Tag Archives: STEM

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.

 

 

Review :: The Game of Robot Turtles

This is the first 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.

Robot_Turtle_GameSince I am a trained Montessori teacher, I try to incorporate a Montessori approach for all of my lessons. The Montessori Method focuses on hands-on learning – starting with concrete concepts and then moving on to more abstract concepts. Each child has a chance to work with the materials individually to gain mastery. Repetition is a desired goal. Group work is encouraged, but only with certain materials and only once the key concept is gained. Watching another child do the work is considered learning and is often encouraged.

Educational organizations do not always have the resources to provide hands-on materials for each child.  So, how do I apply this way of learning – concrete to the abstract – without expensive tools and materials? How have I taught computer programming without a computer on which to program?

Thankfully, there are a lot of inventive people out there working on this problem.  The game of Robot Turtles is one of the solutions.

Round one of Robot Turtles - everyone starts at this very easy level - even if you are 9-years-old!

Round one of Robot Turtles – everyone starts at this very easy level – even if you are 9-years-old!

A few years ago, I was introduced to Robot Turtles and my first impression was not that great.
I felt like it left out a lot of information and didn’t make the transition to the type of programming I was teaching. But, then again, I probably should have actually played the game instead of just glancing over while my kids played it. At that time, I was only using WeDo Robotics and the programming language, Scratch. I thought it was too simple for my students.

Then, I realized that some of my WeDo campers weren’t always able to transfer some of that learning to the Scratch programming environment. So, I began to wonder if Robot Turtles might address that problem. I was also looking for something that would allow my campers to work individually with the WeDo software, but still allow the other campers to learn about programming. Buying more Lego® sets and adding more computers wasn’t really an option. Also, I taught a few classes for a non-profit summer camp and we only had two computers to use for an entire class of 15 kids. I needed something else to teach these core concepts.

Last summer, I had a group of four students (ages 7 – 10) play the game and I acted as the robot computer. I read the rules out loud and they all laughed because it required the “computer” to make computer noises. They snickered as I tried to make goofy sounds. I loved reading the rules out loud because it diffuses the tension with the kids.  Immediately, they realize they aren’t going to move their own turtles – at least not in the beginning. And since the rules said it, there’s less chance of a power struggle.

There are multiple levels to the game and even my older students have to start at the beginning. They will often grasp the concepts quicker than the younger ones, but it puts them all on a level playing field.

Since I work with older students, I introduce the ice towers and the laser cards at the same time.

Since I work with older students, I introduce the ice towers and the laser cards at the same time.

The first three rounds typically take 20-30 minutes and the more comfortable they get with the game and the concepts, the more I let them take the lead. After running through the board with ice blocks, lasers and solid walls, I ask them to set up the board however they like and then “write” their own program to retrieve their jewel. I act as the computer and use their turtle to “run” the program – with the students calling out the commands. I was surprised at how many made an error or two in this stage, but it’s quickly remedied by slapping the “bug” card and fixing their program.

Set up your own path and "write" your own program.

Set up your own path and “write” your own program.

At this point, the game loses the interest of most of the kids, though, you still have a few who want to try different set-ups. All told, they’ve understood some basic concepts and it’s easy to bring it back again to reinforce the concept that a computer doesn’t know what you are thinking – you have to be specific when you tell it what to do. A programmer also needs to be aware of limitations (rocks, ice walls) and be aware of bugs in their programming.

This is a fun game that works really well for ages 6 – 11. It’s actually designed for 4-year-olds, but since I don’t have any of them in my camp, I’ve never tried it with kids that young. With my students, they don’t always go back to it, but they’ve gained a new way of internalizing programming concepts.

To find out new ways of using Robot Turtles– using pencil, paper, markers and colored pencils – check out my post on Extensions for Robot Turtles.

Robot Turtles - command cards.

Robot Turtles – command cards.

 

Project-Based Learning :: Presentation on Bridges

We are a small group of five families who are helping our children to direct their own learning (at least some of it) through a project-based approach. We set the topic – physics – but they are leading the way and mapping their own projects. Check out the previous posts – Lessons Learned and Bridges.

C's hand drawn pictures of the four types of bridges that he made: beam, arch, cable-stayed and suspension.

