It’s been over a year since we launched #CubeletsChat, our blog and email series for teachers by teachers. Every topic we write about comes from a question or conversation with an educator like you. Whether we’re highlighting some great resources for your sub binder or helping you dive deeper into the computational thinking skills that Cubelets can teach, #CubeletsChat is specifically for you. Whether you’re new to the Cubelets community or are an adept looking for next steps with Cubelets, hopefully you’ll find a couple articles that meet your needs along your Cubelets journey. For the Beginners: It’s easy to be intimidated by Cubelets when you first pull them out of the box. After all, they’re blocks…that teach computational thinking…but how? Continue reading
I’m a pretty big fan of the Museum of Modern Art. It comes from my childhood. My Dad is a photographer, and one of his photos, a racing powerboat shot on a strip camera, is in the permanent collection. And my mom, for other reasons, thought MoMA was the bee’s knees and dragged me into the city a couple of times a year to traipse around the exhibits. When I was really little, I preferred the Museum of Natural History, but after a multi-year dinosaur (and Blue Whale) phase, I really started to like the work at MoMA, from the giant Jackson Pollock pieces to the outdoor sculpture garden to the Bell 47D1 helicopter hanging over the lobby. In my mom’s mind, MoMA symbolized the best of art and design, and I absorbed some of that feeling from her. In 2011, Cubelets were included in an exhibit called Talk To Me, about how objects can mediate and moderate communication. It was an amazing feeling to stop by on a trip to New York and see them in the museum. Now Cubelets are for sale at the MoMA store. If you want to give the gift of robot blocks for this holiday season, consider supporting one of the world’s finest cultural organizations while you’re at it and order them from the Museum of Modern Art!
As we incorporate STEAM opportunities into our classrooms, there are many different ways to scaffold an activity to meet our needs. Some projects lend themselves to student design from the very beginning, and others lend themselves to students solving a problem we’ve identified for them (like designing a maze-solving robot or a robot to help the blind). This balance is integral to exposing students to every step of the design process while also making sure we have time to address all the standards we need to cover. But student motivation is a major factor in how efficiently we can work through material each year. One way to increase student motivation is to put students in the driver’s seat earlier, by introducing subjects with creative hooks and giving students the space to define the projects according to their understanding. Every project students do requires a discussion of the criteria and constraints. Whether those are teacher-given or student-provided, criteria and constraints indicate how students will be assessed on their design. Criteria are the requirements for a project. If any of the criteria are missing, then the design is incomplete. Constraints are the limitations for a project. What will students not have access to? For instance, are there considerations about price, location, or size? Continue reading
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.
For Texas’ Northside Independent School District, the learning doesn’t stop when the school day ends. No one knows that better than Mario Adame, a Program Specialist, and Monica Garza, a Family Engagement Specialist. With their efforts, Cubelets were added to NISD campuses in a variety of capacities, most notably as part of a TEA Grant Funded innovative after-school program called the Learning Tree. The Learning Tree program is currently offered to students in NISD’s 79 elementary and 20 middle schools. Over 6,000 students participate in the after-school program. The students are given the option of participating in activities of their own choice, such as Culinary, Yoga, Mindful Coloring, and Upcycle. However, all students who participate in the program use Cubelets and they have been a huge hit! “Once [the students] got to know the Cubelets, they became very excited. You could easily observe their enjoyment and comfort level increase.” Mr. Adame and Ms. Garza go on to say that when the students use Cubelets, “you see smiling faces accompanied with giggles and laughter.” Continue reading
We’re about to ship our one millionth Cubelet! Back when the first little robot left our assembly line in 2012, the thought of selling one thousand Cubelets gave us a thrill. And because of your continued support, we’ve made it all the way to one million! To say thank you to the thousands of educators, parents, and enthusiasts that have made this momentous milestone possible, we’ve included a free gift with every Cubelets purchase this November and December. No coupons or rebates necessary — your gift will be added automatically to your purchase. See the chart below for details:
