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We just launched Cubelets Console, a new way for you to play and learn with Cubelets.  It’s awesome.  Power up a few Cubelets and click the link on MacOS, Windows, or ChromeOS.  There’s nothing to download and install!

If you’ve been playing with Cubelets for a while, you’ll be very aware that we’ve had a little ecosystem of different apps for different kinds of interaction.  One for programming in C on a laptop, another one for Blockly, and the mobile-only app which does other things like Remote Control and Personality Swap.  Now, Cubelets Console brings a ton of new functionality and interaction possibilities to laptops and desktops, at home or, when we get back to it, at school.

Console replaces the Blockly and C programming apps and lets you do both at the same time.  It also lets you Personality Swap your Cubelets to change their behavior with pre-written programs.  Most exciting for me, though, is the new Data Logger interface.  Connect a Sense Cubelet or three and watch their block values change over time.  Add an Inverse and watch the complementary graphs.  See if your kid can make a sawtooth waveform with a distance sensor.  Track temperature or light data and export it to a CSV or a Google Sheet.  Experiment!

I’m at home this afternoon and I noticed that although the sun is streaming in a couple of south-facing windows, our little cactus was in the shade between the windows, a temporary dark spot as the sun tracks across the sky.  I thought maybe I’d build a little self-driving car for the cactus.  You know, like Uber for plants!

Cacti like to be in the sun, so I figured I’d start with a Drive Cubelet as the base and a couple of light sensors so that the robot knows where to go.  But before I put a plant on top of anything, I knew I’d want to ease the back-and-forth motion of the robot so that it didn’t come to a jarring stop when it found light and bounce the plant right off.  I thought it’d be elegant for the robot to slow its velocity along something like a sine wave.  Sin() is a bit heavy for a microcontroller, so I found a web site that generated lookup values for a sine wave and tried pasting a few of those data values into a Blockly program (sine-down.cubelet) that sine-waves down from 127 (half speed) every few seconds.  Then I found the magic of Console.  I switched quickly back over to Data Logger to verify that my code was working and saw these little approximated sine waves.

Then I flashed the code into a Drive Cubelet and saw this:

Looking good.  Next I attached a couple of light sensors and tried programming the Drive Cubelet as sort of a lopsided state machine.  If a light sensor has light, then drive toward it for a half second, slow down, and begin again.  It worked!  The little platform is successfully moving the cactus to the brightest sunshine.  It’d be fun to add a couple of distance sensors to make sure that the plant car doesn’t bump into anything or fall down the stairs, and maybe some down-low glow, but I’m pretty happy with this for now.  

Where were we, anyway?  Right, Console!  Console is a huge upgrade to the high-ceiling Cubelets experience.  I was just doing distributed robot programming using multiple languages and leveraging inter-robot messaging schemes.  And it’s for kids!  It’s super cool to be able to sketch out a program in Blockly and then pop into C to understand the exact code that got created.  There are lots of ways to look at the same algorithm, and lots of ways to understand things.  Give Console a try and let us know what you build.

 

We’re giving away free stuff!  Allow me to explain.

We’re getting close to making the one millionth Cubelet.  Something about that number, that order of magnitude, has really given us pause and encouraged us to focus on the total life cycle of a Cubelet including where they end up in the end.  Cubelets are made of plastics and metals and magnets and circuit boards, and they shouldn’t end up in the landfill.  Especially a million of them.

We do a lot of Cubelets re-use, like repairing broken Cubelets and using them in our demonstration kits, and now we’re trying to get really good at recycling Cubelets.  We’ve got a great set of tools for disassembling Cubelets.  Much of the material, like plastic, is efficient to recycle, while some, like circuit boards, we’re storing for a while until we figure out the best approach to dealing with it.

The Bluetooth Hat is a faster, easier connection to the Cubelets app and Blockly coding, with reliable BLE technology.

