out on the keyboard. The students copied a real keyboard and wrote the letters onto their paper computers.

This activity came about because I needed a computer science project for a church camp, but they had no computers. There were minimal materials available, but I am a hands-on educator. I needed to find a way to engage the students without droning on and on. I don’t lecture (at least not for more than 5 minutes) and almost never for classes that include young children.

After some desperate web searching, I came across a few ‘computer parts’ worksheets and thankfully, this blog post by Creatiful Kids. Since I am a Montessori-educator – and I was trying to discourage the “magic” feel of a computer –  I created my own, realistic-looking materials so that my students could build their own laptop.

I drew my own parts (that looked somewhat realistic) and labeled them. Then made copies for the kids to color (if they wanted to).

I drew my own parts (that looked somewhat realistic) and labeled them. Then made copies for the kids to color (if they wanted to).

Then, I needed a computer to take apart. Thank goodness I had one laying around. It managed to stick around despite during my minimalist-inspired purge of 2014 (as it’s called in our house). Somehow, I didn’t manage to get rid of the old macbook. That laptop was still hanging out in my husband’s office, so I immediately grabbed it, found a YouYube video on how to take it apart and started unscrewing. I attracted the attention of my youngest son and we worked together.

C and I watched a YouTube video on how to take apart my old macbook.

C and I watched a YouTube video on how to take apart my old macbook.

Since it was a very old laptop (from 2005), some of the screws were stripped and just did not come undone. There was some cutting and pulling, but finally we took the top off and figured out where the main parts were.

You can see how old this laptop is...by all of the dust in the components. Yuck!

You can see how old this laptop is…by all of the dust in the components. Yuck!

Now I had a real-life visual to show the kids and they could replicate the “real” laptop by making one out of paper. I asked them not to touch any of these parts because I wasn’t sure what sort of chemicals were coating them after so many years of use. I also removed the battery and placed it in a plastic bag and showed it to them, but didn’t pass it around.

The keyboard is removable and it's fun to watch the kids' expressions when I take it off.

The keyboard is removable and it’s fun to watch the kids’ expressions when I take it off.

Did I expect them to remember the names of the parts? No. Did I expect them to remember them at the end of the project? No. But, my older students did. I was quite impressed.

Use old cereal boxes (or a cardboard box) and fold it in the middle to act as the outside of the laptop. Leave the inside part black since we will refer back to the "inside" of the computer.

Use old cereal boxes (or a cardboard box) and fold it in the middle to act as the outside of the laptop. Leave the inside part blank since we will refer back to the “inside” of the computer.

Be sure and only glue on the screen - that way students can lift up their keyboard and see the inside.

Be sure and only glue on the screen – that way students can lift up their keyboard and see the inside.

Will they remember the names of those parts next summer? No.

I’m not there to reinforce the concepts, but they should remember that a laptop computer is made up of various parts and that they are housed inside the computer. That’s one step closer to taking the magic out of a computer.

I have put both hand-drawn sheets and a lengthy list of instructions on the web site, Teachers Pay Teachers, under the title, “Make a Paper Laptop.”

 

Be the Robot

This is the third 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 the game, Robot Turtles and extensions for Robot Turtles.
A made-up game that acts kids to be both programmers and robots.

A made-up game that allows kids to be both programmers and robots.

As I prepared for my camps this past summer, I knew I wanted to have some other activities that could teach computer science concepts – without a computer.

Why?

This past summer, my camps ran from 9:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. and although we had some outside time, it wasn’t as much as I would have liked. Last June, the afternoon temperature here was 100 degrees. But, I didn’t want them sitting in front of a computer for more than a couple of hours at a time. it’s not good for kids (or adults), even if it is a camp for computer programming. There is a lot of value in having other activities which make you think.

So, inspired by this post from Dr. Techniko, I came up with my own game, Be the Robot.

The initial commands. (As they get more advanced and stay interested, I introduce repeat loops.

The initial commands. As they get more advanced and stay interested, I introduce repeat loops.

To demonstrate how to play, I would ask one of the older students to “be the robot.” I was the programmer and gave them a few commands from the handout.  After we worked out how to “read” the commands, I would pair the kids off and they would take turns writing a program for their robot. Each student had a chance to be the programmer and the robot.

The entire time they were working, I volunteered to “be the robot” and run their code. I would execute it based on their written down code and they were often surprised when I didn’t pick up the pencil or go around an obstacle. You could see their brains making the connections of specific instructions.