C’s hand drawn pictures of the four types of bridges that he made: beam, arch, cable-stayed and suspension.

My little guy surprised me last week with this little declaration: “I think I’m ready to present my project tomorrow.

I was in the middle of making dinner and we were cleaning up from the day’s activities, so I was a wee bit taken back. Um, sure, if you feel that the night before co-op is a good time to make these decisions, then what can I do to help you get ready?

He gathered all of his materials and decided that he needed a way to display his pictures, so we matted them with construction paper – after dinner. Then, he went and found display materials and all of his wooden popsicle models. Everything seemed set and ready to go. Off to bed we went.

Apparently, he had an epiphany sometime during the night – he needed to have a written speech. My six-year-old is slowly reading, but we’re still on beginner books. While he doesn’t mind writing (unlike his older brother at age six), it’s not something he chooses to do often. So, of course I encouraged it as much as I could. And, with only an hour before we had to leave – it kept the expectations to a minimum.

C presenting his bridge materials.

C presenting his bridge materials.

Regardless, he got as much done as he wanted to and with minimal frustrations. He was so excited to present to his friends that we let him go before our first class. Thankfully, his friends (many of whom are older) were quite supportive of all of his hard work and impressed with his K’nex suspension bridge.

IMG_1485So…did I think his interest in bridges was complete? Yes.

Would I like to have seen a deeper understanding of the topic? Yes…but, if he was happy with his project, then it’s complete.  At least, that’s what I thought until this morning – at which point he realized he still had some other bridges to build.

K'nex double-bascule bridge

K’nex double-bascule bridge – one of our favorite bridges is the London Tower Bridge. Their web site has a tour!

The project continues…but in a more relaxed way. I can’t wait to see how it develops.

 

PBL :: Bridges

We are a small group of five families who are helping our children to direct their own learning (at least some of it) through a project-based approach. We set the topic – physics – but they are leading the way and mapping their own projects. Check out the previous posts – Week 1, Week 2, Week 3, Week 4 Week 5, Week 6 and Lessons Learned.

My six-year-old's first time with a hot glue gun.

My six-year-old’s first time with a hot glue gun. He loves this method of tinkering.

Our project-based “class” continues to meet each week and the kids have finished up their initial projects, so they are in need of a new one. The class has evolved from a ‘group project class’ to one that allows the students to follow their own interests.  It was left to each parent to decide whether or not their children needed to stick with the original topic of physics. My own kids went in opposite directions, but my youngest chose to study bridges. I thought it was quite sporting of him to choose a topic that still relates to physics!

In fact, this is a topic that has resurfaced in the last four or five months, so I knew it was something that truly interested him. Often, my children will mention something and in the past, I would jump on the topic – only to find that it was a shallow learning request. The interest wasn’t there for an in-depth study. I’ve since learned to be patient and see if the topic is brought up again – in a different situation – to determine if my children are truly interested.

C, age 6, begins his self-directed project on bridges. His only "requirement" is that he teaches what he has learned to the other kids at co-op.

C, age 6, begins his self-directed project on bridges. His only “requirement” is that he teaches what he has learned to the other kids at co-op.

Thankfully, we had a friend who did an in-depth study of bridges last year, so I had some ideas of how to help my six-year-old. Perhaps because of my Montessori training – or the fact that I am a kinesthetic learner – I always try to find a concrete, hands-on way to introduce a topic. And, since this is supposed to be a self-directed project, I showed him this K’nex set and asked if he would like to begin his bridge study with that. I received a resounding “yes!”

One of the projects we found suggests learning about the strength of an arch.

One of the projects we found suggested learning about the strength of an arch. We used his brothers library books to weight the sides of the paper.

In addition to the borrowed K’nex set, we also went to the library where he found all sorts of books on bridges to check out. Unfortunately, many of them were meant for parents, but we did find a story or two.

Pop's Bridge - be Eve Bunting - is a multicultural story about the building of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Pop’s Bridge – by Eve Bunting – is a multicultural story about building the Golden Gate Bridge.

After doing some reading and playing with the K’nex set, he built a cable-stayed bridge. Would I have chosen to build one of the more advanced bridges first?  No!

