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 Cubelets 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. Continue reading
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.
InterventionsFirst 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. Continue reading
The Ed Tech and Makerspace movements ask teachers to learn alongside our students more than ever before. This results in many classrooms being facilitated through some version of informal conferencing, where all the students (either on their own or in groups) are working on a task while the teacher floats between groups assessing understanding, helping students overcome struggles, and providing guidance for meaningful extensions of the day’s learning objectives. But our classrooms are still full of diverse learners and it is incredibly difficult to support all of our learners at their level when we are learning alongside them. Luckily, we educators have at least one big advantage: We’re adults. We’ve lived through life, amassed a variety of experiences, and so our brains have developed beyond the brains of our students. This makes our think-alouds extremely valuable learning tools. Still, at times I have found myself in the middle of an inquiry lesson where I was stumped about how to differentiate the content for my learners. I walked away knowing my questions had been too vague and, while anchored in the right mindset, had done little to push my learners through their zones of proximal development. Continue reading
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.”
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!