Building Bridges with Little Coders

What has been happening with my Little Coders? Well, we have been building bridges! A little step into STEM, sort of, though not based on a real life purpose but working to a set criteria. We have once again challenged ourselves and learnt a lot along the way.

Like most of us who are learning as we go, we made mistakes along the way and one mistake was a whopper! So here is how to do it or not, and suggestions on what I would do should I endeavour to teach this project again.

My initial goal was to create a project for the students which was more hands on and gave students the opportunity to delve into Design and Technology, STEM (in particular Math and Engineering), plus expand their knowledge and skills on using the Ozobots (for Digital Technology). A word of warning, it took the whole term! If you are a classroom teacher definitely integrate the project into your other learning areas, if you are a specialist teacher consider negotiating with other teachers (in the learning areas covered) and work collaboratively on the project.

The plan was to have students design and create a track for the Ozobots to travel, the track needed to incorporate a bridge. Sounds simple, doesn’t¬†it? Yes, that is what I thought. How hard can it be getting two dozen Year 2/3 students to make a track? They’ll have fun cutting, gluing, constructing and evaluating their work as they create. They’ll be immersed¬†in Math without realising it. A lot of critical thinking will be required and we will be building capacity and perseverance. It will be great and it was, almost every student was engaged, students who normally struggle academically worked tirelessly to complete their tracks and demonstrated their creative skills. Our more advanced students delved into higher level bridge building and set themselves challenges, and only one student did not complete their track in the timeframe.

So, how did we start? We began by discussing the project together and as a class, we set the basic criteria.

  • What the minimum length of the track could be?
  • What materials we could use and what was available to us?
  • What did we need to consider regarding the Ozobot? Suitable surface awareness for traversing the track.
  • What type of bridges could we make? What materials would be suitable?
  • How do we set out our track, in relation to the Ozoblockly codes available? The degrees and movements which Ozobot can travel. Can we make curved tracks?

We then began designing our tracks and bridges. Once students had drawn up both their track design and bridge design we got into the hard stuff. We had used 1cm graph paper for our track design, we then needed to work out how to scale up our design to meet the needs of our Ozobots. How wide must the track be? How big would a 1cm block need to scale up to? This linked in well with arrays which they had been learning in Math. Most students chose to scale up to 5 x 5, some went with 5 x 6.

Then we had the challenge of using a ruler to measure and draw our track blocks onto graph paper. This was a surprise to me, very few had any idea how to measure and rule accurately. I had intentionally decided to use the graph paper to make it easier and quicker for students but even then we were challenged, it required explicit teaching (several times over). Once students understood the process and the most effective and quickest way to rule up the paper they quickly got into production mode, cutting long strips of 5cm wide graph paper.

The students then began glueing their track onto the cardboard base. They needed to refer back to their original design as they worked, making sure they identified the starting point and the direction. It is important at this stage that you remind/teach students about left and right. I get the students to physically move when checking which direction they need to glue the track. Have them face the start direction and follow the turns by changing the direction they are facing with each turn. A lot of arm waving and jumping is involved along the way, we could direct flight traffic!

After several lessons, they had their tracks glued down and we got started on our bridges. It was at this stage that we realised bridges are designed to go over something and most students chose to add a blue paper river to their track.

The students had chosen a selection of materials to build their bridges and some changed their initial selection along the way as they discovered some materials were not suitable or there were construction problems during the making process. Several students hooked onto the successful ideas of others and completely changed both their bridge design and the materials used.

2017-06-22 14.05.24

Once our tracks were completed the students began their initial programming challenge by creating the sequence required (for the Ozobot to traverse their track) on paper. To make it quicker and easier to scribe our sequence we use a few symbols and abbreviations. I always feel a little mean doing this, making them write it out by hand, but it makes them really think about which codes they will need to use when they get to the block coding stage. It also makes it easier for them to use as a reference when creating their sequence on the computer and helps them identify any errors. What have I missed out? Did I select the correct direction (degree) code?

