Tag Archives: education

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
Computational Thinking is a term that’s being thrown around left, right, and center these days. By now, we all have a pretty good understanding of what computational thinking means (if not, check out our blog post about it here!), but for all the definitions of computational thinking, how do we know if students are demonstrating growth in their computational thinking? As with all growth measurements, having students take a pre- and post-assessment is the best way to get growth data, especially if it’s supported by formatives along the way. What if, while we are all getting comfortable with identifying computational thinking in the classroom, we started with a bigger-picture approach? We could measure students at the beginning of the year, in the middle of the year, and at the end of the school year. That way we would get an idea of how students’ computational thinking overall changes during this time in our classrooms. So, what does computational thinking look like?  How is it different from, say, number sense or even being proficient in a specific programming language like Blockly? Researchers have been trying to isolate computational thinking in assessments for years, and their hard work is starting to pay off. From rubrics, to programming analysis, to multiple choice tests, the options are growing and constantly being tested for greater accuracy and reliability. Here is an example of a computational thinking behavioral rubric developed for the Livingstone Academy in East London. It is clear this resource is designed for teachers by teachers. These teachers focus primarily on the behavioral aptitudes supporting computational thinking. Things like: confidence in understanding complex problems, persistence in working with difficult problems, iteratively developing solutions, and communicating throughout the process with peers. Behavioral aptitudes are often a great launchpad for teachers seeking to gather data about a new skill or process. After all, if students are struggling with any of these behavioral categories, it will be incredibly hard for them to demonstrate the computational thinking they are capable of. Regardless of the age of your students, you may consider learning more about the Bebras assessment which provides great examples of non-coding-based questions that were developed in conjunction with the University of Oxford. They have .pdf printables of computational thinking cards for primary students (grades 1-5) as well as an app for middle school and high school students. Here are some sample computational thinking challenges from previous years for different age groups in the UK. So, how can you assess students’ growth in computational thinking using Cubelets? Try giving related challenges to students at the beginning and the end of the year. First, build a steering robot (or a lighthouse if you are working with younger students). At the end of the year, build a maze-solving robot (or an energy-efficient lighthouse for our primary learners). While these end-of-year challenges may be repeats from an earlier lesson, their value is in how students approach the challenge and which intermediate robots they try before they are successful. Ask students to explain their solution as well as how they got to that answer. Listen for language specific to each of the four main subskills of computational thinking:
  • Decomposition:“First, I thought about the different things my robot would need to do. For instance….”
  • Pattern Recognition:“Then I thought about other robots, examples in nature, examples outside the classroom that this reminded me of. For example…”
  • Abstraction:“At first, I tried really hard to work on_____. But then I realized that was sending me down the wrong path and it wasn’t as important as I originally thought it was. So I decided to focus on ____ instead.”
  • Algorithmic Solutions:“Finally, I landed on this robot. You’ll notice it meets the design challenge because it does ______ and _______. Let me tell you how it works: [gives an explanation of the robot that includes both cause-and-effect and sequential language tags].”
Cubelets provide an intuitive way for students to build their computational thinking skills throughout the year regardless of how you assess their computational thinking. I recommend including Cubelets challenges as part of your Computational Thinking math workshop station or as a part of your science rotation. Even if you are choosing to use Cubelets alongside your fiction writing or character traits unit, you’ll be providing your students a highly-engaging way to flex their computational thinking muscles, which is exactly what we want students to experience: fun while learning.  
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It’s finally summer! Students are playing, relaxing, and experiencing many new things, but your Cubelets don’t need to be gathering dust in a closet all summer. Many people are looking for highly engaging tools that secretly prevent the dreaded “summer slide”. Have you considered loaning them to a summer camp or a few of your school families for the summer? Cubelets work really well inside *Theme Weeks* that are often part of summer camp curriculums. Here are a few ideas that might help you pinpoint where Cubelets fit within your summer plans:
Animal Behaviors
Do you have an animal-themed week at camp this year? Are you taking a field trip to the zoo or reading about lots of very exotic animals? Cubelets are great models of natural animal behaviors. Try making robots that act like predators or prey. Or you can invent Cubelets animals that find different kinds of food in an artificial environment. cc - camp #1 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.
Continue reading
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:
  • Decomposition
  • Pattern Recognition
  • Abstraction
  • Algorithmic Solutions
Continue reading
Classroom management is well-served by practiced routines. I’ve already written down some of my best tips in an earlier  #CubeletsChat post, but even more questions about supporting well-managed Cubelets classrooms have poured in. We could spend an entire college course talking about student routines. They improve classroom management, increase student respect for peers and classroom materials, and there’s the importance of students practicing responsibility. But you know all of that, so we’re going to cut to the chase. When you are deciding which routines make sense for your Cubelets classroom, remember the greatest asset we have in our classrooms is our students. Students can accomplish an astonishing amount of work in very little time (partially because there’s just so many of them!). With a short conversation, a lot of practice, and regular reinforcement, students of all ages can responsibly gather materials, report questions or problems to you, and return materials to their proper home. To establish routines, keep three steps in mind:
  1. Know what routines need to be established. These can be created by the teacher or the students, but routines should be intentional.
  2. Plan time to practice new routines. When it comes to practicing routines, accept nothing less than perfect and make sure students can get it right more than once in a row!
  3. Be ready to reinforce routines. You know it, I know it, we all know there are bad-routine days: field trips, upcoming school breaks, full moons. Routines that are clearly defined are easier to practice.
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“I feel that robots in schools are an incredible equalizer,” says Craig Dunlap, a Blended Learning Teacher at Yealey Elementary in Boone County School District in Florence, Kentucky. “No one really knows what they are doing, so it’s OK not to be an expert.” Mr. Dunlap runs Yealey’s makerspace program and assists other teachers with integrating technology in their classrooms, whether that’s Chromebooks, iPads, or, of course, robots. He continues, “I love one-on-one time with students over robots. We learn a new skill and form a bond at the same time.” Image-25 v2 It took some time, however to realize his makerspace vision. 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
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
One of the things I love about my role at Modular Robotics is collaborating with educators all around the world. And you know what?  We all run our classrooms a little differently! This variance makes it extra tricky for me to write content that meets everyone’s needs, so that’s what this blog post is all about. Let’s review some of the most common classroom structures where I find Cubelets: CC5- class chart Continue reading