I think that project-based learning provides many opportunities to observe your children – as their own people. It’s quite humbling to realize that neither one of my children wants to build the items in the order they are suggested. Instead, they decide which one looks the most interesting and they build that. At least I think that’s how their brains work.

Thankfully, he was able to build it entirely on his own and then decided that he needed to draw it and create another one – out of popsicle sticks.

C chose the first bridge he wanted to build - a cable-stayed bridge.

C chose the first bridge he wanted to build – a cable-stayed bridge.

He decided he needed to draw a picture to be able to make his popsicle bridge. Hot glue is amazing.

He decided he needed to draw a picture to be able to make his popsicle bridge. Hot glue is amazing.

He then chose to repeat this formula with the beam bridge and the suspension bridge. All of the work was done on his own. He asked for help with the initial pillars , so I held those in place while he glued them down.

In the background - a cable-stayed bridge. Foreground- a suspension bridge and on the far right - a beam bridge.

In the background – a cable-stayed bridge. Foreground- a suspension bridge and on the far right – a beam bridge.

At this point, he is a bit stuck. He wants to bring the K’nex suspension bridge as part of his presentation, but he still wants to build an arch bridge and a double-bascule bridge. Unfortunately, he doesn’t want to take the suspension bridge apart and rebuild it. So, I think it might be time for me to step in and suggest some of the projects from this book. We’ll see how it goes.

To read the next post on self-directed learning, continue to the presentation on bridges.

The Brick Chronicles :: Lego EV3 and WeDo Robots

The Brick Chronicles feature unique creations made with Lego® bricks. Hopefully you, and the children in your life, will find them as inspiring as I do!

The first EV3 robot build - from instructions. Made by R, age 9.

The first EV3 robot build – from instructions. Made by R, age 9.

This past week I finally had a chance to sit down and actually work with our new EV3 robots. After cracking open the educational version of the EV3 software, I could see how this could be overwhelming to a typical ten-year-old (and their parents). Since I teach kids how to use the Lego@ WeDo software and Scratch, the programming was less intimating, but there was a general question of “where do I start?” Once my eldest son and I started tinkering with the programming, we encountered some very different and much more advanced features. We’ve only played with it for a couple of hours and there are still some basic things we need to work out. For example, how do you make the blasted thing do a consistent 90-degree turn?

I’ve since learned that for each robot that you make, the turning “number” will be different. This makes sense and shows the depth of the software and robotic features of the Mindstorms. Yet, that can be pretty overwhelming to a new robotic user.

The first thing I did was to print out the “user guide.” Yes, I printed it out! I like the idea of referring to something physical (and making notes) while I work with the software. It will also be available to the students to use (if they so choose).  While many of my students would rather try, try and try again, I do have the occasional student who finds reference materials helpful. In addition, I’ve digitally “checked out” this book from my local library and it’s proving to be more helpful than the “guide” in the software.

While my oldest son and I delve into Mindstorms, my youngest is ready to progress beyond just tinkering with the WeDo set and is focusing more on the different aspects of programming. A couple more months of working and he’ll be ready to tackle some of the fun challenges at Dr. E’s.

In fact, this child is less of a builder and more interested in telling the computer what to do. Just like his mother!

In fact, this child is less of a builder and is more interested in telling the computer what to do. Just like his mother!

 

 

Lessons Learned

We are a small group of five families who are helping our children to direct their own learning (at least some of it) through a project-based approach. We set the topic – physics – but they are leading the way and mapping their own projects. Check out the previous posts – Week 1, Week 2, Week 3, Week 4 Week 5 and Week 6.

R is hard at work on his ever-expanding city map for an Ozobot robot.

R is hard at work on his next project — an ever-expanding city map for an Ozobot robot.

We finished all of the project presentations last week and so this past meeting we had kids wondering what to do next. To be perfectly honest, I thought they would just be done with this class for the Fall, but one our parents had a great suggestion. She told her kids that they needed to pick a new idea to research – and to create a new project and presentation. They were all for it. And, yes, in retrospect, that does seem like a pretty obvious next step.

