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.
We love hearing about all the ways that Cubelets are being used to build better thinkers. Whether it’s a tweet showing off robots built by a first-grade class, seeing Blockly in action during Coding Club, or cheering on the robot races in a makerspaces, we treasure it all. But every once in awhile, we come across a story so inspiring that we just have to share it with everyone. This is Hayley’s Cubelets story. Like most sixteen-year-olds, Hayley Brady’s interests cover the map. An avid painter, she is also involved in various activities at her school, most notably as the vice president of the “nerd club.” “[It’s] basically a place for people who are interested in science, movies, comic books, TV shows, and video games to come and discuss and occasionally debate about their interests.” The Dublin, Ireland native has the same big dreams as most 16-year-olds, too, wanting to study veterinary medicine. She already volunteers with a local animal rescue group, helping trap and neuter feral cats, or fostering animals in need. But Hayley isn’t just focused on her future: she has already made a huge contribution to her local school, and qualified for the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition Final in January of 2018. How? Hayley recognized the potential of Cubelets robot blocks as a tactile and interactive way to reach students with Autistic Spectrum Disorder. Her project, “The Development of An Interactive and Tactile Learning Programme for Children With Autism Spectrum Disorder Using Modular Robotics.” was deemed “inspiring” by the BTYSTE judges, and was seen by over 50,000 people at the exhibition. “We purchased the Cubelets for use in the Special Ed department using funding our government provided for “hand held” technology,” says Hayley’s teacher, Lynda Jordan, of Pobalscoil Iosolde in Dublin. “The lessons involved initially [were] inquiry based learning. The students were asked to identify the functions of the Cubelets and allowed to experiment with the possibilities.” Hayley, however, saw untapped potential in the little blocks. “There had been no research made that I could find on how Cubelets could be used in special needs classes. I immediately jumped on the chance to use the Cubelets to make a class specifically for students with Autism Spectrum Disorder, as it is important to me, and I have a first person perspective of the disorder.” With help from Ms. Jordan, and drawing from her own experience as someone diagnosed with ASD, Hayley put together a series of lessons designed to work with all aspects of ASD, including communication, creativity, confidence, avoiding distractions and independent learning. “When I made my first lesson plan I didn’t really know what to expect,” says Hayley. “One day while we (a special education teacher and I) were doing the classes one of the students accidentally hit another in the head with a Cubelet. In a regular class the student who was hit would have been upset, they would have possibly had a meltdown and not been able to return to the class for the rest of the day. Instead what happened was they (after initially throwing a cubelet across the room) took some time out and were able to come back to the class without too much disruption and continued to work on their assigned task, which simply never would have happened in a normal class. “The students I worked with did not tend to perform well in their usual classes. They would often test poorly, become distracted or lose interest. They showed poor self-esteem and would rarely communicate with others. In these classes, they were co-operative and confident; they were enthusiastic and ready to learn. They communicated better, they were more creative, and they were able to work independently as well as co-dependently.” Hayley says that her results are just motivation to do more. She plans on creating more lesson plans, and entering the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition again in 2019. Ms. Jordan is excited to see what comes next for Hayley. “The students who experienced the Cubelets suggested, fairly insistently, that we include a Cubelets lesson as part of the school’s permanent programme. They said they were going to start a petition! It’s wonderful to see such passion for learning.”
“Focusing on student learning to use technology enables them to be consumers of technology. Teaching them how to create new technology enables them to be designers, innovators, and problem solvers.” – Dr. Chris Stephenson, 2012 Executive Director of CSTAHappy Computer Science Education Week! Computer science is finally becoming a core component of a complete education in our 21st-century, digital world. According to CSTA (Computer Science Teachers Association), by 2022, 1.3 million jobs in computer and mathematical occupations will be created. We are already well into the digital age, and yet an overwhelming majority of students are graduating their K-12 education without a complete computer science education. The students who are exposed to technology are often taught through the lens of consumers rather than creators and designers. But just as basic economics and mathematical principles are included in a comprehensive education to provide students tools to make informed decisions and analyze the information around them, students ought to be introduced to how technology such as banking apps, messaging systems, and cloud storage actually work. As reported by Miles Berry in CSTA’s “Voice” in 2016, England has already introduced computer science into its national curriculum. Through feedback from teachers, they determined the most effective computer science pedagogies. In the same vein, CSTA revised their National Computer Science Standards in 2017 to include practices that mirror the findings in England: Even students who are too young to have developed strong abstract reasoning can “code” with Cubelets blocks without needing to use a computer interface. Because Cubelets are designed with three types of blocks (SENSE, THINK, and ACT), students learn the importance of inputs and outputs, weighted averages, persevering through a rapid redesign process, and “making” towards a goal. As students grow and become more complex computer scientists, introducing Cubelets Blockly is the next step. Blockly programming is very similar to Scratch programming, which even college students regularly use as their introduction into computer programming. The current Cubelets Blockly tutorials introduce concepts like variables, timing, loops, conditionals, and more. Looking for some inspiration about what to build next with your Cubelets? Check out ModRobotics on Youtube or some Robot Recipes on ModRobotics.com!