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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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Tips and tricks for coding Cubelets with Blockly

Using Cubelets Blockly, you can code every single Cubelet within your robot construction. But what does this mean? And how does it compare with coding in other contexts?

User Interface

Cubelets Blockly functions very similarly to other visual programming languages like Blockly or Scratch by using a drag and drop functionality of function blocks that hook together like puzzle pieces. Cubelets Blockly has a few of its own blocks, however, that you won’t find anywhere else. That’s because Cubelets are such a unique robot-building experience.  Check out Episode 9.1 of our Create with Cubelets series to learn more!

An example of the Cubelets Blockly interface

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This blog post contains tips on using the Cubelets app's Remote Control feature as a way to check your work when drawing data flow diagrams.

The Cubelets App has two main functions: Remote Control and Personality Swap. We’ve already introduced you to the Personality Swaps, but have you begun to use Remote Control in your classroom? There’s a hidden feature I want to highlight for you because it’s not the first application people think of when they see a title like Remote Control: gathering data about our robot constructions.

(Before you continue, it’s a good idea to make sure you understand how data travels through Cubelets by either reading this blog post or taking the Cubelets 102 (free) online workshop.)

As you already know, you can easily gather information about how data is traveling through a Cubelets robot construction using the Bar Graph Cubelet. The Bar Graph is also a screen-free way to gather data about your Cubelets constructions. It simplifies the numbers into a 1-10 scale, as opposed to numbers between 1-255, so it makes data flow conversations available for students who are still emergent mathematicians.

However, there is one thing Remote Control can do that Bar Graph Cubelets cannot: collect information about every Cubelet in a robot construction at the same time. By screenshotting the data in Remote Control, students can very quickly gather static data to analyze later.

As students build more complex creations, especially by adding multiple SENSE Cubelets, it’s more important that they check their assumptions about how the data is flowing through their robot constructions. In general, the five main states of a two-SENSE robot are:

  • two sensors at 255,
  • two sensors at 0,
  • two sensors at ~127 (about halfway),
  • one sensor at 255 while the other sensor is at 0,
  • and vice versa.

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2019 Teacher Appreciation Week Cubelets Giveaway

Teacher appreciation week starts on Monday, and we want to make sure you know just how much we appreciate all the hard work you do.

So to celebrate you, we’re giving away prizes all week, and one grand prize winner will receive a Cubelets Curiosity Set!

All you need to do to get in on the action is tweet a story or photo of how you use (or would like to use) Cubelets with the hashtag #CubeletsChat and tag @ModRobotics.

Each new story will be considered one entry, and even if you win one of the daily giveaways, you’re still entered to win the grand prize! The random drawings will happen at 4pm MT, daily, from May 6 – 10, 2019, with the grand prize winner chosen on Friday, May 10 2019.

Read more for full contest details.

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By now, you’ve probably heard all about Computational Thinking. You’ve already defined it and shown how it relates to your content. But of course, Computational Thinking applies to many subjects and tools, including Cubelets.

Here at Modular Robotics, we define computational thinking as being a problem-solving process that helps break down complex problems into smaller parts, so you can develop a model to solve the problem, evaluate the results, and recreate the solution over and over!  (If you’d like to learn more about our definition, check out our page devoted entirely to Computational Thinking.)

Computational Thinking is commonly divided into four subskills:

  • Decomposition
  • Pattern Recognition
  • Abstraction
  • Algorithmic Solutions

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The Cubelets App's new feature - Personality Swap - is a great intermediate step between open play and programming with Blockly.

Have your students already built it all? Is it time to make your Drive Cubelets move in both directions? Ever wanted your Flashlight to blink in Morse code? Or your Bar Graph to show you binary counting? It might be time to Personality Swap™ your Cubelets.

Personality Swaps are a scaffolded introduction to coding. When we are ready to take our students from using default Cubelets to creating their custom codes, Personality Swaps will be the next step for them. Personality Swaps are also a great way to introduce the concept of software versus hardware. They give students ideas about what can be changed within a Cubelet’s software and how those changes might improve their robot constructions.

NOTE: To get started with Personality Swap you will need a Bluetooth Hat or Bluetooth Cubelet, as well as the new Cubelets app.

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