There’s a Cubelet type out there, the old Bluetooth Cubelet, that is probably not bringing joy to a lot of people.  It was hard to use and dropped connections a lot, so we replaced it with the totally awesome Bluetooth Hat in 2018.  The Bluetooth hat uses BLE so it pairs and re-pairs automatically, and it’s lightweight so doesn’t cause power brown-outs and disconnections, whether you’re on Mac, Android, Linux, iOS, or Windows.  We thought it’d be a great idea to give a new Bluetooth hat to people who have old Bluetooth Cubelets.  We’ll be able to properly recycle the old Cubelet, and someone who supported us early on could get a free upgrade that makes Cubelets feel new again.  There’s some amazing new Cubelets software coming soon, and you’re going to want a Hat to be able to play…

We’re calling this the Bluetooth Trade-up Program.  We’ve allocated 100 new Bluetooth Hats; we’ll ship one to you if you’re among the first hundred people to claim yours here and then send us your old Bluetooth Cubelet.  One per customer, USA only.  Have at it!

Modular robotics announces recall of Dexter Industries rechargeable battery packs

Robot kits like the GoPiGo and BrickPi are designed to give users a safe space to iterate and experiment with engineering, coding, and robotics. And that means they need to be just that: safe.

That’s why we’re announcing the recall of the Dexter Industries Rechargeable Battery Packs, previously sold for the GoPiGo and BrickPi robots.

The Dexter Industries Rechargeable Battery Packs have the potential to short circuit, causing them to overheat and posing a potential burn hazard. While there have only been a few instances of this issue, we want to make sure your homes and classrooms are safe even if your robots are in storage.

We recommend that you immediately cease using the Dexter Industries Rechargeable Battery Packs, and have a professional safely dispose of them according to local laws. If you need help finding a disposal site, please click this link, ensure the battery type selected is “Nickel-metal Hydride” and enter your zip code to locate one near you.

Modular Robotics is offering a free replacement battery pack to all affected by the recall. To sign up, visit the official battery recall site or contact our toll-free 24-hour hotline at 877-233-6859.

In the meantime, GoPiGo and BrickPi robots are perfectly safe to use with traditional AA batteries (standard or rechargeable).

Once again, if you have a Dexter Industries Rechargeable Battery Pack, please register  at the official battery recall site or contact 877-233-6859. You will automatically be eligible to receive a replacement battery pack after registering.

This recall only pertains to the Rechargeable Battery Pack sold with the GoPiGo and BrickPi robots, and does not affect any other Dexter robots or Cubelets robot blocks.

Need inspiration for some fun, STEM projects to do at home? Check out the new YouTube series “Make with me”! Join the Modular Robotics staff as we try out fun, challenging, robot activities that we can do around the house, like building this Hand Washing Timer robot:

Of course STEM at Home doesn’t need to be involved projects! Kids can learn a lot about robotics just by building their own Cubelets racing robots.

Whether it’s harnessing creativity by building robot seascapes with LEGO or figuring out how to code a Toilet Paper Ration Robot in Blockly, the “Make with me” videos have something for everyone.

Check it the whole playlist on YouTube and don’t forget to subscribe so you never miss a new video!

Using Cubelets for blind or vision-impaired students was an excellent way to promote STEAM at Governor Morehead School

The goal at Governor Morehead School in Raleigh, North Carolina is to have all students “strive for the highest levels of educational excellence and integrity in all of life’s endeavors.” As a residential school for students who are blind or have limited vision, this goal presents unique challenges to their staff. That’s why Caitlin Powell, a Residential Life Trainer at Governor Morehead School (GMS), and Janet Perez, the Instructional Technology Specialist, were so excited to find a STEAM resource like Cubelets.

“Cubelets allow our students to explore, experiment, and engage in hands-on creative problem-solving, right out of the box,” Ms. Perez says. “I haven’t even had to add tactile indicators because most of the blocks can be identified by touch.”

Two Governor Morehead School students investigate Cubelets as part of their makerspace time.

Cubelets are utilized at GMS in a variety of ways, most notably in the library. The robot blocks serve as vehicles for students to think outside the box and explore their creativity. Students use their tactile and sensory skills to create robots that spin, roll, and produce light. They also control the movements of their robots using Bluetooth technology.

“Each week, we introduce a new Cubelet robot that does something different,” says Ms. Powell, “For example, we may introduce a noise projecting Cubelet. We teach our students how to explore and connect the Cubelet to utilize its proper function.”

