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
We all miss a couple days of school, whether it’s for professional development, sick days, or personal time, and that means we need to be prepared for a substitute to take over for a day. It’s a tough balance between keeping it light, yet academic. We can’t leave lessons that are too complex, otherwise we’ll need to reteach them when we return to the classroom anyway. Some years, our students can comfortably run the class themselves, continuing their unit of study following the structures we’ve practiced so well together, but other years, our substitutes need to do a lot of heavy lifting! That’s where the Cubelets lesson plans come in. If you’re saving Cubelets for a rainy day (or a sick day), keep a copy of the Meet Your Cubelets lesson plans in your sub binder. If you really love your sub, print out these #CubeletsChat blog posts about student protocols and tactile coding too, to give them all the tools they need to succeed. Continue reading
Frequently, Cubelets are used to supplement other subjects like
math, science, ELA, or art, instead of being isolated to a computer science setting. If this describes your classroom, you are not alone — and we have resources to help you! All of our content-specific lesson ideas are hosted on the Hub in the Grab Bag. These lesson ideas are just that, ideas, not full lesson plans.
I chose not to write full lesson plans for a very important reason (and it’s not because I don’t love you!). The fact is all teachers approach their content areas differently. Some focus on workshop models and others prefer guided release lessons. Likewise, we all create content-focused units in unique ways. Some teachers structure units as research projects, others focus on guided investigations, and yet others prefer to focus on PBLs that connect directly to their local community.
If I were to write a full lesson plan in the Grab Bag (and there are a couple scattered throughout), the overwhelming majority of you would need to sort through pages and pages to gather the nuggets of information that suit your classroom structures. To save you the trouble, I’ve outlined a high-level narrative of how a lesson might look and left the options open for how you’d like to bring the learning to life in the context of your broader unit.
As you scan the options below, remember we are constantly updating the Grab Bag with new ideas and we always appreciate teachers sharing what’s working in their classroom. If you’d like to contribute to our Grab Bag (this is part of many teacher evaluation rubrics: participating in a community beyond your grade, school, or district), simply email your ideas to email@example.com or tweet @modrobotics using the hashtag #CubeletsChat. If we share or post your ideas, we will cite you and link back to any other resources you may have available. We love collaborating with teacher-bloggers and are happy to link back to school-specific or district-specific initiative pages. Because Modular Robotics is a small company, we have a lot of flexibility about how we can support you when you choose to share your hard work!
Here are some highlights from our Grab Bag:
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
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
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. Continue reading
Depending on which combination of Cubelets you own, you may have different questions about how to store and manage your Cubelets. Our Education Packs, for instance, arrive in plastic tubs that each contain multiple groups’ worth of Cubelets. Some schools ordered many Cubelets TWELVEs (replaced by the Curiosity Set in 2019), which arrive in one cardboard box per student group, but the cardboard box requires Cubelets to be stacked on top of each other, so it’s hard to quickly scan to see if the Cubelets have all been returned to their proper places. So let’s talk about how you might manage the storage of your Cubelets.
Cubelets Containers: Plastic “Education Tubs”First and foremost, many schools and teachers come back asking for our Cubelets Containers (the same plastic tubs that all Education Packs ship in). To make quick-scan accountability easier, they’ll print out a Packing Reference Guide and tape it to the inside cover of each Cubelets Container: Continue reading
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
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 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.