 

The first step, in order to write down our sequence, is to work out how far is an Ozobot step? I have them run a test on a piece of graph paper and turn this into an Ozobot ruler (10 Ozobot steps). They can then use the ruler to mark the distance Ozobot travels (10 Ozobot steps) and calculate the number of steps they need to include in their sequence for each straight length of the track. *Note: I use 10 Ozobot steps as most students know their 10 times tables and can count by tens. When a length of the track goes over, for example, 48, they use the ruler to mark to 40 and then use the ruler to estimate how many more steps to the centre of the last block in that track section (this is the corner block where they then include a turn/degree code).

When the students finish their written sequence, we look at it together, comparing it with their track. I then sent them off to the computer lab to independently use the Ozoblockly software, create their code sequence and load the programme onto the 2017-06-29 13.57.25Ozobot. Are you shocked? What? Independently? By themselves? Alone? Well, yes. This class has had two or three semesters (over two-three years) of using block coding software. There are a few students who are not as capable but the other students become the teachers and they support each other. Now, the why of how this happened. When we started the project we (the class) realised there was no way we could construct our tracks in the computer lab, there just wasn’t the room. Luckily, being the Visual Art specialist I had access to the art room and so we used this space for most of the term. It meant that it freed up the computer lab and I happily let another class use it in that time frame. When my students began to finish at different stages and needed access to a computer, I arranged with the other teacher to send them through to the computer lab and she was happy for them to be in the same space as her class. It wasn’t any burden to her as the students knew what to do.

It was a little crazy, however, I had students at all different stages of production and coding. I did have to move between both classrooms to support and check on progress. I had students moving back and forth between the computer lab to code and the art room to test run their program using the Ozobots. There were only a few minor BM issues as most students were excited about testing the robots on their track and eager to fix any errors and then celebrate any successes. Any staff passing the art room were ambushed by students and dragged into the room to witness what the students had achieved.

2017-06-29 13.53.53

Now, here’s the kicker and what went wrong, big time! The error was completely my fault and I should have thought about the potential outcomes when planning the project. We did not have many successes ūüė¶

Why? Well, Ozobots cannot handle traversing bridges! Most students did a great job creating the correct sequences to get the Ozobots to stay on track but when presented with a bridge the Ozobot would either stop completely or only move up and across the bridge for a very short distance. The reason being often the angle of the bridge was too steep for the Ozobot to traverse, and/or they are not designed for traversing bridges. Occasionally one would make it to the centre of a bridge (if it had been constructed at a suitable low angle) but then it would just slide down the other side…which created lots of laughs but was not the goal. No one really minded and there was lots of discussion on how we could make changes to the bridges and we hypothesised about why it might be happening. No one was disappointed (except me), we had all enjoyed the process and learnt a lot along the way but if we had had more time we would have experimented further and tried to solve the problem.

What I learnt from it:

  • run some tests before you set the project (if you want success)

or

  • go with the flow and learn together, the process can teach you and your students more than you expect.

 

 

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Talking Devices

Let’s talk about which devices for which age group. During March, I attended a Digital Technologies 7-10 professional learning workshop which deconstructed the Western Australian Curriculum. It was a great opportunity to see what other teachers were doing in their schools and how they interpreted the DT curriculum. ¬†For myself, one of the presenters, Maria D’Cunha from Hampton SHS, shared a story that gave me some confidence in how my journey was progressing. Like many of us, Maria was building her own Digital Technology skills and knowledge, she acknowledged that she was also learning, and not just her students. However, the biggest thing which she shared and which hit home for me was that she knew her students, she recognised that coding was something that many of her students knew nothing about and she started from that point. It didn’t matter that they were high school students, she gave them time to play and experiment with devices which many have labelled as being useful only for Early Childhood and Junior students. In Maria’s case, the devices available were BeeBots.¬†BeeBot_blinking

So, why is this a big deal? Well, in my journey I have sat and listened to many teachers¬†sharing their stories, and I have listened to the expectations of those developing the WA Digital Curriculum, and the message in some cases has been that within a high school setting students should be learning and using a scripting¬†language. Now, this is doable for those students lucky enough to have had experienced a thorough ICT background with a passionate, qualified teacher and the available hardware/resources but not all students have had this opportunity. In fact, many students may not even have access to a computer or device at home, nor internet access. Starting your program at a lower level is ok and will give students time to develop the confidence, skills, and knowledge which they need. I am not saying don’t challenge students just put some time into introducing the basics, give them time to experiment and explore the new devices, software, and applications, before setting higher level tasks. We want students to develop a passion for Digital Technologies¬†and not be turned off¬†and frustrated by attempting tasks beyond their initial abilities.

