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Cubelets are a block-based programming system, even without a screen!

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

After School programs can get a great place to supplement STEM lessons.

For Texas’ Northside Independent School District, the learning doesn’t stop when the school day ends. No one knows that better than Mario Adame, a Program Specialist, and Monica Garza, a Family Engagement Specialist. With their efforts, Cubelets were added to NISD campuses in a variety of capacities, most notably as part of a TEA Grant Funded innovative after-school program called the Learning Tree.

The Learning Tree program is currently offered to students in NISD’s 79 elementary and 20 middle schools. Over 6,000 students participate in the after-school program. The students are given the option of participating in activities of their own choice, such as Culinary, Yoga, Mindful Coloring, and Upcycle. However, all students who participate in the program use Cubelets and they have been a huge hit!

“Once [the students] got to know the Cubelets, they became very excited. You could easily observe their enjoyment and comfort level increase.” Mr. Adame and Ms. Garza go on to say that when the students use Cubelets, “you see smiling faces accompanied with giggles and laughter.”

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Looking for easy but educational lesson plans for substitute teachers? Look no further!

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.

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We're about to ship our 1 millionth Cubelet! And to say thank you, we're giving out free gifts with every Cubelets kit purchased!

We’re about to ship our one millionth Cubelet! Back when the first little robot left our assembly line in 2012, the thought of selling one thousand Cubelets gave us a thrill. And because of your continued support, we’ve made it all the way to one million!

To say thank you to the thousands of educators, parents, and enthusiasts that have made this momentous milestone possible, we’ve included a free gift with every Cubelets purchase this November and December.

No coupons or rebates necessary — your gift will be added automatically to your purchase. See the chart below for details:

Through November and December 2019, every Cubelets purchase receives a free gift.

Shop now >

 

Free Gift Terms & Conditions

To receive your free gifts, purchases must be made directly through Modular Robotics or modrobotics.com. Orders must be placed to ship before December 31, 2019. Order and gift must ship to the same address. Offer valid from Nov. 4 to Dec. 31, 2019.

Create with Cubelets is a video series designed to help teach coding to beginners using Cubelets robot blocks.

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.

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This year Cubelets were honored with several awards from Fast Company, Learning Magazine, Parents' Choice Foundation and more!

2019 has been a special year for the Cubelets team. This past September, we added new members to our educational robot family with the addition of Dexter Industries. We’re also closing in on shipping our one millionth Cubelet, and preparing to celebrate that huge milestone for Modular Robotics.

And to top it all off, 2019 has been one of the most decorated years in Cubelets’ history!

No, we’re not talking about all the cool, artistic robots we’ve seen on Twitter. We’re talking about awards!

One of the coolest awards we added to the collection this year was from Fast Company. Our Curiosity Set is an Honoree in the Learning Category of the 2019 Innovation by Design Awards.  Fast Company had over 4,300 entries for their Innovation by Design Awards this year, making this honor even bigger!

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Cubelets are the perfect addition to many subject areas, but to get you started we have some fun ideas for your classroom.

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:

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Modular Robotics has merged with Dexter Industries

I’ve been having a lot of fun at Modular Robotics lately.  It’s been a bit of a whirlwind with a lot of changes, a lot of new collaborators, a lot of new ideas, and a lot of creative problem solving.  It never occurred to me that we’d grow by acquiring other companies, but here we are: just a few weeks ago, we completed the transaction to merge with Dexter Industries and we’ve been busy integrating our new team members and making plans for the future.

Dexter has been on my radar since about 2013.  Back then, they were making a bunch of interesting high-end sensors and extensions for LEGO Mindstorms, and I thought the idea was compelling: build on a commercially successful construction kit to enable kids (and AFOL) to explore further than the stock pieces and configuration allowed.  Dexter has grown and changed quite a bit since then, focusing over the last few years on mobile robots for education.  They’re still building off of the work of other successful projects; the Gigglebot, below, is built around a micro:bit and the GoPiGo, further down, is built around a Raspberry Pi.

GiggleBot

Up until a couple of years ago, we didn’t think much about teaching kids to code.  I feel strongly that the push to teach coding in elementary schools is misguided: that we should start with teaching computational thinking, away from a computer screen, and only get kids started coding when it starts to become something that they want or need to do in order to solve a problem or make something.  We hear all the time about how it’s important to teach little kids to code, but most of the time I think we’re hearing it from people who don’t really code themselves and see it naively as a step on the path to a good twenty-first century job. Those of us who write code every day know that it’s just one of many tools needed to design something.  It’s important to start from the beginning, with logic, computational thinking, and creativity, before moving to programming.

I’m proud that Cubelets have been a big success at helping kids learn to think.  With Cubelets, kids as young as four are learning about things like feedback, control, loops, recursion, inputs/outputs, sensors, and networking all before they start programming.  Later, after kids learn the basics of programming, Cubelets are again a powerful tool: kids can code them to make complex distributed systems: concurrent models of cities, animals, and ecosystems.  But the complexity of Cubelets makes them not the best tool for the step in the middle: learning and practicing the basics of programming. Since Cubelets are a parallel system, they can quickly get complicated for learning to code.  It’s much easier to start small and code a simple robot than it is to code an interconnected mass of twenty!