The students are now familiar with the relaxed format of the class and many of the them began new projects this past week. I think I’ll be continuing the project documentation, but I have to limit it to my own children’s projects. There are just too many to keep track of otherwise.

In the interest of learning from our mistakes, miscues and general experiences, I compiled this “lessons learned” post about our first-ever once-a-week, homeschool co-op, project-based learning class.

1. Self-directed project-based learning is good. But, facilitators are important too.
Each child (or group of children) completed a project and were happy with their final results. The design, research and presentation skills that they practiced were well worth any perceived shortcomings. Since there were so many different projects, I don’t think the students reached the depth that is typical of many self-directed projects. In the experiences with my own children, I will often do some side research to find hands-on materials that might help them deepen their understanding. Until we tried self-directed project-learning as a class, I didn’t realize how much “behind the scenes” work I do to help move my children into deeper learning. Quite often, it is still their choice to choose which materials to use, but it helps to have an adult finding those hard-to-reach materials and activities…and leaving them out to be discovered by the kids. This didn’t happen for every group at our co-op. So, to fix that problem, I might suggest…

2. When working with a group, choose ONE topic or project.
This can still be chosen by the students, but I think it would make for a better understood topic. For instance, the kids could have chosen to focus on gravity and then figured out a way to create a project or presentation as a group. I think the learning would be deeper as they discuss ideas with one another and create a unified project. As the designated facilitator for this course, I had too many different projects to keep track of, to document and/or to help gently push along.

3. Space and supply access really do matter.
While we are quite happy with our borrowed space (it’s free, after all), we definitely lacked materials and the right supplies. Many of our projects were wood-working and that doesn’t exactly lend itself to portability. It was much easier to help my own kids at home when I knew where to find the hammer, safety glasses and wood glue. Being in a well-designed space was also much better for the last minute changes that often occur with a self-directed project.

4. Tinkering is great, but…
For the catapult projects, the tinkering that the boys did was great, but it seemed to limit the depth of their projects. Only at the end did they haphazardly throw together some written research and while I know that they learned a lot – I don’t think it was as much as they could have (but maybe that’s the parent in me talking). With their new projects, I have been encouraging my kids to do some reading and research before working on their “final” project. Sketches and designs are okay, but no full-scale models until we’ve done the research.

5. Different ages have different expectations.
This isn’t really something that we learned, but rather I think it’s important to point out. The group of two young boys (ages 5 and 6) had a completed catapult, but no “official” presentation materials, whereas the group of three nine-year-olds had a wooden catapult and a tiny presentation. They also did a lot of their own research and it shows. It wasn’t nearly as thorough as the 11-year-old’s presentation on gravity. Help your students…not too much…but more if they are younger.

6. Group learning is part of the project.
Sometimes I was part mediator, part teacher, part parent for a couple of the groups. With a clash of different personalities, learning to work together is just as important as learning about  the topic. But, they need help. It’s important that the louder, more organized group member doesn’t railroad the quieter or less-prepared group members. Each member is equal and it’s important for everyone to figure out how to work that out.  That doesn’t mean assigning jobs, but it might mean that there is more mediation, discussion and written goals to be sure that everyone is happy with the direction of the group. I can’t say that I did this perfectly, but I recognize that this is an area where I can improve.

Overall, the project-based class was a big success and the kids have already chosen their next projects. Some will choose science topics, whereas one of my children is studying cities and the other has decided to explore bridges. But, more on that next week…

Kid's drawing of a cable-stayed bridge

C’s next project is learning all about bridges…using popsicle sticks and a glue gun. Fun!

To read about the next self-directed project, continue to the post about bridges.

 

Physics – Catapults – Week 6

We are a small group of five families who are helping our children to direct their own learning (at least some of it) through a project-based approach. We set the topic – physics – but they are leading the way and mapping their own projects. Check out the previous posts – Week 1, Week 2, Week 3, Week 4 and Week 5.

Made by C and G - ages 6 and 5. Just from looking at the cover of this book.

Made by C and G – ages 6 and 5 – just from looking at the cover of this book.