So, what do you start with? If you are lucky enough to be in a DETWA Primary or District High school you would have received in Semester Two, last year, a Digital & Design Technology kit filled with robots and maker gadgets. This came with a document outlining which device/gadget was suitable for which age group, very handy for getting started. However, many schools are still in the process of purchasing suitable devices and it is a little confusing as to what may work for which age group. What can be recommended on device websites may not always work in the classroom setting or be appropriate for the curriculum. If you are hoping to reduce that frazzled teacher feeling (wishing you had extra limbs to be able to help all students at once) and you want students working independently with devices, it is worth putting in some time doing a little research.

My suggestion is to use your teacher network to gather information from those in the know who have used the devices and have hands on experience using them in the classroom. Having used several robots and devices myself I thought I would share my devicesopinion and what I had been advised by other educators in my professional network. I have created a document that compares the advice of the companies, DETWA and those in the classroom. If you are interested you can access it here in the curriculum resource page. It is a work in progress and if you feel you could contribute further information based on experience please take the time to email me. All suggestions and advice would be very welcome and helpful in completing the document.

Please remember that this is based on personal experience and just a suggestion, your own experience and the experiences of others may be completely different due to many factors, including student prior knowledge and the reliability of the technology infrastructure within your school.

hAPPy holidays

Happy holidays to all. We are halfway through the silly season, if like me you have been madly cleaning, cooking, shopping, wrapping and hosting during the last few weeks, you should be enjoying the calm before the New Year celebrations.

For me this means couch time, yes, the ultimate lounge lizard, with a few dips in the pool, some Xmas rum balls and holiday bubbles (champagne), my iPad and a few new books…heaven! So, what am I reading?

Online I have been catching up with some of my favourite topics and websites, or exploring new ones. First up, Brightworks-an extraordinary school. I love to read what the staff and students have been up too during the last few months. This school to me is the ultimate STEAM school with a whole school broad focus topic, CHOICE-freedom in teaching/learning for students and staff, plus technology integration with purpose. The dream school which many of us long for, or are trying to create through our learning programs.

I also checked in on Rachel Van Dyke’s blogs, Rachel focuses on teaching ‘Real World’ and STEAM art projects. Once again, building creative thinking is high on the agenda, as is using available technology and software to build design skills. Rachel has three blog sites, Teaching Elementary Art ( STEAM projects), Teaching Real World Art and Design (for High School) and her personal artworks blog.

gamestar-mechanicI have also been looking for websites and ideas on gamification and game making, and came across a great lesson on the Bloom into Ed Tech blog site. The lesson focuses on using Gamestar Mechanic to build knowledge on game design and build game design skills by creating your own game. The Gamestar teachers link gives a good run down on how to use the software, and recommends it suitable for Year 4-9 students.

The last online share is this great Prezi Edu production created by Clint Stephan, in 2014. It is a rundown of 60 Apps in 60 Minutes, well, actually 74, to use in the classroom and for your own teaching and organisational purposes. I found it to be great for any newbies, 60-appaas there is a whole range of apps to meet a range of teaching and learning needs, and also a few gems which may have passed us¬†experienced iPad users by. It is a good reminder of what is available, I found several apps that I hadn’t used in a while or had forgotten about, and quite a few that were new to me. A great way to add to your own professional learning, download and trial a few apps for the new teaching year, in 2017.

If you are looking for a few Digital Technology and STEAM focused reads, these are what I am reading on Kindle (and hard copy):

  • 100 Ideas for Primary Teachers: Computing (100 Ideas for Teachers)¬†¬†This is proving to be a great read with lots of different ideas for teaching and learning technology/digital technology knowledge and skills across the curriculum.¬†
  • From STEM to STEAM: Using Brain-Compatible Strategies to Integrate the Arts¬† Hhhmm…coming from an arts background I can understand some of the negative reviews regarding this book, however, for the everyday classroom teacher it gives very good examples for science and math focused creative activities.¬†

  • Stem by Design¬† A great text to get you started designing STEM lessons and projects. It gets into the nitty gritty, the why and how, about developing STEM programs.
  • Classroom Activities for the Busy Teacher¬†I bought the hard copy, as it is a¬†great resource for those using EVO3 LEGO robots, which we have in our school. It may also be useful for other robotic devices, as inspiration, for¬†you to adapt the lessons to work with your school’s selected robot.