2019 has been a special year for the Cubelets team. This past September, we added new members to our educational robot family with the addition of Dexter Industries. We’re also closing in on shipping our one millionth Cubelet, and preparing to celebrate that huge milestone for Modular Robotics. And to top it all off, 2019 has been one of the most decorated years in Cubelets’ history! No, we’re not talking about all the cool, artistic robots we’ve seen on Twitter. We’re talking about awards! One of the coolest awards we added to the collection this year was from Fast Company. Our Curiosity Set is an Honoree in the Learning Category of the 2019 Innovation by Design Awards. Fast Company had over 4,300 entries for their Innovation by Design Awards this year, making this honor even bigger! Continue reading
I’ve been having a lot of fun at Modular Robotics lately. It’s been a bit of a whirlwind with a lot of changes, a lot of new collaborators, a lot of new ideas, and a lot of creative problem solving. It never occurred to me that we’d grow by acquiring other companies, but here we are: just a few weeks ago, we completed the transaction to merge with Dexter Industries and we’ve been busy integrating our new team members and making plans for the future. Dexter has been on my radar since about 2013. Back then, they were making a bunch of interesting high-end sensors and extensions for LEGO Mindstorms, and I thought the idea was compelling: build on a commercially successful construction kit to enable kids (and AFOL) to explore further than the stock pieces and configuration allowed. Dexter has grown and changed quite a bit since then, focusing over the last few years on mobile robots for education. They’re still building off of the work of other successful projects; the Gigglebot, below, is built around a micro:bit and the GoPiGo, further down, is built around a Raspberry Pi. Up until a couple of years ago, we didn’t think much about teaching kids to code. I feel strongly that the push to teach coding in elementary schools is misguided: that we should start with teaching computational thinking, away from a computer screen, and only get kids started coding when it starts to become something that they want or need to do in order to solve a problem or make something. We hear all the time about how it’s important to teach little kids to code, but most of the time I think we’re hearing it from people who don’t really code themselves and see it naively as a step on the path to a good twenty-first century job. Those of us who write code every day know that it’s just one of many tools needed to design something. It’s important to start from the beginning, with logic, computational thinking, and creativity, before moving to programming. I’m proud that Cubelets have been a big success at helping kids learn to think. With Cubelets, kids as young as four are learning about things like feedback, control, loops, recursion, inputs/outputs, sensors, and networking all before they start programming. Later, after kids learn the basics of programming, Cubelets are again a powerful tool: kids can code them to make complex distributed systems: concurrent models of cities, animals, and ecosystems. But the complexity of Cubelets makes them not the best tool for the step in the middle: learning and practicing the basics of programming. Since Cubelets are a parallel system, they can quickly get complicated for learning to code. It’s much easier to start small and code a simple robot than it is to code an interconnected mass of twenty! I first learned some programming in Logo. My dad tells the story of coming to first grade parents’ night at Coleytown Elementary School in 1983 or so and seeing me demonstrate directing my little green turtle icon around on an Apple II screen with lines of code. My dad likes to say that he saw the future that night. He went home and bought a Commodore 64, learned how to use it, and later, as a professional photographer, became an early adopter of digital imaging, Photoshop and image databases. Anyway. Something about using code to create geometric patterns and illustrations was the bait that drew me in. A lot of people don’t know that the first Logo turtles were physical robots, not the familiar on-screen triangles. Back in 1960 it wasn’t practical to have a physical robot for every kid, so we made do with on-screen simulations. In 2019, it’s eminently practical, and the real-world behavior, tangibility, physicality, and connection to natural systems make robots an excellent tool for teaching kids to code. At first, we thought we’d design a coding robot from scratch. Modular Robotics is a spinoff from an academic research lab at Carnegie Mellon University, and the desire to invent new things is part of our culture. But after a few discussions with John Cole, Dexter’s founder and CEO, it was apparent that there was a better path right in front