This past week, three of our groups displayed their ‘completed’ projects. Considering that this was the first self-directed project for many of our students, I think they did a pretty fabulous job of following through with their ideas. As a parent-facilitator, I feel the need to say that toward the end, my own kids were ready to be done with their projects. It’s not that they didn’t enjoy the process of sawing and hammering, rather I think they had learned what they needed and didn’t feel the need to do more research (especially since the building was all done)!  Afterward, they did feel quite satisfied to complete the projects, even if there were a few extra nudges from Mom.

The Gravity Girls, (ages eleven and barely eight)
These two had a completed poster last week, but needed a few more tweaks with a couple of experiments before they felt ready to present. The youngest member also took the week to really know the material that she was reading from the poster – a very mature choice on her part! She wasn’t forced to learn any of the material, she chose to do it so that she wouldn’t let her partner down. I was quite inspired by her enthusiasm.

J and M (ages 8 and 11) present their findings on gravity.

J and M (ages 8 and 11) present their findings on gravity.

They began by reading off of their poster, which told a lot about how gravity works and about the scientist, Isaac Newton, who formed the first theory on gravity.

The girls hoped to drop two balls (one heavy, one light) to show that they dropped at the same rate. Surprisingly, they had a hard time! But, they talked about their discovering anyway.

The girls hoped to drop two balls (one heavy, one light) to show that they dropped at the same rate. Surprisingly, they had a hard time! But, they talked about their discoveries anyway.

Catapult Building – group of three 9-year-old boys
At the last meeting, the boys had decided to finish up their catapult (a joint effort, I assure you). I also ‘helped’ them to be ready to present their project the following week.*

The boys talked about what they wanted to put on their poster and RG sketched out how the poster might look. I stepped in a little bit to make sure that all of the voices in the group were heard and appreciated, and then the boys divvied up their respectful research assignments for the week. Since they didn’t have a chance to get together during the week, they added their research and pictures to the poster before presenting them to the class.

Creating something to display for their project-based homeschooling project.

Creating something to display for their project-based homeschooling project.

They included research on the history of catapults, the type of lever that a catapult is considered (third class), and the process of choosing and making the final wood design.

A and RC present their research to the class while their handmade wooden catapult waits patiently to be tested by everyone else!

A and RC present their research to the class while their handmade wooden catapult waits patiently to be tested by everyone else!

*In true ‘project-based homeschooling’ I think there are not meant to be time limits. However, I have noticed that kids will often drift from a topic when they’ve gotten the information that they needed – or sometimes when the work becomes tedious. At this point in my parenting (and teaching), I think it’s important for nine-year-olds to understand that follow-through is valuable. If you say you are going to do a project on catapults, then you need finish it up and stop dawdling! I reminded the boys to keep working a bit more this week than in previous weeks, but otherwise they did everything else themselves.

Catapult Building – group of two boys (ages 5 and 6)
After a little bit of encouragement, these two shy and quiet boys happily presented their catapult to the class. Much of this presentation looked liked some classic male one upmanship, but I think that was how these boys worked. They were excited to tell what parts they added and created, and I was quick to point out how they worked together. Either way, everyone had a chance to try out all of the catapults and everyone seemed to have garnered at least some new information.

Everyone had a chance to see how the modifications made the catapult work.

Everyone had a chance to see how the modifications made the catapult work.

In the end, there was a bit of a castle siege with some available castle blocks and the catapults were put to good use. Unfortunately, the castle fell – not from the catapults – but rather from the large number of children playing inside the temporary castle.

I wasn't quite quick enough to catch the original castle...just the remains.

I wasn’t quite quick enough to catch the original castle…just the remains.

A second attempt at a castle siege - this time with the catapult shooting poms poms to the outside.

A second attempt at a castle siege – this time with the catapult shooting poms-poms to the outside.

Read more about our ‘lessons learned’ from doing a project-based learning class through co-op.

 

Ozobot :: Lesson Extensions :: Maps

This past summer, I introduced these Ozobots to my young campers (ages 7 – 10). They were excited at the idea that this little robot would follow a hand-drawn line. There’s something about combining “high tech” and “low tech” that they find baffling – and that instantly draws them in. They know markers. They’ve been working with them for years, so the barrier to entry is very low. It’s the perfect way to introduce them to these tiny bots and to enforce (or introduce) the idea of computer languages.

