I LOVE My Job!

Lego WedoAfter deciding that I would focus on Coding and Robotics for my final project, there has been some wonderful opportunities for integration into the curriculum. Working with educators who really embrace technology and keep an open mind when trying new things has really inspired me these past few months.

I initially came into this job thinking that I would most likely spend the year teaching coding and robotics in my sessions without further integration into the curriculum or the classroom. Boy was I WRONG! I am now feeling like I should add another component to my final project to share the ways that coding and robotics have made its way into supporting science, engineering, and math at our school.

Second Grade Scientists

Bob Kowalec (@bobk) from the second grade team came to me one day and explained that their unit in science on Balance and Motion was coming up. They knew that I would be teaching a robotics unit on Lego WeDo Spinners, so they thought, why not combine the two? Using the Engineering Design Cycle, students studied elements of balance and motion, and used their knowledge of code to build, design and redesign spinning tops. This all comprised of a series of four lessons:

1. Introduction to Lego WeDo Spinners

Building spinnersDuring this lesson the students worked in partnerships. They openned up the instructions for how to build the spinners and tops and worked together to put it all together. The next stage was a ‘discovery time’, where students then openned up the Lego WeDo program and tried to figure out how to use the block code to do the following challenges:

Most of the students figured out how to create a simple program to make it spin and stop by using the blocks that make the motor turn then stop, but did not figure out how to use the sensor in all of it. After some time exploring, I showed them a program that we would be using for the rest of the lessions. Together we worked out what each block in the program meant and how it came together to not just make the spinner spin, but stop at the exact moment of release and start a timer.

Once we discussed it together, the students went back to their computers to rebuild the program on their own computers and test it out. This way they could fully understand how it all worked and practice reading the timer as well. Some students explored further and discovered how to change the background of their timer, others found different ways to start the program such as pressing a key instead of clicking play.

2. Testing variables

In between the first and second sessions, the class teachers introduced the ‘problem’ as a part of the ASK stage in the Engineerig Design Cycle. Students were challenged to try to build a top that was both stable and spun for as long as possible. They also went through the IMAGINE stage as they thought about what might work.

Class teachers went through a series of lessons and experiements from the FOSS unit on Balance and motion and we continued to test those concepts when they came back to the lab for their second session with the Lego WeDo Spinners.

Using the “Topsy Turvy” activity from the Lego WeDo curriculum, students tested how placing different bricks on different parts of the top affected its ability to spin. Students were given this sheet to guide them through which variables to test such as adding “two bricks on opposite sides” or “four bricks near the middle”.

At the end of this class some conclusions were discussed based on the data collected in each partnership and the data was further discussed in class with their class teacher. Using this data, students came to the third stage in the Engineering Design Process and made a PLAN for their first top design.

3. Building the First Top Design

Design 1For the last two I.T. sessions, all the second grade teachers pooled their time slots so that students could come to the lab two lessons in a row and would not have to totally break apart their designs.

For this third session, students went through the CREATE stage as they built their first tops based on the knowledge they had gained through both science lessons in class as well as the Topsy Turvy lesson in the computer lab.

Together as a class groups took turns testing their top and everyone collected data together. We compared each others designs and tried to figure out what made some tops spin better than others.

Students then spend the end of this class discussing with their partner how they would redesign their top to improve it.

4. Testing the Improved Design

During the last session, students redesigned and rebuilt their tops and we went through the whole testing process again. In every class the results improved, especially in terms of stability of each top. I was so grateful to have been a part of this collaboration with the second grade team where we all worked together to implement transdisciplinary teaching at its best! Here is a video compiled by one of the second grade teachers of the four lessons conducted in the lab.


First Grade Robots

Throughout the divisions that I teach I have been introducing a series of unplugged coding lessons from Thinkersmith and Code.org. Mainly I taught the lessons in relation to our robotics program, however, the first grade team decided that they should integrate these activities into their math centers. Since the beginning of the year students have had the chance to practice activities like My Robotic Friends and Graph Paper Coding . When the class teachers took the intitiative to include this into their daily math centers, our first graders soon became quite the experts in computational thinking! Now they are reading and writing code for quite complicated cup stacks! Another wonderful example of how awesome our teachers are!

The wonderful part about these math center sessions is that once a week parents are invited into class to run one of the centers. So, getting the parents into class and learning alongside our students has also created an avenue for us to not just share the curriculum but have them really understand the skills being taught.

Pre-K Bee Bot Engineers

Finally, our coding and robotics program in Pre-K, or KA as we call it, is probably where I struggled the most because the students are so young! I started with some unplugged coding like in most grades but had the students be robots that we coded using actions or arm movements. This semester I managed to make a link between how we use the Bee Bots to teach both coding and other things like directional language, with our engineering program. Once again we went through the Engineering Design Process. Here’s how it all went!

Lesson 1: How can can we help the Bee Bot? 

ASK: I showed the students a very short slideshow introducing the problem to the students. I added some animation to it to get the students engaged. They especially loved it when the Bee Bot flew around the page and could not find it’s beehive!

IMAGINE: As a class we briefly brainstomed ways to help the Bee Bot. Some said the Bee Bot should take a car, others thought that maybe we should carry the Bee Bot home!

PLAN: The teachers then prompted the students to think about possibly building a road or a path so that the Bee Bot will know exactly how to get home. But before we could build a road we needed to make a plan. Using the app Princess Fairy Tale Maker by Duck Duck Moose, the students worked with a partner to plann a road for the Bee Bot.