I first learned some programming in Logo.  My dad tells the story of coming to first grade parents’ night at Coleytown Elementary School in 1983 or so and seeing me demonstrate directing my little green turtle icon around on an Apple II screen with lines of code.  My dad likes to say that he saw the future that night. He went home and bought a Commodore 64, learned how to use it, and later, as a professional photographer, became an early adopter of digital imaging, Photoshop and image databases.  Anyway. Something about using code to create geometric patterns and illustrations was the bait that drew me in.

A lot of people don’t know that the first Logo turtles were physical robots, not the familiar on-screen triangles.  Back in 1960 it wasn’t practical to have a physical robot for every kid, so we made do with on-screen simulations.  In 2019, it’s eminently practical, and the real-world behavior, tangibility, physicality, and connection to natural systems make robots an excellent tool for teaching kids to code.

At first, we thought we’d design a coding robot from scratch.  Modular Robotics is a spinoff from an academic research lab at Carnegie Mellon University, and the desire to invent new things is part of our culture.  But after a few discussions with John Cole, Dexter’s founder and CEO, it was apparent that there was a better path right in front of us. On July 1, 2019, Modular Robotics bought Dexter Industries, and not only have we expanded the set of learn-to-code tools in our product line, we’ve got a great new team of experts to work with moving forward.

John is a pretty amazing human being.  He started Dexter Industries in his kitchen, after working in alternative energy and a variety of other fields too.  He has an insatiable curiosity, combined with the capability to realize his crazy ideas, and that draws everyone toward wanting to work with him.  Over the last ten years he’s spent time in Afghanistan, India, Iraq, and many other places, and has some unique stories to tell. I’m honored and thrilled to have him on the Modular Robotics team as a close collaborator, along with the impressive collection of characters who make up the rest of the Dexter team.

People seem to recoil a bit at the word “synergy”.  I think it gets thrown around too much in the business community and has lost some of its meaning.  But in the context of mergers and acquisitions, it has a very specific meaning. Putting our two companies together results in a lot of synergies; areas in which the best of one company can combine with the best of the other, creating a whole that’s more than the sum of its parts: a whole that’s more like the product of its parts.  By multiplying Modular Robotics’ operations, reach, design, education experience, and network with Dexter’s innovation, engineering, university programs, and coding robots, we’re way more effective than when both of us were out there trying to do everything on our own. If you still hate the word “synergy,” maybe try syzygy.  It’s a much cooler word.  Or zymurgy, which I fondly recall from being a little kid who read the dictionary, often backward.  Ok, sorry, I’m getting distracted.

We’re making one awesome change immediately.  Starting today, all of the Dexter curricula, lesson plans, and activities will be available free of charge, under a Creative Commons license, for educators to download, remix, and re-use, however they desire.  It’s a treasure trove of awesome content and I’m psyched to get it into more teachers’ hands. The materials that the Dexter team have designed and built over the years are a direct fit with our mission, and making them available at no charge feels like a great way to quickly scale up and help many more kids become better thinkers.

Other changes will be slower.  We’ve already got our design, education, and engineering teams collaborating on a couple of new Cubelets and some educational material to be launched early next year.  We’re starting in on a couple of top secret projects as well. For now, the Gigglebot, GoPiGo, BrickPi, GrovePi, and the rest of the new products will stay branded as Dexter Industries products.  When you place an order, it’ll ship from Modular Robotics in Boulder, Colorado, and when you email customer support, you’ll be reaching our new, combined team. I’m excited to share some fun new things in the coming months, but for now, we’re charging ahead and trying to break as few things as we can in the meantime.

Zooming back out for a minute, I’m tremendously proud that our team was able to put this merger together, especially within the current context of quite a few IoT and consumer robotics companies (Anki, Jibo, Reach…) shutting down.  Casual observers might make an assumption that the consumer robotics market isn’t as promising as previously thought, but I’m certain that’s incorrect and that all of those companies were simply spending way more money than they were making.    Hardware is hard, no doubt, but as we get closer to shipping the millionth Cubelet, it feels like we’ve built a strong foundation helping kids become better thinkers.  This acquisition allows us to immediately scale up and impact a greater number of kids and a more diverse set of learners. I’m incredibly excited for what’s next.

Are your students ready to take the next step into coding with Cubelets? Check out our new Personality Swap code feature on Cubelets Blockly!

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.

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Facilities Manager Mitch Kremm found himself faced with a unique challenge: turning an old post office into a coworking space.

At 6-foot-7, Facilities Manager Mitch Kremm is used to being asked to change the light bulbs. He’s also had to tackle a slightly unusual challenge — turning a former post office into a coworking space for three Boulder robotics companies.

Modular Robotics moved into the empty postal facility in 2015, initially using it as an assembly plant. But as the demand for Cubelets grew, the space became a full-time office and shipping warehouse.

“Our space was full of workbenches and equipment from the early days of manufacturing at Modular Robotics, so it started as a project to inventory those items and organize them all to open up some breathing room for our operations team. As we sold off the equipment to some up-and-coming tech companies in the Boulder area, the idea of bringing in some tenants started to float around,” said Kremm. “What if our office turned into a cool tech hub where multiple companies share work space and network?”

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