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All posts by Emily Eissenberg

Computer Science Education Week is December 9th – 15th this year. Are you ready for Hour of Code?! Hour of Code started as a one-hour introduction to computer science, designed to demystify “code,” to show that anybody can learn the basics, and to broaden participation in the field of computer science. It has since become a worldwide effort to celebrate computer science, starting with 1-hour coding activities but expanding to all sorts of community efforts. This grassroots campaign is supported by over 400 partners and 200,000 educators worldwide. The Hour of Code takes place each year during Computer Science Education Week. The 2019 Computer Science Education Week will be December 9-15, but you can host an Hour of Code all year-round. Computer Science Education Week is held annually in recognition of the birthday of computing pioneer Admiral Grace Murray Hopper (December 9, 1906). Modular Robotics has posted three different lesson plans for you depending on which robotics kit you have available. Check out our lesson plans which are available in the Robotics & Circuits section of the Hour of Code index.
Cubelets Lighthouse Design Challenge
For students who are new to Cubelets, challenge them with our Cubelets Lighthouse Design Challenge. This lesson plan gives students an authentic reason to investigate each Cubelet in their set, and it gets them started building algorithms using the Inverse Cubelet. You’ll be impressed with how quickly students construct their understanding of Cubelets using this lesson. Plus,you can gather informal data about their understanding by asking some strategic questions from our Questioning Guide (found in our Cubelets Implementation Guide).
Cubelets Variables and Block Values
For students who are already familiar with the basics of Cubelets, try introducing them to Variables and Block Values in their robot constructions! Variables in computer science are very different from variables used in math. Cubelets provide a tactile way to differentiate the two by leading discussions and investigations about Block Values and data flow between Cubelets within a robot construction. This lesson builds on the concept of Data Flow Diagrams, so if you want to get a head start, check out our Introduction to Data Flow Diagrams lesson! As always, our Educational Designer, Emily Eissenberg, is ready to support you if you have questions, just reach out to support@modrobotics.com.
GoPiGo Robot Characters
(Just in case you missed it, Modular Robotics has partnered with Dexter Industries to bring our two product lines together. We’re so excited about this collaboration and we hope you are too!) Or, if you have a GoPiGo robot in your classrooms, we’ve also released a lesson plan about analyzing and creating characters with your robot. This lesson is special because it is a great example of how to overlay computer science vocabulary (e.g. decomposition and abstraction.) on top of literacy discussions. Students will analyze a character from a book they are reading, then plan for and write an algorithm that represents that character. Flash that to a GoPiGo robot and students’ programs will come to life! The great thing about introducing this lesson during Hour of Code? It can become a recurring part of your literacy workshop, encouraging students to strengthen their interdisciplinary connections. Modular Robotics is excited to join forces with code.org to support Hour of Code this year. If you would like to learn more about any of our products, visit www.modrobotics.com or email info@modrobotics.com.
The critical thinking required for effective programming and computer science is increasingly being recognized as a fundamental 21st-century skill. As experts around the world began to ask how to present concepts like decomposition, abstraction, algorithmic solutions, and debugging, one of their first steps was to make the act of coding more accessible to younger and more diverse learners. Now, we’re used to seeing such programs as Scratch and Cubelets Blockly in elementary and middle school. These color-coded pre-built code blocks allow students to drag and drop to build a program without needing to memorize the vocabulary and syntax of a  programming language first. We all agree this is more developmentally appropriate for young learners who are simultaneously still grasping the fundamentals of their primary language through reading and writing instruction. But what about students who are pre-literate or are struggling with reading in their native language? That’s where Cubelets come in. Cubelets are block-based programming. Literally.  Each Cubelet is itself a color-coded block of programming. We also refer to this as Tactile Coding, since Cubelets program robot behaviors without a screen. For example, the Inverse Cubelet is equivalent to an inverse block in Cubelets Blockly. The Inverse Cubelet creates the same behavior as the inverse of block in Blockly Continue reading
We all miss a couple days of school, whether it’s for professional development, sick days, or personal time, and that means we need to be prepared for a substitute to take over for a day. It’s a tough balance between keeping it light, yet academic. We can’t leave lessons that are too complex, otherwise we’ll need to reteach them when we return to the classroom anyway. Some years, our students can comfortably run the class themselves, continuing their unit of study following the structures we’ve practiced so well together, but other years, our substitutes need to do a lot of heavy lifting! That’s where the Cubelets lesson plans come in. If you’re saving Cubelets for a rainy day (or a sick day), keep a copy of the Meet Your Cubelets lesson plans in your sub binder. If you really love your sub, print out these #CubeletsChat blog posts about student protocols and tactile coding too, to give them all the tools they need to succeed. The Cubelets Lesson Plan Bundles are also an invaluable resource for substitute teachers. Continue reading
A best practice when teaching computer science is to emphasize the thinking behind coding more than fluency in a specific programming language. This may be one of the reasons Cubelets first caught your eye. Out of the box, Cubelets are a computational thinking platform that inspire all sorts of engineering design challenges for students. If you are new to Cubelets or #CubeletsChat, check out our previous posts about  Activity Cards or Lesson Plans for some ideas to use Cubelets in their default modes. The first Create with Cubelets video is also for you! If you’re ready for the next steps toward coding this network of computers, however, I’d like to give you a tour around the rest of our Create with Cubelets video series. This student-facing video series is designed to scaffold students from default Cubelets designs into modifying Cubelets software via Personality Swaps™ or custom programs in Cubelets Blockly. Since we know every student in your class requires different levels of scaffolding, we created these short student-facing videos to take care of the nuts-and-bolts training that comes with new software. Think of it like Khan Academy — you can assign each group different videos while they work simultaneously. Continue reading
