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Used district-wide, Cubelets are one of the main tools that James Hite uses in his Elementary Science labs.

As District Staff Developer for Elementary Science at Pinellas County Schools, James Hite has a big job. 78 schools alone rely on his expertise, especially when adding a new tool like Cubelets to their programs.

Mr. Hite trialed the little robots in ten classrooms and quickly discovered how engaging and versatile they are. Today, Cubelets are found in every Elementary Science lab in the district with over 14,000 students playing and learning with robot blocks.

“Cubelets play a huge role in our science programs,” Mr. Hite explains. “All 2nd- and 4th-grade students are using Cubelets to solve complex problems and conduct various investigations.”

Of course, these investigations with Cubelets aren’t always so structured.

“In one of our science labs, students built a robot that would be used to transport their class gecko around. Sure enough, the robot was constructed, and the gecko rode around the classroom in style in his custom robotic transport.”

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The Cubelets Discovery Set and Curiosity Set are designed for a single student group and perfect for workshop model classrooms or makerspaces

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?

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The first week of school is a great time to implement student protocols and routines, as well as get students familiar with tools like Cubelets, that they'll be using all year.

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.

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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

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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

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Cubelets are useful in a variety of learning environments from open-play stations to whole-group guided release. But this balance between unstructured play (important!) and guided instruction (also important!) is a pendulum whose best practices are still not firmly agreed-upon by education researchers, so many teachers like to create their own middle ground. This often involves a workshop model of sorts, which we’ve talked about in previous #CubeletsChat posts. Today, I want to go more in-depth about using the Activity Cards we created, if Workshop Model describes your classroom.

Each Activity Card is double-sided. On the front, we always have an image or icon to help students quickly identify what type of task they are being asked to do. We also have a title for the card and a super-brief description to make sure students have everything they need to understand the challenge. On the back, we have three different types of information. One is a complexity rating using both stars and our labeling. For Cubelets we label our levels as: Novice, Apprentice, Artisan, and Master. We also have set-up clues and helpful hints. If students are struggling to complete their activity from the front side alone, encourage them to read through our clues on the back to help them get over their hurdles.

Our Cubelets Activity Cards include several different types of challenges that push students into unique types of thinking.

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Emily Eissenberg chats about her favorite strategies for classroom management during back to school.

While many people think about back-to-school as taking place in September, most educators have already been hard at work by then, preparing lessons, taking inventory of supplies, and putting the finishing touches on their classroom designs. Adding a new STEM tool, like Cubelets, to an already jam-packed year can seem like a tall order. So, we sat down with Educational Designer Emily Eissenberg to get her insider perspective on this crucial period, and learn all of her best tips for integrating little robots into the classroom year-round.

Educational Designer Emily Eissenberg spent years in elementary education before joining the Cubelets team

Tell us a little bit about the classrooms you used to teach in. What grades have you worked with? Any subjects you specialized in?

I taught fourth-grade (every subject) and then became the district K-6 science content specialist, so science is my gig. I’m a nerd for all things education, though, so I’ve designed curriculum for all subjects and coached teachers in every content area!

What was your favorite part of getting ready for a new school year? Were there any tools you found particularly helpful during this process?

I loved gearing up for the “classroom culture” aspect of a new school year. I really stand by the motto, “Go slow to go fast,” so I specifically designed my first few weeks of school to be focused on routines and protocols that I wanted to use consistently throughout the year, but anchored them in get-to-know-you content. My favorite protocols are from Making Thinking Visible [by Ron Ritchhart, Mark Church, and Karin Morrison] and Make Just One Change [by Dan Rothstein and Luz Santana], and our classroom routines flexed with each year’s schedule, classroom layout, and executive functioning needs.

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This blog post breaks down assessing Computational Thinking with Cubelets

Computational Thinking is a term that’s being thrown around left, right, and center these days. By now, we all have a pretty good understanding of what computational thinking means (if not, check out our blog post about it here!), but for all the definitions of computational thinking, how do we know if students are demonstrating growth in their computational thinking?

As with all growth measurements, having students take a pre- and post-assessment is the best way to get growth data, especially if it’s supported by formatives along the way. So, what if we started with a bigger-picture approach?

We could measure students at the beginning of the year, in the middle of the year, and at the end of the school year. That way we would get an idea of how students’ computational thinking overall changes during this time in our classrooms.