of us. On July 1, 2019, Modular Robotics bought Dexter Industries, and not only have we expanded the set of learn-to-code tools in our product line, we’ve got a great new team of experts to work with moving forward. John is a pretty amazing human being. He started Dexter Industries in his kitchen, after working in alternative energy and a variety of other fields too. He has an insatiable curiosity, combined with the capability to realize his crazy ideas, and that draws everyone toward wanting to work with him. Over the last ten years he’s spent time in Afghanistan, India, Iraq, and many other places, and has some unique stories to tell. I’m honored and thrilled to have him on the Modular Robotics team as a close collaborator, along with the impressive collection of characters who make up the rest of the Dexter team. People seem to recoil a bit at the word “synergy”. I think it gets thrown around too much in the business community and has lost some of its meaning. But in the context of mergers and acquisitions, it has a very specific meaning. Putting our two companies together results in a lot of synergies; areas in which the best of one company can combine with the best of the other, creating a whole that’s more than the sum of its parts: a whole that’s more like the product of its parts. By multiplying Modular Robotics’ operations, reach, design, education experience, and network with Dexter’s innovation, engineering, university programs, and coding robots, we’re way more effective than when both of us were out there trying to do everything on our own. If you still hate the word “synergy,” maybe try syzygy. It’s a much cooler word. Or zymurgy, which I fondly recall from being a little kid who read the dictionary, often backward. Ok, sorry, I’m getting distracted. We’re making one awesome change immediately. Starting today, all of the Dexter curricula, lesson plans, and activities will be available free of charge, under a Creative Commons license, for educators to download, remix, and re-use, however they desire. It’s a treasure trove of awesome content and I’m psyched to get it into more teachers’ hands. The materials that the Dexter team have designed and built over the years are a direct fit with our mission, and making them available at no charge feels like a great way to quickly scale up and help many more kids become better thinkers. Other changes will be slower. We’ve already got our design, education, and engineering teams collaborating on a couple of new Cubelets and some educational material to be launched early next year. We’re starting in on a couple of top secret projects as well. For now, the Gigglebot, GoPiGo, BrickPi, GrovePi, and the rest of the new products will stay branded as Dexter Industries products. When you place an order, it’ll ship from Modular Robotics in Boulder, Colorado, and when you email customer support, you’ll be reaching our new, combined team. I’m excited to share some fun new things in the coming months, but for now, we’re charging ahead and trying to break as few things as we can in the meantime. Zooming back out for a minute, I’m tremendously proud that our team was able to put this merger together, especially within the current context of quite a few IoT and consumer robotics companies (Anki, Jibo, Reach…) shutting down. Casual observers might make an assumption that the consumer robotics market isn’t as promising as previously thought, but I’m certain that’s incorrect and that all of those companies were simply spending way more money than they were making. Hardware is hard, no doubt, but as we get closer to shipping the millionth Cubelet, it feels like we’ve built a strong foundation helping kids become better thinkers. This acquisition allows us to immediately scale up and impact a greater number of kids and a more diverse set of learners. I’m incredibly excited for what’s next.
While having Cubelets for a whole class is the dream, a single group of Cubelets can be just as effective of a teaching tool. Because the Curiosity Set and Discovery Set are small, they are sometimes overlooked when teachers plan for their classrooms. But the size of the Curiosity and Discovery Sets can actually be an asset. Not only do they give more flexibility to smaller budgets (you can get five Curiosity Sets or nine Discovery Sets for less than one Mini Makers Pack), their sleek design and creative internal packaging are actually extremely helpful in keeping track of these valuable computer science tools. So how do the Curiosity and Discovery Sets serve you in the classroom? Continue reading
Welcome back to school — we missed you! As you prepare for the first few weeks of school, you might be ready for a little reminder about how Cubelets work. You may also have a new colleague who was never introduced to Cubelets at all. Don’t worry, we have resources for you to use or pass along – no need to reinvent the wheel. I recommend taking a few minutes to explore the Hub. Continue reading