This Far, with Little Coders.

In session one,¬†‘How Far with Little Coders’, students were investigating just how far is 5 and ten Ozobot steps? Once we had acquired this knowledge we could move forward and challenge ourselves. The challenge criteria¬†is¬†opened ended, the solution will¬†be different for each group and students have¬†choice in their design and construction process. So, what is the challenge?

Session Two

The challenge:

  • Create a track for the Ozobot to travel, using graph paper, masking tape and straws.
  • Calculate the distance to travel through each section of your track.
  • Use the Ozoblockly editor to create a sequence to allow the Ozobot to travel the full length of your track, from start to finish!

Tips to Remember:

  • Fold along one edge of the graph paper, match the folded edge on one sheet to the graph line on the second sheet. Tape together on the reverse side. *I¬†did this for my students, under their guidance as to their design choice. Older students should be able to manage themselves.
  • Cut the straws into different lengths to make an interesting track.
  • Use small pieces of masking tape to hold down the straws, make sure the tape will not interfere with the travelling Ozobot.2016-11-15-14-02-46
  • Make sure you allow enough width across the track, so the Ozobot can travel freely.
  • Include degree codes to turn direction.
  • Refer to your prior test results, how many¬†graph squares/cm is in 5 or 10 Ozobot steps? How many code blocks do you need to use?
  • Count the graph squares carefully to calculate which code block you need to use. Use a pencil to mark each code block distance on your track. Use this information to select the correct code blocks, and form your sequence.
  • Test run along the way…calibrate the robot, then load the sequence.

 

Most students took two sessions to complete the task. The first student to finish was a girl! Go, coding girls! In my experience, across the 1-10¬†Years/Grades, girls do seem to have the¬†stamina¬†to persevere and problem solve, the boys will often give up and enthusiasm wanes when they can’t solve problems quickly. With this activity, everyone was engaged and kept trying to get to the finish line. There was cheers of joy, clapping and congratulations when students succeeded. There was also tears of frustration from one little man, who passionately wanted to do well, but struggled with his low math ability. A little pep talk, some teacher help and he was back on track.

When you select the student partner groups, pay attention to the student’s strengths,¬†try and pair them so one supports the other. It will reduce the frustration and hopefully there will be no tears. The word challenge is very real in this activity, I am working with six and seven year old’s, and I am pushing them. Am I asking too much of them? Perhaps, but they are learning from the challenge, building stamina and developing thinking skills, plus finding pride and joy in the accomplishment. Oh, and celebrate the achievements, send them off to show others of what they can do…show the office staff, the principal, the gardener, the class next door, and spread the joy!

 

Birds Eye View

Sometimes¬†great information from sources other than digital technology sites arrive in my inbox, today is one of those days. I subscribe to the artips newsletter which is a fountain of historical information for visual artists and art teachers. Today’s arrival has jumped beyond the artist and into the popular niche of STEAM. It also melds beautifully with many of our Digital Technology devices, including drones and Ozobots.

The newsletter features the work of¬†Julius Neubronner, a German pharmacist, who had a passion for photography and strapped a miniature camera onto a pigeon. Hhhmm…are you seeing the connection? What a great topic¬†to introduce and integrate the science, technology, engineering, art and math aspects into your teaching unit.

pigeon_wingtips

julius_neubronner_with_pigeon_and_camera_1914The connection with drones is obvious, but what about Ozobots? Well, for those of us working with little people, we often have to teach about ‘birds eye view’, when drawing our maps. What a great way to do this with actual historical evidence of what a bird can see from high above us. Imagine the engagement when you explain how Julius Neubronner attached a camera to a bird! Yes, I know that David Attenborough and his techies have done it thousands of times, but this is from the olden days.

Mr Neubronner also delivered his medical prescriptions by pigeon, and now we have drones delivering pizza! There is loads of connections to be made with then and now.

Check out the newsletter for yourself here. How would you use this information in your class?

Here are a few links with extra information: