We just launched Cubelets Console, a new way for you to play and learn with Cubelets. It’s awesome. Power up a few Cubelets and click the link on MacOS, Windows, or ChromeOS. There’s nothing to download and install! If you’ve been playing with Cubelets for a while, you’ll be very aware that we’ve had a little ecosystem of different apps for different kinds of interaction. One for programming in C on a laptop, another one for Blockly, and the mobile-only app which does other things like Remote Control and Personality Swap. Now, Cubelets Console brings a ton of new functionality and interaction possibilities to laptops and desktops, at home or, when we get back to it, at school. Console replaces the Blockly and C programming apps and lets you do both at the same time. It also lets you Personality Swap your Cubelets to change their behavior with pre-written programs. Most exciting for me, though, is the new Data Logger interface. Connect a Sense Cubelet or three and watch their block values change over time. Add an Inverse and watch the complementary graphs. See if your kid can make a sawtooth waveform with a distance sensor. Track temperature or light data and export it to a CSV or a Google Sheet. Experiment! I’m at home this afternoon and I noticed that although the sun is streaming in a couple of south-facing windows, our little cactus was in the shade between the windows, a temporary dark spot as the sun tracks across the sky. I thought maybe I’d build a little self-driving car for the cactus. You know, like Uber for plants! Cacti like to be in the sun, so I figured I’d start with a Drive Cubelet as the base and a couple of light sensors so that the robot knows where to go. But before I put a plant on top of anything, I knew I’d want to ease the back-and-forth motion of the robot so that it didn’t come to a jarring stop when it found light and bounce the plant right off. I thought it’d be elegant for the robot to slow its velocity along something like a sine wave. Sin() is a bit heavy for a microcontroller, so I found a web site that generated lookup values for a sine wave and tried pasting a few of those data values into a Blockly program (sine-down.cubelet) that sine-waves down from 127 (half speed) every few seconds. Then I found the magic of Console. I switched quickly back over to Data Logger to verify that my code was working and saw these little approximated sine waves. Then I flashed the code into a Drive Cubelet and saw this: Looking good. Next I attached a couple of light sensors and tried programming the Drive Cubelet as sort of a lopsided state machine. If a light sensor has light, then drive toward it for a half second, slow down, and begin again. It worked! The little platform is successfully moving the cactus to the brightest sunshine. It’d be fun to add a couple of distance sensors to make sure that the plant car doesn’t bump into anything or fall down the stairs, and maybe some down-low glow, but I’m pretty happy with this for now. Where were we, anyway? Right, Console! Console is a huge upgrade to the high-ceiling Cubelets experience. I was just doing distributed robot programming using multiple languages and leveraging inter-robot messaging schemes. And it’s for kids! It’s super cool to be able to sketch out a program in Blockly and then pop into C to understand the exact code that got created. There are lots of ways to look at the same algorithm, and lots of ways to understand things. Give Console a try and let us know what you build.
We’re giving away free stuff! Allow me to explain. We’re getting close to making the one millionth Cubelet. Something about that number, that order of magnitude, has really given us pause and encouraged us to focus on the total life cycle of a Cubelet including where they end up in the end. Cubelets are made of plastics and metals and magnets and circuit boards, and they shouldn’t end up in the landfill. Especially a million of them. We do a lot of Cubelets re-use, like repairing broken Cubelets and using them in our demonstration kits, and now we’re trying to get really good at recycling Cubelets. We’ve got a great set of tools for disassembling Cubelets. Much of the material, like plastic, is efficient to recycle, while some, like circuit boards, we’re storing for a while until we figure out the best approach to dealing with it. There’s a Cubelet type out there, the old Bluetooth Cubelet, that is probably not bringing joy to a lot of people. It was hard to use and dropped connections a lot, so we replaced it with the totally awesome Bluetooth Hat in 2018. The Bluetooth hat uses BLE so it pairs and re-pairs automatically, and it’s lightweight so doesn’t cause power brown-outs and disconnections, whether you’re on Mac, Android, Linux, iOS, or Windows. We thought it’d be a great idea to give a new Bluetooth hat to people who have old Bluetooth Cubelets. We’ll be able to properly recycle the old Cubelet, and someone who supported us early on could get a free upgrade that makes Cubelets feel new again. There’s some amazing new Cubelets software coming soon, and you’re going to want a Hat to be able to play… We’re calling this the Bluetooth Trade-up Program. We’ve allocated 100 new Bluetooth Hats; we’ll ship one to you if you’re among the first hundred people to claim yours here and then send us your old Bluetooth Cubelet. One per customer, USA only. Have at it!
Computer Science Education Week is December 9th – 15th this year. Are you ready for Hour of Code?! Hour of Code started as a one-hour introduction to computer science, designed to demystify “code,” to show that anybody can learn the basics, and to broaden participation in the field of computer science. It has since become a worldwide effort to celebrate computer science, starting with 1-hour coding activities but expanding to all sorts of community efforts. This grassroots campaign is supported by over 400 partners and 200,000 educators worldwide. The Hour of Code takes place each year during Computer Science Education Week. The 2019 Computer Science Education Week will be December 9-15, but you can host an Hour of Code all year-round. Computer Science Education Week is held annually in recognition of the birthday of computing pioneer Admiral Grace Murray Hopper (December 9, 1906). Modular Robotics has posted three different lesson plans for you depending on which robotics kit you have available. Check out our lesson plans which are available in the Robotics & Circuits section of the Hour of Code index.
Cubelets Lighthouse Design ChallengeFor students who are new to Cubelets, challenge them with our Cubelets Lighthouse Design Challenge. This lesson plan gives students an authentic reason to investigate each Cubelet in their set, and it gets them started building algorithms using the Inverse Cubelet. You’ll be impressed with how quickly students construct their understanding of Cubelets using this lesson. Plus,you can gather informal data about their understanding by asking some strategic questions from our Questioning Guide (found in our Cubelets Implementation Guide).
Cubelets Variables and Block ValuesFor students who are already familiar with the basics of Cubelets, try introducing them to Variables and Block Values in their robot constructions! Variables in computer science are very different from variables used in math. Cubelets provide a tactile way to differentiate the two by leading discussions and investigations about Block Values and data flow between Cubelets within a robot construction. This lesson builds on the concept of Data Flow Diagrams, so if you want to get a head start, check out our Introduction to Data Flow Diagrams lesson! As always, our Educational Designer, Emily Eissenberg, is ready to support you if you have questions, just reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.
GoPiGo Robot Characters(Just in case you missed it, Modular Robotics has partnered with Dexter Industries to bring our two product lines together. We’re so excited about this collaboration and we hope you are too!) Or, if you have a GoPiGo robot in your classrooms, we’ve also released a lesson plan about analyzing and creating characters with your robot. This lesson is special because it is a great example of how to overlay computer science vocabulary (e.g. decomposition and abstraction.) on top of literacy discussions. Students will analyze a character from a book they are reading, then plan for and write an algorithm that represents that character. Flash that to a GoPiGo robot and students’ programs will come to life! The great thing about introducing this lesson during Hour of Code? It can become a recurring part of your literacy workshop, encouraging students to strengthen their interdisciplinary connections. Modular Robotics is excited to join forces with code.org to support Hour of Code this year. If you would like to learn more about any of our products, visit www.modrobotics.com or email email@example.com.
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. Continue reading
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. Continue reading
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. Continue reading
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 InterfaceCubelets 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! Continue reading
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!