Frequently, Cubelets are used to supplement other subjects like  math, science, ELA, or art, instead of being isolated to a computer science setting. If this describes your classroom, you are not alone — and we have resources to help you! All of our content-specific lesson ideas are hosted on the Hub in the Grab Bag. These lesson ideas are just that, ideas, not full lesson plans. I chose not to write full lesson plans for a very important reason (and it’s not because I don’t love you!). The fact is all teachers approach their content areas differently. Some focus on workshop models and others prefer guided release lessons. Likewise, we all create content-focused units in unique ways. Some teachers structure units as research projects, others focus on guided investigations, and yet others prefer to focus on PBLs that connect directly to their local community. If I were to write a full lesson plan in the Grab Bag (and there are a couple scattered throughout), the overwhelming majority of you would need to sort through pages and pages to gather the nuggets of information that suit your classroom structures. To save you the trouble, I’ve outlined a high-level narrative of how a lesson might look and left the options open for how you’d like to bring the learning to life in the context of your broader unit. As you scan the options below, remember we are constantly updating the Grab Bag with new ideas and we always appreciate teachers sharing what’s working in their classroom. If you’d like to contribute to our Grab Bag (this is part of many teacher evaluation rubrics: participating in a community beyond your grade, school, or district), simply email your ideas to emily.eissenberg@modrobotics.com or tweet @modrobotics using the hashtag #CubeletsChat. If we share or post your ideas, we will cite you and link back to any other resources you may have available. We love collaborating with teacher-bloggers and are happy to link back to school-specific or district-specific initiative pages. Because Modular Robotics is a small company, we have a lot of flexibility about how we can support you when you choose to share your hard work! Here are some highlights from our Grab Bag: Continue reading
Have you introduced your students to Personality Swaps in our Cubelets App? Are you ready to get them started coding their own custom personalities?  Would you like to transition into custom coding by anchoring to the pre-built personalities students already know and understand? Boy, do I have the best news for you! While we do still offer our Create with Cubelets video series that includes basic how-to tutorials about the Cubelets Blockly interface, our software developers just launched something even more magical! We’ve posted the Blockly code for all of our pre-made Personality Swaps. This means students can easily change which message to send in Morse Code or how sensitive the Two-Way Drive is. This is the most ideal progression of skills because it puts students in the driver’s seat while working with a Cubelet they’re already familiar with. They can investigate any Personality and modify it while they become familiar with Cubelets Blockly. Don’t worry, the Create with Cubelets tutorials are still available as helpful reminders. But with this new functionality in Cubelets Blockly, student-driven inquiry learning is accessible to an even wider variety of learners. Continue reading
While having Cubelets for a whole class is the dream, a single group of Cubelets can be just as effective of a teaching tool. Because the Curiosity Set and Discovery Set are small, they are sometimes overlooked when teachers plan for their classrooms. But the size of the Curiosity and Discovery Sets can actually be an asset. Not only do they give more flexibility to smaller budgets (you can get five Curiosity Sets or nine Discovery Sets for less than one Mini Makers Pack), their sleek design and creative internal packaging are actually extremely helpful in keeping track of these valuable computer science tools. So how do the Curiosity and Discovery Sets serve you in the classroom? Continue reading
Every teacher has their own brand of first week of school activities. Some teachers start with a blank and empty classroom, then construct the space collaboratively with students. Other teachers spend the time playing fun ice breakers and learning names, while still others hop straight into the curriculum. I fall on another spot on that spectrum. My favorite way to start the school year is to use the classroom routines and protocols that I want students to be able to use later in the year as the structure for getting to know each other. This means learning Turn’n’Talk as a means of short interviews, or practicing turning in writing assignments after writing Introduce-Your-Classmate narratives. One of the best first week of school activities is a Turn'n'Talk, where students interview each other as an ice breaker. Continue reading
Welcome back to school — we missed you! As you prepare for the first few weeks of school, you might be ready for a little reminder about how Cubelets work. You may also have a new colleague who was never introduced to Cubelets at all. Don’t worry, we have resources for you to use or pass along – no need to reinvent the wheel. I recommend taking a few minutes to explore the Hub. The Hub is the home of all our free teacher resources and STEM lesson plans Continue reading
Depending on which combination of Cubelets you own, you may have different questions about how to store and manage your Cubelets. Our Education Packs, for instance, arrive in plastic tubs that each contain multiple groups’ worth of Cubelets. Some schools ordered many Cubelets TWELVEs (replaced by the Curiosity Set in 2019), which arrive in one cardboard box per student group, but the cardboard box requires Cubelets to be stacked on top of each other, so it’s hard to quickly scan to see if the Cubelets have all been returned to their proper places. So let’s talk about how you might manage the storage of your Cubelets.
Cubelets Containers: Plastic “Education Tubs”
First and foremost, many schools and teachers come back asking for our Cubelets Containers (the same plastic tubs that all Education Packs ship in). To make quick-scan accountability easier, they’ll print out a Packing Reference Guide and tape it to the inside cover of each Cubelets Container: Mini Maker Pack Storage GuideCreative Constructors Pack Packing GuideInspired Inventors Pack storage guide Continue reading