Continue reading

Cubelets are a great way to help students identify the 5 common text structures analyzed in ELA classrooms

In modern classrooms, we are seeing an increasing need to help students make the connections between content areas. After all, the skills we learn in math help students to not only perform adult, math-based tasks like budgeting, but also prepare them to think critically and analyze information in an internet-driven world. Likewise, as we begin to introduce computer science and robotics into the general education classroom, teachers everywhere are looking for ways to mindfully design interdisciplinary learning opportunities. For instance, how do coding and computational thinking fit within a literacy-focused classroom?

On one hand, the act of writing code into a computer helps students edit and revise their writing, paying extra attention to detail. Within computer code, one wrong letter or punctuation mark will invalidate a whole program, so many students feel motivated to scour their code until they find and correct the mistake. There are a surprising number of previously unengaged writing students who find their niche in computer programming, where they can practice many of the same fundamental skills that are normally taught through more traditional tasks.

Another essential component of literacy and comprehension is understanding text structures. This crucial literacy skill helps students analyze the author’s purpose when writing a piece, and helps them accurately interpret any relevant biases or comedic effect. The most commonly compared text structures are:

  • Descriptive
  • Compare-Contrast
  • Sequencing
  • Cause and Effect
  • Problem and Solution

Continue reading

It's our one-year anniversary of Cubelets Chat, a newsletter about STEM best practices by teachers for teachers

It’s been over a year since we launched #CubeletsChat, our blog and email series for teachers by teachers. Every topic we write about comes from a question or conversation with an educator like you. Whether we’re highlighting some great resources for your sub binder or helping you dive deeper into the computational thinking skills that Cubelets can teach, #CubeletsChat is specifically for you.

Whether you’re new to the Cubelets community or are an adept looking for next steps with Cubelets, hopefully you’ll find a couple articles that meet your needs along your Cubelets journey.

Check out these blog posts for educators just getting started with Cubelets.

For the Beginners: It’s easy to be intimidated by Cubelets when you first pull them out of the box. After all, they’re blocks…that teach computational thinking…but how?

Continue reading

Cubelets are now available at the MoMA Store online and in New York City!

I’m a pretty big fan of the Museum of Modern Art. It comes from my childhood. My Dad is a photographer, and one of his photos, a racing powerboat shot on a strip camera, is in the permanent collection. And my mom, for other reasons, thought MoMA was the bee’s knees and dragged me into the city a couple of times a year to traipse around the exhibits. When I was really little, I preferred the Museum of Natural History, but after a multi-year dinosaur (and Blue Whale) phase, I really started to like the work at MoMA, from the giant Jackson Pollock pieces to the outdoor sculpture garden to the Bell 47D1 helicopter hanging over the lobby. In my mom’s mind, MoMA symbolized the best of art and design, and I absorbed some of that feeling from her.

In 2011, Cubelets were included in an exhibit called Talk To Me, about how objects can mediate and moderate communication.  It was an amazing feeling to stop by on a trip to New York and see them in the museum.

Now Cubelets are for sale at the MoMA store.  If you want to give the gift of robot blocks for this holiday season, consider supporting one of the world’s finest cultural organizations while you’re at it and order them from the Museum of Modern Art!

Help students take ownership of their work by establishing their own criteria and constraints

As we incorporate STEAM opportunities into our classrooms, there are many different ways to scaffold an activity to meet our needs. Some projects lend themselves to student design from the very beginning, and others lend themselves to students solving a problem we’ve identified for them (like designing a maze-solving robot or a robot to help the blind). This balance is integral to exposing students to every step of the design process while also making sure we have time to address all the standards we need to cover.

But student motivation is a major factor in how efficiently we can work through material each year. One way to increase student motivation is to put students in the driver’s seat earlier, by introducing subjects with creative hooks and giving students the space to define the projects according to their understanding.

Every project students do requires a discussion of the criteria and constraints. Whether those are teacher-given or student-provided, criteria and constraints indicate how students will be assessed on their design.

Criteria are the requirements for a project. If any of the criteria are missing, then the design is incomplete.

Constraints are the limitations for a project. What will students not have access to? For instance, are there considerations about price, location, or size? Continue reading

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.