The goal at Governor Morehead School in Raleigh, North Carolina is to have all students “strive for the highest levels of educational excellence and integrity in all of life’s endeavors.” As a residential school for students who are blind or have limited vision, this goal presents unique challenges to their staff. That’s why Caitlin Powell, a Residential Life Trainer at Governor Morehead School (GMS), and Janet Perez, the Instructional Technology Specialist, were so excited to find a STEAM resource like Cubelets. “Cubelets allow our students to explore, experiment, and engage in hands-on creative problem-solving, right out of the box,” Ms. Perez says. “I haven’t even had to add tactile indicators because most of the blocks can be identified by touch.” Cubelets are utilized at GMS in a variety of ways, most notably in the library. The robot blocks serve as vehicles for students to think outside the box and explore their creativity. Students use their tactile and sensory skills to create robots that spin, roll, and produce light. They also control the movements of their robots using Bluetooth technology. “Each week, we introduce a new Cubelet robot that does something different,” says Ms. Powell, “For example, we may introduce a noise projecting Cubelet. We teach our students how to explore and connect the Cubelet to utilize its proper function.” Continue reading
In modern classrooms, we are seeing an increasing need to help students make the connections between content areas. After all, the skills we learn in math help students to not only perform adult, math-based tasks like budgeting, but also prepare them to think critically and analyze information in an internet-driven world. Likewise, as we begin to introduce computer science and robotics into the general education classroom, teachers everywhere are looking for ways to mindfully design interdisciplinary learning opportunities. For instance, how do coding and computational thinking fit within a literacy-focused classroom? On one hand, the act of writing code into a computer helps students edit and revise their writing, paying extra attention to detail. Within computer code, one wrong letter or punctuation mark will invalidate a whole program, so many students feel motivated to scour their code until they find and correct the mistake. There are a surprising number of previously unengaged writing students who find their niche in computer programming, where they can practice many of the same fundamental skills that are normally taught through more traditional tasks. Another essential component of literacy and comprehension is understanding text structures. This crucial literacy skill helps students analyze the author’s purpose when writing a piece, and helps them accurately interpret any relevant biases or comedic effect. The most commonly compared text structures are:
- Cause and Effect
- Problem and Solution
The Cubelets App has two main functions: Remote Control and Personality Swap. We’ve already introduced you to the Personality Swaps, but have you begun to use Remote Control in your classroom? There’s a hidden feature I want to highlight for you because it’s not the first application people think of when they see a title like Remote Control: gathering data about our robot constructions. (Before you continue, it’s a good idea to make sure you understand how data travels through Cubelets by either reading this blog post or taking the Cubelets 102 (free) online workshop.) As you already know, you can easily gather information about how data is traveling through a Cubelets robot construction using the Bar Graph Cubelet. The Bar Graph is also a screen-free way to gather data about your Cubelets constructions. It simplifies the numbers into a 1-10 scale, as opposed to numbers between 1-255, so it makes data flow conversations available for students who are still emergent mathematicians. However, there is one thing Remote Control can do that Bar Graph Cubelets cannot: collect information about every Cubelet in a robot construction at the same time. By screenshotting the data in Remote Control, students can very quickly gather static data to analyze later. As students build more complex creations, especially by adding multiple SENSE Cubelets, it’s more important that they check their assumptions about how the data is flowing through their robot constructions. In general, the five main states of a two-SENSE robot are:
- two sensors at 255,
- two sensors at 0,
- two sensors at ~127 (about halfway),
- one sensor at 255 while the other sensor is at 0,
- and vice versa.
