“I feel that robots in schools are an incredible equalizer,” says Craig Dunlap, a Blended Learning Teacher at Yealey Elementary in Boone County School District in Florence, Kentucky. “No one really knows what they are doing, so it’s OK not to be an expert.” Mr. Dunlap runs Yealey’s makerspace program and assists other teachers with integrating technology in their classrooms, whether that’s Chromebooks, iPads, or, of course, robots. He continues, “I love one-on-one time with students over robots. We learn a new skill and form a bond at the same time.” It took some time, however to realize his makerspace vision. Continue reading
The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), a “charitable cultural organization with a mission to transform the way people see the world through film”, hosts one of the largest publicly-attended festivals in the world, attracting nearly half a million visitors worldwide. During the TIFF Kids International Film Festival, TIFF hosts digiPlaySpace, a children’s exhibition showcasing digital interactive installations created by international artists and developers with new works introduced each year. Cubelets were first introduced at TIFF in 2013 and later became part of the touring exhibition. “digiPlaySpace has proven to be wildly popular with visitors around the world, and Cubelets have been an integral part of that popularity,” says Suzan Sabir, the senior project manager who oversees the digiPlaySpace traveling exhibit program at TIFF. “I believe that part of this appeal is that visitors are able to create a simple robot easily and quickly – instant gratification – and then they can move on to more complex robots with additional experience.” Continue reading
Travel roughly thirty-one miles west of Auckland, and you will come to New Zealand’s Waiheke Island, a scenic destination in New Zealand’s Hauraki Gulf with nine thousand permanent residents. Librarian Julia Mount spoke to us about how she has been utilizing Cubelets with young patrons at the Waiheke Island Community Library: “A couple of years ago, a colleague and I started a digital club/Makerspace that runs on Sunday mornings. Theoretically, the Makerspace is for children between the ages of 5-13 and their families, but often passing parents will involve their pre-school age children in the activities. The Makerspace has since given lots of fun and learning for me as well as those who attend. Because Waiheke Island is a holiday destination, our Makerspace regulars are supplemented with holiday makers during the summer break, expanding the chances for locals to make new friends as well as let families from other locations know what Auckland Council Libraries as a whole has to offer. “Cubelets are an open play part of the Makerspace. A library team member or child who already knows about Cubelets will demonstrate to newbies how to make a basic robot with just three cubes – Distance, Drive and Battery. We then challenge the newbies to make seven different robots with just the three cubes. While some enjoy the challenge, others just start experimenting and inventing.” Continue reading
Ask Brandy Ray for her favorite Cubelets moment, and she’ll tell you about watching three- and four-year-olds using Cubelets to explore robotics.
It was so fun to watch their understanding unfold! We did so many Cubelets challenges in the classroom. We even used Cubelets as a way to teach math and science concepts such as sorting and human senses. Before long, my students were able to understand that each Cube is programmed to be a sense, think, or act Cube, and that each of these Cubes influenced the behavior of whatever they’d created. After creating a Fraidy Bot, one of my three-year-old students shared, “It senses your hand. I can drive it to you!”Now a fifth-grade teacher at Mackintosh Academy in Boulder, Colorado, Ms. Ray has used Cubelets in a variety of classroom settings across a wide age range. She utilizes Cubelets to teach concepts such as computational thinking, cause and effect, and the different components of a robot. Cubelets robot blocks allow for “hands-on inquiries,” a method she finds valuable for instilling these lessons. Ms. Ray has seen first-hand the kind of impact Cubelets have had on her students. Cubelets have taught her students techniques for how to problem-solve, an important lifelong skill. She has watched older students experiment to find out how a particular THINK block works, and has challenged younger students to try to build a robot using only three Cubelets blocks. She finds that Cubelets are a useful way for her to teach math concepts like sorting, as well as for modeling science concepts. Ms. Ray observed her students learning the principles of cause and effect using Cubelets. They also explored how each robot block is programmed to perform a specific function, and that each one will influence the whole robot construction in different ways. For her fellow educators, Ms. Ray acknowledges that working with materials and concepts that they may not be familiar with can be intimidating. Nonetheless, she encourages teachers to take the risk and try out Cubelets in their classrooms. She has found that, even right out of the box, Cubelets can be used to investigate a variety of content areas. But more than that, Ms. Ray says, “It’s so fun to watch a student figure out how Cubelets work. Surprise and excitement light up their face!”
