Cubelets are useful in a variety of learning environments from open-play stations to whole-group guided release. But this balance between unstructured play (important!) and guided instruction (also important!) is a pendulum whose best practices are still not firmly agreed-upon by education researchers, so many teachers like to create their own middle ground. This often involves a workshop model of sorts, which we’ve talked about in previous #CubeletsChat posts. Today, I want to go more in-depth about using the Activity Cards we created, if Workshop Model describes your classroom. Each Activity Card is double-sided. On the front, we always have an image or icon to help students quickly identify what type of task they are being asked to do. We also have a title for the card and a super-brief description to make sure students have everything they need to understand the challenge. On the back, we have three different types of information. One is a complexity rating using both stars and our labeling. For Cubelets we label our levels as: Novice, Apprentice, Artisan, and Master. We also have set-up clues and helpful hints. If students are struggling to complete their activity from the front side alone, encourage them to read through our clues on the back to help them get over their hurdles. Our Cubelets Activity Cards include several different types of challenges that push students into unique types of thinking. Continue reading
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
The Cubelets App has two main functions: Remote Control and Personality Swap. We’ve already introduced you to the Personality Swaps, but have you begun to use Remote Control in your classroom? There’s a hidden feature I want to highlight for you because it’s not the first application people think of when they see a title like Remote Control: gathering data about our robot constructions. (Before you continue, it’s a good idea to make sure you understand how data travels through Cubelets by either reading this blog post or taking the Cubelets 102 (free) online workshop.) As you already know, you can easily gather information about how data is traveling through a Cubelets robot construction using the Bar Graph Cubelet. The Bar Graph is also a screen-free way to gather data about your Cubelets constructions. It simplifies the numbers into a 1-10 scale, as opposed to numbers between 1-255, so it makes data flow conversations available for students who are still emergent mathematicians. However, there is one thing Remote Control can do that Bar Graph Cubelets cannot: collect information about every Cubelet in a robot construction at the same time. By screenshotting the data in Remote Control, students can very quickly gather static data to analyze later. As students build more complex creations, especially by adding multiple SENSE Cubelets, it’s more important that they check their assumptions about how the data is flowing through their robot constructions. In general, the five main states of a two-SENSE robot are:
- two sensors at 255,
- two sensors at 0,
- two sensors at ~127 (about halfway),
- one sensor at 255 while the other sensor is at 0,
- and vice versa.
By now, you’ve probably heard all about Computational Thinking. You’ve already defined it and shown how it relates to your content. But of course, Computational Thinking applies to many subjects and tools, including Cubelets. Here at Modular Robotics, we define computational thinking as being a problem-solving process that helps break down complex problems into smaller parts, so you can develop a model to solve the problem, evaluate the results, and recreate the solution over and over! (If you’d like to learn more about our definition, check out our page devoted entirely to Computational Thinking.) Computational Thinking is commonly divided into four subskills:
- Pattern Recognition
- Algorithmic Solutions
Have your students already built it all? Is it time to make your Drive Cubelets move in both directions? Ever wanted your Flashlight to blink in Morse code? Or your Bar Graph to show you binary counting? It might be time to Personality Swap™ your Cubelets. Personality Swaps are a scaffolded introduction to coding. When we are ready to take our students from using default Cubelets to creating their custom codes, Personality Swaps will be the next step for them. Personality Swaps are also a great way to introduce the concept of software versus hardware. They give students ideas about what can be changed within a Cubelet’s software and how those changes might improve their robot constructions. NOTE: To get started with Personality Swap you will need a Bluetooth Hat or Bluetooth Cubelet, as well as the new Cubelets app. Continue reading
Cubelets are the Inception of modeling tools. As you go deeper into your Cubelets experiences, you learn layer upon layer of new skills, taking your models from simple ideas to more abstract ones. At first, students model concepts like animal adaptations, poem structures, push and pull forces, or energy transformation. Then, as students gain a deeper understanding of Cubelets, they begin to draw models of how the data flows within and between Cubelets. This, in turn, opens doors for students to use Cubelets as a tool for modeling more abstract and complex behaviors like computer networks, the internet, and even Turing computers! This is why we’ve written an entire Introduction to Computer Science mini-unit: to help you introduce concepts that take Cubelets from ‘fun building blocks’ to ‘modeling tool.’ At their youngest, or when Cubelets are most novel, learners will connect this tool to their background knowledge. For this reason, one of our recommended first challenges for Cubelets users is to build a Cubelets lighthouse. We mentioned this in our Tactile Coding blog post. Then, students progress to designing robots that incorporate various animal adaptations such as nocturnal versus diurnal or object avoiding versus object seeking. As robots become more complicated, however, Cubelets learners are bound to ask, “Why is this happening?” And if they don’t, we, as teachers, should! Continue reading