I first tested the game with my younger campers (ages 7 – 10) and found that my directions were not specific enough. I had also tried to introduce it to them before playing Robot Turtles and it was harder for them to understand. Thereafter, I made sure that each group of younger students (under age 9) had played Robot Turtles before attempting this lesson.

For the older students (5th-9th grade), I ended up giving them a “challenge” for their robot.  Rather than just play around with the commands,  they seemed to need more of a purpose. I asked them to write a program for their robot where the robot would start on one side of the room, pick up a pencil, return to the other side of the room and place it on the floor. Honestly, I can’t say the group of 9th graders loved this aspect of the game, but they did understand the concept afterward.

I think this game still needs a bit more tweaking – maybe a bit more demonstration in the beginning? Perhaps it should be preceded by a coding treasure hunt, as mentioned by Dr. Jackie Gerstein?

Regardless, it’s one more tool to place in your programming toolbox. You can download my hand-drawn sheets here  (PDF File of Be the Robot).  Obviously, please use these with your summer camp or classroom – mass-produced commercial use is prohibited. Hopefully, you and your students will find it useful. And, if you get a chance, post a comment so we can all learn from each other and craft a better lesson.

Example of how commands would be written for the game, Be the Robot.

Example of how commands would be written for the game, Be the Robot.

 

 

 

Extensions for Robot Turtles

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.
After my older students have played through most of the rounds of Robot Turtles, we make our own game of Robot Turtles.

After my older students have played through most of the rounds of Robot Turtles, we make our own game.

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.

A half-finished, multi-day game that involves elephants and lava.

An in-progress photo of a game that involved elephants and lava – made by Rebecca, age 10.

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.

In the final version, I drew a large square on the paper to help the kids get started. Next time, I will have yardsticks on hand.

In the final version, I drew a large square on the paper to help the kids get started. Next time, I will have yardsticks on hand.

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.

Hand-drawn set of command cards to mimic those found in Robot Turtles and other "instruction" games. I make a copy for each student. They have extra spaces to make their own commands.

Hand-drawn set of command cards to mimic those found in Robot Turtles and other “instruction” games. I make a copy for each student. They have extra spaces to make their own commands.

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.

Harry Potter game, made by Wes, age 10. Wes had just finished reading the Harry Potter series and he made a cool game with wands, muggle obstacles and a cast of Harry Potter characters.

Harry Potter game, made by Wes, age 9. Wes had just finished reading the Harry Potter series and he made a cool game with wands, muggle obstacles and a cast of Harry Potter characters.

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.

Wes made muggle obstacles - similar to the ice blocks and wood towers from Robot Turtles.

Wes made muggle obstacles – similar to the ice blocks and wood towers from Robot Turtles.

 

 

Hour of Code

Monday, I volunteered at our local library to help students work their way through an hour of code. Hour of Code is a worldwide movement to introduce coding to students. The organization also hopes to get computer programming into every school curriculum.

Trying out the hour of code. A is testing our new student computer for Artisan.

Trying out the hour of code. A is testing our new student computer for Artisan.

I love the logical thinking that comes with programming. I love the idea that we can create something out of “nothing.” And, I like the idea that students will learn to create rather than consume – if they know code.

But…rather than piling one more thing onto our already stressed out kids, I’d like to see it incorporated into the entire curriculum. Personally, I think it could be a great way to showcase self-directed projects, but since project-based learning isn’t ubiquitous, what about replacing part of the math curriculum with a computer science curriculum? Do kids really need to know mean, median and mode in 3rd grade? What if we spent four weeks teaching them how to use Scratch?

For example, when my oldest son was eight, he began working with the programming language, Scratch. He was introduced to the xy-grid. We had to talk about angles and degrees when recreating the game Pong. He has never been formally taught about coordinate planes, but he understands them because he’s written programs using coordinates.

Many of the upper-level programming languages require complex math equations. What a fabulous way to include real-world applications for math. In fact, this man thinks math could be taught through computer programming.

Of course, once kids know Scratch, they could then use it to replace some of their written work – book reports could be written in code. What about projects in geography class? Why have everyone stand up in front of the class with PowerPoint when they could make an interactive game or map that tells about their country?

Think of the possibilities! What a fabulous chance to help our students become creators, not just consumers.