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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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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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