KS2 Robotics Club – Surprisingly Successful

It is funny what a bit of success, a few years practice and some more resources can do to the way an after school club is run. I have talked about this previously, but this year is different as my robotics group is much younger (KS3 – Year 3,4&5 or Grade 2,3&4). The groups is right on the cusp of being too big for one teacher at 16 students, but I think that I have carefully managed and planned the sessions so that it will run a lot smoother than when I had teenagers last term.

The big difference is that I have carefully purchased resources from my budgets to build upon what we have and to provide different levels of differentiation and challenge for each student.
Very Beginner – Bee Bots
These are a great resource to introduce programming, quite cheap and can still be used with older kids to get the idea of simple programs.
Novice – Lego Simple Machines Kits So simple, but the best way to show kids how gears work together to make movement happen and gets them following a set of what can be difficult instructions.
Intermediate – WeDoBuild it and then program it. It comes with a motor, movement/light sensor and a tilf sensor and simple Scratch like software to program your creation.
Advanced – Mindstorms You only need to look at various youtube videos to see what can be done with a Mindstorms kit and if you throw a few kits together you have amazing possibilities.

Next problem comes when every group has a project completed and wants a computer to use to program the robot… solution? I have no idea just yet!

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Student Created Tutorials in Numeracy

Holiday is over and back in class and this is my first post of the school year. I think it is a nice cross of Numeracy and ICT skills.

Each group has been working on mastering a different strategy in Maths and then developing the ability to explain what they are doing verbally. What is an easy way for the teacher to assess and for the students to show mastery… in pairs create a Kahn Academy style tutorial.

One student records the other working through a problem (this reduces the camera shakiness) then they swap over so each has a problem recorded. Import the clip to iMovie, turn off the videos sound to remove the white noise from the classroom then find a quiet space and record a voice over and publish the movie. The first time that I did it they recorded audio as they worked through the problem, but this distracted them from the equation and made them a bit nervous, but by separating the explanation and the problem it allowed students to focus on the task.

The video below if from a student who is not too confident in Maths, and did record the voice over three times, but by the finished product he was able to clearly explain what he was doing, why he was doing it and had a huge smile on his face – success!

My only wish now is that I was not in China and my students had access to a blog to publish their work on.

A pretty amazing year…

With only a day and a half left I have been reflecting quite a bit lately and have to admit that this year was probably one of my most enjoyable in the past 16 years in the Education Game. My class was small with on 15. Although only one was a native English speaker there was no language barrier and every one of the class (they are 10 year olds) spoke at least 2 languages fluently and I had one wee lass who spoke French, German, Polish and her English and Chinese are getting pretty good too!

So how has the year been? Highlights? Successes? Achievements?

Code Club got started up and I have got many students from Year 1 – 11 interested in Coding. I am in no way an expert, more someone who has an interest, but maybe one of these students will get hooked and be a coder of the future.

For the first time in my career I was a tutor teacher and my teaching assistant completed her teacher training and has been an amazing asset and friend as well as making me think reflectively constantly.

I got my first Makey Makey – SO MUCH FUN!Makey Makey

I got to play with Lego NXT robots and ran several 10 week sessions with high school students. As each lesson progressed my knowledge grew and so did the passion and enjoyment of each student.

I tried out for the ADE 2015 intake and although I missed out it was the most reflective thing I have ever undertaken.

With a colleague we started an after school Touch Rugby team and entered many under 13 tournaments. We lost, then lost again and lost many more times, until our final tournament in Suzhou where we left with the winners trophy.

Awesome School Trip to Anhui where we stayed at a monastery and picked tea and grew as a class.

For a bit of fun I took a Year 1 robotics class for a few weeks using Bee Bots – So much Bee Botsfun and a lot of opportunities to develop students understanding of beginner robotics.

Taking part in Beverly Ladd’s 24 Hour Skype-a-thon was pretty epic.

I rekindled my love of blogging after a years absence and I hope to keep it up for the rest of my teaching career.

Although there have been many more it was yesterday, in the second to last day of term when I knew that the year had been a success. I showed the class a quick slide show of the year, the events, the students who have left, what we have done and what we achieved and then said “You now get the opportunity to share your highlights of the year. I do not mind how you share and you have until you think you are ready”.

Organised Chaos of Creation
Organised Chaos of Creation

Students scrambled off to create posters and slideshows and speeches and movies and booklets and animations. They worked individually, in pairs and in threes. They were focused and determined and collaborative and creative. They worked collaboratively and independently. The class was a mess of play dough, coloured card, kids on bean bags, crayons and felts, lego mini-figures and focused kids. In short it showed me that I had helped instill in my students the skills that I think they need to have, the mindsets that are essential for their learning development and as a bonus – They were all smiling!

So here is one of the animations. Some of it may not make sense, but the creativity of these two girls from two very different cultures and backgrounds just makes me feel proud to have been their teacher.

When you have everything just fall into place

I have taught a Lego Robotics Club for the past year as an after school activity and there have been good times and bad. There have been the great successes and aha moments, but they have been overpowered with lack of space and resources or havingMondstorms - Smiles kids who do not really want to be there.

Today was the beginning of a new session of ASAs and I had a senior student group of 17 kids. I was a bit worried, but I was prepared. I booked my classroom as the venue and made sure that there was enough resources to cover the group -living in China has it’s benefits and Taobao is one of them as I was able to pick up two new NXT Mindstorms sets quickly at a really cheap cost and no importing hassles. I collected a series of inspirational clips from YouTube showing what can be done with Mindstorms and WeDo and off we went.