So, what does computational thinking look like?  How is it different from, say, number sense or even being proficient in a specific programming language like Blockly?

Researchers have been trying to isolate computational thinking in assessments for years, and their hard work is starting to pay off. From rubrics, to programming analysis, to multiple choice tests, the options are growing and constantly being tested for greater accuracy and reliability.

Here is an example of a computational thinking behavioral rubric developed for the Livingstone Academy in East London. It is clear this resource is designed for teachers by teachers. These teachers focus primarily on the supporting behavioral aptitudes. Things like: confidence in understanding complex problems, persistence in working with difficult problems, iteratively developing solutions, and communicating throughout the process with peers.

Behavioral aptitudes are often a great launchpad for teachers seeking to gather data about a new skill or process. After all, if students are struggling with any of these behavioral categories, it will be incredibly hard for them to demonstrate the thinking they are capable of.

Regardless of the age of your students, you may consider learning more about the Bebras assessment which provides great examples of non-coding-based questions that were developed in conjunction with the University of Oxford. They have printable cards (.pdf) for primary students (grades 1-5) as well as an app for middle school and high school students. Here are some sample challenges from previous years for different age groups in the UK.

So, how can you assess students’ growth in computational thinking using Cubelets? Try giving related challenges to students at the beginning and the end of the year. First, build a steering robot (or a lighthouse if you are working with younger students). At the end of the year, build a maze-solving robot (or an energy-efficient lighthouse for our primary learners). While these end-of-year challenges may be repeats from an earlier lesson, their value is in how students approach the challenge and which intermediate robots they try before they are successful.

Ask students to explain their solution as well as how they got to that answer. Listen for language specific to each of the four main subskills of computational thinking:

  • Decomposition:“First, I thought about the different things my robot would need to do. For instance….”
  • Pattern Recognition:“Then I thought about other robots, examples in nature, examples outside the classroom that this reminded me of. For example…”
  • Abstraction:“At first, I tried really hard to work on_____. But then I realized that was sending me down the wrong path and it wasn’t as important as I originally thought it was. So I decided to focus on ____ instead.”
  • Algorithmic Solutions:“Finally, I landed on this robot. You’ll notice it meets the design challenge because it does ______ and _______. Let me tell you how it works: [gives an explanation of the robot that includes both cause-and-effect and sequential language tags].”

Cubelets provide an intuitive way for students to build their computational thinking skills throughout the year regardless of how you assess their computational thinking. I recommend including Cubelets challenges as part of your Computational Thinking math workshop station or as a part of your science rotation. Even if you are choosing to use Cubelets alongside your fiction writing or character traits unit, you’ll be providing your students a highly-engaging way to flex their computational thinking muscles, which is exactly what we want students to experience: fun while learning.

 


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Interventions & Extensions with Cubelets is about student differentiation during lessons with the little robot blocks.

Cubelets are at their most effective when all students are engaged and continuing to build their skill sets. However, as with any tool, some students will pick it up quickly, and others may need extra help. When teaching with Cubelets, it’s helpful to use the following rules of thumb about interventions and extensions for your robot challenges.

 

Interventions

First and foremost, to help students who struggle with designing effective robots, start by limiting the number of Cubelets they have access to at the beginning of the design challenge. If students only have n+1 Cubelet (one more Cubelet than they need to successfully build their challenge), they will be better able to focus on the challenge at hand.

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How to use Cubelets as part of your planned summer camp activities

It’s finally summer! Students are playing, relaxing, and experiencing many new things, but your Cubelets don’t need to be gathering dust in a closet all summer. Many people are looking for highly engaging tools that secretly prevent the dreaded “summer slide”. Have you considered loaning them to a summer camp or a few of your school families for the summer?

Cubelets work really well inside *Theme Weeks* that are often part of summer camp curriculums. Here are a few ideas that might help you pinpoint where Cubelets fit within your summer plans:

Animal Behaviors

Do you have an animal-themed week at camp this year? Are you taking a field trip to the zoo or reading about lots of very exotic animals? Cubelets are great models of natural animal behaviors. Try making robots that act like predators or prey. Or you can invent Cubelets animals that find different kinds of food in an artificial environment.

One summer camp activity you can do is add an animal theme week and use Cubelets to model animal behaviors.

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