In modern classrooms, we are seeing an increasing need to help students make the connections between content areas. After all, the skills we learn in math help students to not only perform adult, math-based tasks like budgeting, but also prepare them to think critically and analyze information in an internet-driven world. Likewise, as we begin to introduce computer science and robotics into the general education classroom, teachers everywhere are looking for ways to mindfully design interdisciplinary learning opportunities. For instance, how do coding and computational thinking fit within a literacy-focused classroom?
On one hand, the act of writing code into a computer helps students edit and revise their writing, paying extra attention to detail. Within computer code, one wrong letter or punctuation mark will invalidate a whole program, so many students feel motivated to scour their code until they find and correct the mistake. There are a surprising number of previously unengaged writing students who find their niche in computer programming, where they can practice many of the same fundamental skills that are normally taught through more traditional tasks.
Another essential component of literacy and comprehension is understanding text structures. This crucial literacy skill helps students analyze the author’s purpose when writing a piece, and helps them accurately interpret any relevant biases or comedic effect. The most commonly compared text structures are:
- Cause and Effect
- Problem and Solution
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.