Robot fun has made it into summer camps! With 40 locations in the US, Steve & Kate’s Camp leaders were excited to add Cubelets to their activities in 2017. With the addition of Cubelets, they found that robotics has been a popular offering in their camps. Michaela Clinton, Camp Director in Denver, worked at camps for 15 years before joining Steve & Kate’s. She was “drawn to the educational philosophy of letting kids express themselves in ways they may have never been able to before.” At Steve & Kate’s, students design their own summer camp experience. They are given the choice of several different kinds of activities, including sports, cooking, music studio, and robotics. Campers are allowed to pursue whatever interests them at any given moment during the day. As Cubelets encourage discovery through play, they are a natural fit for the open exploration style of learning that is a hallmark of the Steve & Kate’s camp experience. “We use Cubelets in our Coding and Robotics studio as the robotics component,” Ms. Clinton says. “We have open play time for most of the day, so campers utilize plastic mats on the floor to run their robots in all kinds of shapes and sizes.” The camp also runs special weeks where the students are challenged to build robots according to a theme. One of the themes, “Spin This,” challenges students to build a robot construction that spins an object or spins itself. The most popular theme, however, is Battle Bots. Campers love adding lots of Drive, Speaker, and Flashlight blocks to their robot creations prior to setting their constructions against one another in battle! What have leaders at Steve and Kate’s discovered? Teamwork is one of the most important concepts that campers learn while exploring with Cubelets. Campers also learn about mechanics (or mechanisms), connections, logical thinking, problem solving, and creativity. Collaboration is key with Cubelets, and campers become comfortable with sharing their robot blocks along with their ideas in an innovative setting. What is Ms. Clinton’s favorite part about watching her campers work with Cubelets? “When they discover that a change can make things work the way they wanted or in a way they never expected,” she answers. “When they make a new discovery they simply have to show the entire room what they have done. When they’re trying to problem solve and they concentrate really hard, the occasional tongue sticks out.” Cubelets have had a profound effect on Ms. Clinton’s campers. She says that Cubelets have “opened up the wide world of mechanical potential. It lets them take their creativity into reality and see it unfold before their eyes.” After a summer spent working with Cubelets and observing how children interact with them, Ms. Clinton has this advice for educators working in camps and similar settings: “Play with them for several hours first. Set a few goals for what you want to create, then try to see it through. This will help you go through the experience that campers go through. Be ready with some coping skills for kids! Don’t feel like you have to fix their issue right away. Help them understand the limitations and capabilities of each cube and let them find out on their own what will happen. This opens up more possibilities.”
Michael Jaber has seen first-hand the profound effect Cubelets robot blocks have on students. Students who tended to sit back now step up and lead; those who were shy are now willing participants. Those who previously had no interest in STEM have joined the STEAM Team at Jefferson Elementary School in Sheboygan, WI. Mr. Jaber is the Coordinator of Instructional Technology. Every Thursday afternoon, he spends time in classrooms showing students new technology gadgets. As one of the featured gadgets, Cubelets have piqued the interest of all the students. Cubelets are used to explore robotics using a constructivist approach, and Mr. Jaber has seen teacher Diane Moon successfully use them in the Next Generation Science Standards fifth-grade curriculum. When Jefferson Elementary first received Cubelets, they used them in a technology center rotation to allow students to explore and determine what the function of each robot block was This lead to purposeful conversations and the students worked together to create the specific robot construction that they had in mind. “This was not teacher directed but rather student led,” Mrs. Moon said, “and I just looked on and learned as they learned.” Cubelets are also used in Mrs. Moon’s classes to foster critical-thinking and problem-solving skills. For example, teams would build a robot construction and then be challenged to make improvements to it. This led to discussions and methods of problem solving that were advanced for her? fifth-grade students. Cubelets often shine when things don’t go according to plan. One of Mrs. Moon’s favorite moments involved a top-heavy robot that kept falling over. The girls who designed the robot knew they had to fix the issue, but they didn’t want to lose any of its features, like lights and movement. Through a series of self-motivated trial and error iterations, the girls solved the weight distribution problem and kept their desired features, practicing their design-thinking and problem-solving skills. Mrs. Moon found that Cubelets are not limited to technology-based lessons. Cubelets are cross-curricular, and can be used to emphasize lessons in all learning content areas. In one of their language art lessons, for example, they create stories with robot characters. In another, students use Cubelets to act out some of the stories read in class and record them with narration. Mr. Jaber believes that his role is to support the staff and students of the Sheboygan Area School District and let them take the lead on their learning. He believes, Cubelets “encourage the use of higher-level thinking skills, creativity, and teamwork.”