I must say that it was a huge success and even though I could have used another kit or Makey Makey Pacmantwo it was clear through the engagement of the students that all is good. They were enthusiastic, questioned, worked together and built. When the groups of 3-4 began to look like they were too big I pulled out the Makey Makey kit for its first exposure to the students and they were wowed. Tea light candles became the buttons for Pacman and there was laughter and a whole new round of wows and aha moments. The board in the back ground continuously screened mammoth lego machines in action and there were sighs and cries of ‘Nooo…’ when I informed them it was time to pack up.

Additionally, this was the first time that I had had girls sign up for the club and they Mindstorms - Girls at workwere into it and more focused.

Next week – complete building and begin learning about programming. My main goal is to keep them focused and enthusiastic, but I feel that a few Makey Makey challenges will suit the purpose and do the job.

End result – 17 students developing an interest in Robotics and computer science and one teacher feeling very pleased about how his club went.

Here is their favourite of the motivational clips…

A quick lego hack to save a few dollars

I always like the idea of taking something and hacking it into another and as you may know I am a Lego geek. After playing with lego gears and motors from the WeDo set I cam across the video below and it looked like a pretty fun way to try and create something new for a virtually no price.

Small gearTake a 50cent motor from your electronics resources, a peg to star technic connector, a small gear and a hot glue gun and a AA power source. Glue the peg to the drive shaft of the motor and make sure that it sets straight. Wait five minutes and you have a mIMG_0218otor. Now the motor is very simple and a bit too powerful, but I am sure that with a bit of gearing down you can make it work quite nicely.

It is as good as a store bought motor? No, but it is always a lot more fun and rewarding when you make it yourself.

Watch the video below and give it a go or show your class and let them have a go 🙂

Learning like a Child

When was the last time that you tried to learn something by yourself. I know that when I want to find out something new the first thing I do is google it. I look for a youtube clip or a tutorial or a weblink or anything that is there that has already done the learning that I want and I use it as a starting point.

You see, last week I brought home the Lego WeDo kits and wanted to see how to really Lego Gearsuse it. I have made things with them before and had my students do the same, but we had followed a set of instructions and made what someone else had created. We had made, not created, we had followed a set of instructions, not designed and to me creation and design is the essence of Lego. The instructions are a starting point, but they need to lead to somewhere else to really unlock the joy of Lego. If you give me bricks I will design and build, wheels I will create a car or mini figures and I will animate, but a set of gears, motors and axles and I am at a loss – I have not learned how to use them with independence.

So the kits sat there for a week and I did not interact with them. But, early this morning, IMG_9530while the rest of the house was asleep, I awoke and crept into the lounge. I took the kits to the rug in the middle of the floor and like a child with a new toy I began to explore. Beginning with a motor, axle and a gear I began to build. I became lost within the experience. What I experienced was what I want my students to experience and it took me back to similar experiences as a child.

Slowly my creation began to take form. There was no purpose to my creation other than learning how the gears and wheels and axles fitted together and my only goal was that once I added the motor many different parts would move at different speeds and in different ways and directions. I experienced frustration after frustration then success followed by a failure. The design was built up only to be taken down and modified. When the family surfaced at half seven I realised that I had just been immersed in learning for 2 straight hours of bliss – yes I awoke at 5:15 to play Legos – and when they saw the joy on my face the did not even laugh or tease me.

It took me back to a seminar with Simon Breakspear about design thinking in education. Naturally when a child plays with a toy such asdesign-thinking-fo-educators Lego it is the design model that they are using – the discovery, interpretation, creation, experimentation and evolution. I went through all these steps and although there was not a product in mind there were constant evolutions as I tried to add new components or found a different way of doing things.

How will this change my teaching and use of WeDo and Mindstorms in the class? First let them follow a plan – build something that someone else has designed, let the students come to terms with the way the components fit together and how to code them, but the second exposure will be without any instructions or preconception of what someone else has created. They will test, try, fail, fail, succeed and fail and maybe they will create something new, but they will develop an understanding of what it takes to create. They will be able to take the ideas from the imagination and have the opportunity to express themselves and their thoughts.

What is my next step? Well, I am going to Google. Now that I have my own experiences I am going to look to the ideas of others. I need to research to improve my skill set and understanding just like any good designer would.

What has it taught me? Play. Approach new learning like I did when I was a child. Try new ideas and just try and work out how things work. Keep being inquisitive and take the time to do so. It may not be the easiest way in our world of knowledge at your fingertips, but it is so much more rewarding.

The video is of my creation. It does nothing except for what I set out for it to do – move and allow me to learn about how gears fit together.

Do you travel? Give something back to other travelers. 

I’m a traveller. I like nothing more than visiting new places and experiencing new cultures. It doesn’t bother me if I can’t speak the language or it is a bit uncomfortable, I just love the experience of being somewhere new.

In the past few years when ever I ask Google a question about what to do or where to eat it has been TripAdvisor that answers all my questions. It is normally on the money with its recommendations and is worth its weight in gold. So, as if I am to be this digital citizen and content contributor that I talk about with my students I need to take my travel experiences and share them with other travellers. I have joined TripAdvisor, earned my first badge for 5 reviews and I hope that I will help others in the way that they have helped me. I urge you to do the same, as it doesn’t matter if you are an intrepid traveller or don’t stray far from home, if you have a smart phone you can reward that amazing coffee shop, restaurant or holiday accommodation with a review.