By now, you’ve probably heard all about Computational Thinking. You’ve already defined it and shown how it relates to your content. But of course, Computational Thinking applies to many subjects and tools, including Cubelets. Here at Modular Robotics, we define computational thinking as being a problem-solving process that helps break down complex problems into smaller parts, so you can develop a model to solve the problem, evaluate the results, and recreate the solution over and over! (If you’d like to learn more about our definition, check out our page devoted entirely to Computational Thinking.) Computational Thinking is commonly divided into four subskills:
- Pattern Recognition
- Algorithmic Solutions
Jamie Roth uses Cubelets not as an add-on to her curriculum, but as an enhancement to her current lessons. “Teachers are frequently asked to add more into our already packed curriculum,” she says, “and time is always a factor. So, it’s extremely helpful when you find an authentic, engaging, hands-on tool to enhance curriculum and to spark that excitement in our students.” Ms. Roth teaches second grade at Fireside Elementary in Louisville, Colorado. She has been using Cubelets with her students for two years. When she introduces Cubelets to her students, she utilizes the free lesson plans for grades 1-3 and has had great success with them. She has found the best way to start is to begin with the “Robots and Sensing” lesson. After that, she guides her students through the other three lessons, which give them a deeper understanding of Cubelets and robotic behavior. “Because of Cubelets, my students communicate and collaborate well with their teammates,” she says. “They are excellent listeners and love sharing their ideas!” Continue reading
Barbara Grindle knows the endless possibilities that Cubelets robot blocks offer to students of all ages. A third-grade teacher at Marshdale Elementary in Evergreen, Colorado, Ms. Grindle serves as her school’s Gifted and Talented Building Liaison, as well as the STEAM Class Coordinator. She likes to use Cubelets in her Friday Afternoon Clubs as an exploration exercise. She challenges her students to experiment and determine what each robot block does, as well as figure out how they work together. In her after-school STEAM class, Mrs. Grindle uses Cubelets and the Cubelets Blockly app to explore coding. For Ms. Grindle’s students, Cubelets have fostered a variety of engaging lessons that develop 21st-century skills. She advises her fellow educators to think about what they can teach using technology, as opposed to what they can teach about technology. She has witnessed Cubelets helping students, including those with special needs, open up in ways she never thought possible:
When I met my new third graders last August, I had a student with severe special needs… I would only get a shy smile from her occasionally. She felt overwhelmed in our regular classroom and would not make eye contact or interact with the students when she was in our room. My teammate and her daughters had a wonderful time playing with Cubelets at the Denver Museum of Science and Nature. She told me to check them out. My first thought was not for my after-school STEAM class, but for this student. Here would be a way for her to equally participate with classmates. I wrote a grant through Donor’s Choose for Cubelets. In the meantime, I saw her and two girls belly laughing while coloring! That was a quite a breakthrough! But none of our activities required enough interaction, or were too difficult for her, and we didn’t seem to make much more progress. She still would not talk to us even though she could now say a few simple sentences. Then the Cubelets arrived. A boy and girl explored the Cubelets with her for several days. Then she started talking to them in complete sentences to help her accomplish what she was trying to get the Cubelets to do! The adults cried and the class cheered when we learned what had taken place. I now get big smiles, sometimes hugs, and an occasional word from her. During our Morning Meeting she will now whisper the information she wants to share to the person sitting next to her. In our current economics unit, one of our students chose her for a business partner and they are making products to sell on our third grade Market Day. This is a newfound engagement with the whole world!Cubelets have helped build bridges between her students in other ways, as well.
Recently, a new 5th-grade student enrolled in my STEAM class. She does not speak any English and I do not speak any Spanish. Knowing the power of the collaboration possible with the Cubelets, I had her try to figure out how to use them. I had purchased extra battery cubes so more than one child at a time could work with them. After two classes using the Cubelets and getting comfortable with us, she was ready to take on other more complicated activities like building in Minecraft EDU. It was the excitement and success of working with others with the Cubelets that helped her transition and take risks.Ms. Grindle admits that she has not even begun to scratch the surface of what is possible with Cubelets.
The impact of the Cubelets constantly exceeds my expectations. I want a way to level the playing field for students to collaborate. I want to extend the concept of coding on a very concrete level by offering a range of coding devices. This one is unique. I want to expose my students to a variety of technology in order to help them become flexible thinkers, problem solvers, innovators, and collaborators. I want to engage struggling students and have them know that learning can be fun and exciting. The Cubelets have helped with all of these. Last night, I sent the Cubelets home with a staff member and her family. She complained, jokingly, that her husband would not put them down. Then she showed me a movie on her phone of how the Cubelets were being controlled by their wall dimmer switch! And he sent me a challenge to do having separate robots interact! I have not begun to scratch the surface of what is possible yet. So I know the impact will end up being much bigger than I can imagine!