Jamie Roth uses Cubelets not as an add-on to her curriculum, but as an enhancement to her current lessons. “Teachers are frequently asked to add more into our already packed curriculum,” she says, “and time is always a factor. So, it’s extremely helpful when you find an authentic, engaging, hands-on tool to enhance curriculum and to spark that excitement in our students.” Ms. Roth teaches second grade at Fireside Elementary in Louisville, Colorado. She has been using Cubelets with her students for two years. When she introduces Cubelets to her students, she utilizes the free lesson plans for grades 1-3 and has had great success with them. She has found the best way to start is to begin with the “Robots and Sensing” lesson. After that, she guides her students through the other three lessons, which give them a deeper understanding of Cubelets and robotic behavior. “Because of Cubelets, my students communicate and collaborate well with their teammates,” she says. “They are excellent listeners and love sharing their ideas!” Ms. Roth has found uses for the robot blocks in several different learning content areas. She has integrated Cubelets into her Forces & Motion science unit by having her students document in their science journals what causes their robots to move, as well as why and how they are moving as they do. For a language arts application, she has her students write opinions, procedures, and narratives that involve Cubelets. Students write about topics such as “How to Make My Robot.” Throughout it all, her students are practicing their 21st-century skills – collaboration, communication, critical thinking, creativity, innovation, and problem-solving – without even realizing it! Prior to implementing Cubelets in a classroom setting, Ms. Roth used them in a Makerspace. The Innovative Learning Lab had a weekly rotation, and students worked in groups of four while sharing a Cubelets kit. Ms. Roth would issue challenges that students would solve as a group with their Cubelets. At the end of the activity, they would sit in a circle and share their robots with the rest of the class. Students would then fill out a reflection worksheet that evaluated how they and their group members worked together, and what could be improved for next time. Ms. Roth loves how excited her students get when using Cubelets – she says that they have told her that it’s like they’re not even at school! Her students are always amazed by how many different robots can be made with just three Cubelets blocks, and how each robot construction behaves differently based on its configuration. Nevertheless, in the beginning Ms. Roth was overwhelmed by the thought of teaching with Cubelets. “I’d never used them before, I was hesitant to learn, and I continued to put them off,” she says. “Then, I realized I don’t have to know everything. My students will help me!” That is exactly what happened. Ms. Roth learned alongside her students, and, two years later, they are still discovering and teaching her new things. “Cubelets have really taught my students how to work in teams better than anything else I’ve ever tried in the past fourteen years.”
Barbara Grindle knows the endless possibilities that Cubelets robot blocks offer to students of all ages. A third-grade teacher at Marshdale Elementary in Evergreen, Colorado, Ms. Grindle serves as her school’s Gifted and Talented Building Liaison, as well as the STEAM Class Coordinator. She likes to use Cubelets in her Friday Afternoon Clubs as an exploration exercise. She challenges her students to experiment and determine what each robot block does, as well as figure out how they work together. In her after-school STEAM class, Mrs. Grindle uses Cubelets and the Cubelets Blockly app to explore coding. For Ms. Grindle’s students, Cubelets have fostered a variety of engaging lessons that develop 21st-century skills. She advises her fellow educators to think about what they can teach using technology, as opposed to what they can teach about technology. She has witnessed Cubelets helping students, including those with special needs, open up in ways she never thought possible:
When I met my new third graders last August, I had a student with severe special needs… I would only get a shy smile from her occasionally. She felt overwhelmed in our regular classroom and would not make eye contact or interact with the students when she was in our room. My teammate and her daughters had a wonderful time playing with Cubelets at the Denver Museum of Science and Nature. She told me to check them out. My first thought was not for my after-school STEAM class, but for this student. Here would be a way for her to equally participate with classmates. I wrote a grant through Donor’s Choose for Cubelets. In the meantime, I saw her and two girls belly laughing while coloring! That was a quite a breakthrough! But none of our activities required enough interaction, or were too difficult for her, and we didn’t seem to make much more progress. She still would not talk to us even though she could now say a few simple sentences. Then the Cubelets arrived. A boy and girl explored the Cubelets with her for several days. Then she started talking to them in complete sentences to help her accomplish what she was trying to get the Cubelets to do! The adults cried and the class cheered when we learned what had taken place. I now get big smiles, sometimes hugs, and an occasional word from her. During our Morning Meeting she will now whisper the information she wants to share to the person sitting next to her. In our current economics unit, one of our students chose her for a business partner and they are making products to sell on our third grade Market Day. This is a newfound engagement with the whole world!Cubelets have helped build bridges between her students in other ways, as well.
Recently, a new 5th-grade student enrolled in my STEAM class. She does not speak any English and I do not speak any Spanish. Knowing the power of the collaboration possible with the Cubelets, I had her try to figure out how to use them. I had purchased extra battery cubes so more than one child at a time could work with them. After two classes using the Cubelets and getting comfortable with us, she was ready to take on other more complicated activities like building in Minecraft EDU. It was the excitement and success of working with others with the Cubelets that helped her transition and take risks.Ms. Grindle admits that she has not even begun to scratch the surface of what is possible with Cubelets.
The impact of the Cubelets constantly exceeds my expectations. I want a way to level the playing field for students to collaborate. I want to extend the concept of coding on a very concrete level by offering a range of coding devices. This one is unique. I want to expose my students to a variety of technology in order to help them become flexible thinkers, problem solvers, innovators, and collaborators. I want to engage struggling students and have them know that learning can be fun and exciting. The Cubelets have helped with all of these. Last night, I sent the Cubelets home with a staff member and her family. She complained, jokingly, that her husband would not put them down. Then she showed me a movie on her phone of how the Cubelets were being controlled by their wall dimmer switch! And he sent me a challenge to do having separate robots interact! I have not begun to scratch the surface of what is possible yet. So I know the impact will end up being much bigger than I can imagine!