We recently shipped out Cubelets kit number 100,000. It’s an arbitrary number, but I think cause for celebration. Something about another digit, an order of magnitude, reinforces that a hundred thousand is a pretty big number. The notion that we’ve made 100,000 boxed Cubelets kits is a little baffling when I think back through our history. I started on the design of Cubelets as part of my PhD research (we called them roBlocks back then) at Carnegie Mellon University in 2006. Something about the little robot blocks caused imaginations to go into overdrive; one after another, people visiting our lab kept asking if I could make just a few more Cubelets; for their science center or children’s museum. After a visitor from Japan offered to pay a ridiculous amount of money for my (only) prototype set of Cubelets, we decided to try to figure out how to make more of them in a way that didn’t rely on me staying up all night soldering circuit boards. Here’s one of my favorite videos from the Cubelets Museum. These were the first working prototypes of the design for mass production. I had just returned from a trip to visit our injection mold supplier in China, and brought back these black prototypes. I shot this video quickly on my desk, my friend Evan recorded the music, and I did a quick iMovie edit and posted the video. Yesterday, our COO Jon Moyes and I were talking about the feeling of wonder, and he mentioned how vividly he remembered seeing this video in 2011 and deciding that he wanted to work for Modular Robotics. Even back then we were thinking about the future. I remember a conversation with Brad Feld, one of our Directors, where we discussed orders of magnitude for product lines. Back then, we posited that we’d make around 1000 Cubelets kits, then we’d parlay what we learned from that into the next product that we’d make 10,000 of (remember MOSS?). And that eventually, we’d figure out robot blocks and design a product that sold 100,000 kits. Here we are, eight years later, with 100,000 Cubelets kits out the door and increasing volumes each year. We didn’t see that coming. From some perspectives, 100,000 is not a huge number. When I was a little kid, it was a big deal for a car to reach 100,000 miles. I remember when our big green Dodge van, Betsy, hit 100,000 miles. The van only had five digits on the odometer; reaching 100,000 caused it to reset to zero. But now some cars are making it to a million miles! For us, though, 100,000 Cubelets kits (that’s around 720,000 Cubelets, by the way) feels big, and feels like a reason to celebrate. After all, the mission of Modular Robotics is to make the world a better place with thousands and thousands of tiny robots. Explicit in that is broad impact through scale. We see every day how Cubelets can help kids form thoughtful and accurate models of how the world works, and it feels like we’re on our way to helping create a critical mass of kids who can think about complex systems, networks, and emergence in ways that my generation clearly can’t. Here’s our most recent Cubelets video. Some things have changed, but it’s surprising how much has not.
As Space Shuttle Endeavor is transported to its retirement, my Facebook and Twitter feeds are flooded with comments and photos of its final flight. I can’t help but feel like this is, at some level, the end of an era. An era of big dreams and phenomenal achievements. An era of curiosity, exploration and discovery. It’s the end of an era of great things.
In my opinion, the Shuttle program is (symbolically, and perhaps physically) the single largest achievement humans have ever made. A highly reliable, mostly reusable machine that can transport and sustain human life outside our protective atmosphere, bringing with it complex scientific equipment, and the spirits of a nation. What enabled its success? A passion for science, the desire for discovery, and the collaboration of thousands of individuals. Thousands of people working together in teams, collaborating to design and build each of the 1,000,000+ components that comprise one shuttle. Each of those parts must to do it’s job AND work perfectly with each of the other 999,999 parts. This complexity and collaboration is the motivation behind Cubelets. Just one Cubelet doesn’t do anything useful, just as a single NASA design team couldn’t have built a Shuttle. But when you put a few Cubelets together, they spring to life. Working as a team, each of the members of the group accomplishes what none of them could accomplish individually, and amazing interactions result.
There’s one way to ensure that the end of one era is succeeded by great things in the next: by educating and encouraging kids to do great things. Children possess such amazing creative capabilities. Every group of students we’ve given a set of Cubelets to has combined them in a new way to make a different robot that is completely unique from anything we’ve seen before. It’s incredible! Dream it and build it – just like NASA. Let’s inspire the next generation of dreamers!