We emphasized that the Bee Bot can only move in straight lines so, we could not build curvy roads. We also further reinforced it by having students make straight lines with their arms in different directions. We showed students how to take turns with their partners, one partner drew the path the Bee Bot would take with straight lines, and the other partner drew the lines for each side of the road.

Photo Mar 01, 3 05 20 PM


Lesson 2: Lets create our road!

CREATE: During the lesson studens had the chance to build their roads. We helped them out by using specifically cut squares that measured “1 Bee Bot” which is the unit of measure by which the Bee Bot moves forward or backward. Using these square the students followed their plans (we printed them out for the students) and then used blocks to outline either side of this road. Together we worked out the program to get the Beebot through the road by counting the squares.

Lesson 3: What’s the best way? 

IMPROVE: In this third and final lesson, we will go over our designs and decide what is the SHORTEST way for the Bee Bot to get back home. In coding the objective is to figure out the most efficient code, using the least possible number of commands. So, in a roundabout way, we are introducing this concept to our KA students. But also, if we wanted to get home quickly, we obviously would need to figure out the shortest way home too 🙂 I have not conducted this lesson with the students yet but I am excited to find out what they come up with!

6 Responses

  1. @panaa I’m so glad I came across your blog! I’m just about to start an after-school coding club with Grades 1-3 and your documentation of this final project will be so helpful. We’ve just purchased a set of BlueBots so we also hope to use that as offline-coding, and will trial the new ‘Bluetooth’ feature using the iPads to program the bots. Last week we allowed Grade 1 & 5 buddies to explore and ‘dabble’ with them last week (offline) and it was fascinating to see how the older students were just as challenged with how to operate the bot as the younger ones. Your post clearly outlines a variety of inquiry opportunities for students of all ages, and I look forward to introducing some of these in the next few weeks, and sharing your amazing blog with teachers. Where do you see these students going next with their coding abilities? How will these activities become part of every day learning? Should coding be embedded into maths curriculums from Pre-K up? What’s your perspective on ‘Coding as a new language requirement’ (https://www.edutopia.org/blog/coding-new-foreign-language-requirement-helen-mowers)? These are just a few of the questions I have floating around when I think about coding. Thanks again for your post and I look forward to learning more from you as you wrap up your final project!

    1. Hi Jocelyn! I’ve never heard of BlueBots so I’d love to see what you guys do with them. If you’ve written any blog posts or documentation please do share the links! I believe we are already connected on Twitter so tweet me if you don’t mind sharing! 🙂

      You ask some very interesting questions. Where do I see the students going with their coding abilities? Well, firstly, I have NO expectation that these little ones will all grow up and develop the next Facebook or Google empire. However, I do think that many of these students benefit from the sequential and logical thinking behind the basics of coding and it aids them in other areas such as math and even language arts. I also believe that now that we live in the 21st century, our schools should reflect the world we live in. They are exposed to devices, their parents daily lives are connected to robots, even if they don’t grow up to be programmers, it would be comforting to know that the next generation can at least make educated decisions about technology they use vs. many of our generation who have little understanding about how Facebook or Google works but we use it anyway.

      Should coding be embedded into math from PreK up? Well, I would have to say sometimes, but not always. Because Coding can help in the teaching of other curricular areas. Take for instance my final project, I am integrating coding not just with math, but also lanugage arts concepts such as retell and phonics: https://mspanasays.coetail.com/2015/02/01/work-it-flip-it-and-reverse-it/.

      What is my perspective on coding as a new language requirement? I think that if all students could get comfortable enough with some basic coding concepts, that once again, they could make more educated decisions about future technologies in their lives compared to our generation. Have you ever seen this clip of an interview with Carl Sagan? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d8O1e_TZHZo This is what pushes me forward to continue to research and find ways to educate even the youngest students in 21st century skills such as coding.

      Thanks for pushing me to reflect 🙂 I’m now even more motivated to keep on pushing forward 🙂

  2. Pana,

    Awesome blog! I love seeing the footage of the students engaging in robotics. I was amazed as well by how much can be captured in the short film segments under a minute. I’ll definitely keep this in mind for student documentation. My videos typically are between 1-5 minutes, but I really love the under minute time frame as it’s a clear snippet.

    The BeeBot project is so cool! It’s great that they construct the 3D model to visualize and interact with and their thinking and creating problem solving is visible. Your work is tremendous, Pana! Truly inspiring!

    1. Hi Andrea! Thank you so much for your kind words 🙂 Short film segments have really helped me because then I stop and can focus on facilitating students in between these clips. Although I also risk not catching some really awesome moments! It has its pros and cons 🙂

      I am quite pleased with the outcome of this Bee Bot project and am now extending it to Kindergarten with some more challenges such as barriers that the Bee Bot has to work around as well as creating further distance between the beehive and flower.

  3. Pana,
    I am blown away by what you are doing with the little ones. It is amazing especially the cute little bee bot. You make it so easy and so relevant to the age group. I agree…truly inspiring.

    1. Hi Anne,

      Thanks once again for taking the time to read through my long posts and for all your kind words! You guys are really motivating me to keep going and to find more ways to make coding and robotics relevant to our youngest learners 🙂 Thank you thank you thank you 🙂

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