A student is testing out the programming codes for an Ozobot.

A student is testing out the programming codes for an Ozobot.

While I think computer programming is a great skill to have (or at least be aware) for this next generation of children, I place a greater value on being creative and persistent. These little bots can encompass both of these skills. As I’ve said before, the paper and marker language is not always consistent and thus, children (and adults) need to have some grit to be able to solve their problems. Sometimes the bots need to be re-calibrated, sometimes the marker line is too thin, etc.

So, how to help them move forward after the initial play period has worn off? Maps.

Making a map of places for an Ozobot to visit.

Making a map of places for an Ozobot to visit.

Once they understand how the Ozobots work and how they read their color-coded computer language, I asked my students to create a map of places for their little bot to visit. The instructions were open-ended, but I ended up asking lots of questions about their favorite places to visit. The task seemed a bit overwhelming at first, but after asking them to draw one place that they would love to visit, they took off.

There was a lot of giggling and hastily-drawn buildings as the Ozobot would randomly choose paths to take. Some of the students had deliberately added lots of fast food restaurants to their map and they were delighted when the Ozobot would “eat out” way too much. It prompted an additional doctor’s office and hospital on the hand-drawn maps. What a fun way to teach the concept of moderation.

Each student’s map was different and they varied based on age, ability and interest level. For some of the younger, “less-art” kids, I sat with them and helped them to stay on task – asking questions and wondering where their Ozobot might want to go next. Did they like to visit the beach? Would they like to find work as a tractor on the farm? Maybe they wanted to visit a friend’s house?

In addition to helping them develop their creative muscles, this activity also helped students to see various paths to creating. Would they choose to create the Ozobot’s path first…with various color codes? Or, would they want to create places to visit first…and then add a path later? The decision-making was sometimes intense and there were lots of opportunities to think about how to plan out (or not) their Ozo-village. None of the children I worked with suggested using a pencil first, but this might be a great concept to introduce to an older crowd. Either way, they had fun, they learned something and hopefully, they feel confident knowing how a line-following robot works.

Hand-drawn maps hit all sorts of skills - planning, handwriting, spelling.

Hand-drawn maps hit all sorts of skills – planning, handwriting, spelling.

 

 

Book Review :: Tinkering – Kids Learn by Making Stuff

In an effort to utilize my librarian background, I am embarking on a series of book reviews, to be published every Friday. These reviews will cover science education books for and about children, as well as reality-based children’s books for a Montessori lifestyle.

Tinkering by Curt Gabrielson“It is sad to think that perhaps it is not the norm but rather something rare and special to see joyful kids learning.” -Curt Gabrielson

I am fresh off of the completion of my Coursera course on tinkering and feeling rather fired about this topic. Recently, a friend gave me Curt Gabrielson’s book, Tinkering: Kids Learn by Making Stuff. It’s part of the Make Magazine series of books and I happily dived in to see what he had to say.

As with many of the books on tinkering that I have come across, there’s a lot of anecdotal evidence that making, tinkering and building provides educational value. I don’t doubt it and I think observation is an important scientific tool. But, if you are looking for research studies that equate tinkering with learning, check out a different book. This book is FULL of projects. Stuff you can build and then lay out the supplies for the kids to build too. Pages after pages of projects that Gabrielson and others have done with the Community Science Workshop network (out in California).

Picture from Tinkering by Curt GabrielsonYou won’t find any step by step instructions here, but there are a lot of pictures and some great advice about what you, as a facilitator, will need to help kids begin tinkering. They even offer some really great ideas on how to store and organize all of those things that crop up for a productive afternoon of tinkering. Although the pictures are grainy and only in black and white, the ideas are enough to get you started. With chapters on sound, magnetism, mechanics, electric circuits, chemistry, biology, and engineering (with a special emphasis on motors), the children in your life will be bugging you to try out some of these projects.

Parents – hand the book to your kids and let them choose a project each month or do some focused project-based tinkering. This is problem-solving at it’s core and they aren’t getting a lot of that in school.  Although, the environmental-minimalist in me is cringing at the thought of what to do with those finished projects, I know they are important. So we do them anyway. And, take many of them apart when we are finished.

boys tinkering in the workshop