Connecting Voices through Robotics: An EdCamp Global Event

This year, our library is fortunate to have a robotics loan from Birdbrain Technologies. We have 12 Finch robots that we are using throughout the year for coding experiences for our students. Currently, a group of 2nd-5th graders are meeting every Friday for one hour to learn to code these robots and create projects with them.

Donna MacDonald (Vermont) and Jenny Lussier (Connecticut) are two wonderful friends who inspire me through my professional learning network, and they also have these robots on loan.  Jenny and Donna wrote their robotics loan application with plans to collaborate with one another, and they have invited my students to jump in to their learning. We recently started talking on Twitter about how our kids could collaborate both synchronously and asynchronously, and we were looped in to a conversation about EdCamp Global.

I wish I had clued in to EdCamp Global sooner because it was an amazing opportunity.  Across 24 hours over 51 countries and more than 800 classrooms empowered students’ and teachers’ voices in multiple online formats. Not only did voices from around the globe come together but there was also a true global audience to watch the work happen. I definitely want to do more with this the next time around.

Thanks to Donna and Jenny’s enthusiastic energy, we pulled together a session on the EdCamp Global schedule to allow our students to share.  Jenny got the application in, setup the Google Hangout, and got everything up and running for us. Donna created a Google doc of resources for the session and started advertising our session on social media.

On the morning of the hangout, I was able to pull a couple of my Friday students from their classrooms to join the hangout and Jenny & Donna both had classes of students rotate through their libraries.  Across the 1-hour session, we talked about the Finch loan program and how we got started. We also talked about other robotics tools that we are using in our schools such as Sphero, BB-8, Dash and Dot, and Ollie.

My favorite part was when students took turns sharing their experience with robotics.  My two students showed programs that they were working on within Level 1 of Snap!  Donna and Jenny’s students also told stories of challenges they had faced with the robots, things they had figured out, and plans for what they hoped to do over the next few weeks.

 

Tweets during:

Toward the end of our time, Jenny had her students start experimenting with Scratch and Finch. They had just enough time to come over and demonstrate what they figured out during the hangout.  I can’t wait to share what we learned with the rest of our 2nd-5th graders so we can continue to explore programming the Finch.

Donna created a Padlet where we can post challenges to one another.

Jenny created a Flipgrid where students can share video challenges or tips about the Finch robots.

I think it is just incredible how students in multiple locations can come together to collaborate in real time when our schedule allows, and that we can continue to collaborate even when we aren’t meeting together at the same time.  My group is just getting started, so I can’t wait to see what we learn from Jenny and Donna’s students and what we are able to contribute along the way too!

Hour of Code 2015 is Here!

Hour of Code Day 1 (11)

We have been participating in Hour of Code since it started 3 years ago, and it is an event that inspires so many things within our school.  This week-long event coincides with Computer Science in Education week each December.  Code.org partner with numerous organizations to offer one-hour tutorials that are appropriate for multiple age groups.  When we first started Hour of Code, I tried to get students to all try specific tutorials, but many of our students have gained some confidence with coding and problem solving over the years.  I wanted to offer more choice this year and continue to focus on perseverance, problem solving, and collaboration in addition to learning some pieces of what it means to code.

On day 1 of Hour of Code, our 3rd grade came 2 classes at a time.  This meant 45-50 students in the library with their computers.  It’s a big group with lots of energy, but it amazes me how they settle in, don’t give up, and support one another.  I also had a 5th grade group and a second grade group during the day.

We started by sharing some things we know about coding.  We also talked about how many of us love video games or apps.  Pretty much all hands went up, and we pondered the questions: “What if the people who invented Minecraft (or insert any app or game here) gave up before they finished the game?”  We also pondered how many games are currently being invented out there that we don’t even know about and how many of the developers will persevere or give up.  It was an interesting way to set the stage for our work for the day.

We watched the official Hour of Code video.

Then, I showed students the Hour of Code website and the 4 main tutorials that were featured: Star Wars, Minecraft, Frozen, and Angry Birds.

I offered these as a starting place, but students were allowed to go to any tutorial they wanted to attempt.  My main rule was that I wanted them to really stick with whatever they picked and give their best try.

Students spread out around the library and got to work.  It took a few minutes to settle in, but all students stayed focused on the Code.org site.  I loved how they very naturally got up and helped one another when they got stuck.  A few students reached a point of frustration where they needed a break, so I pulled all of our coding books from the library as a place to go and take a break to just read about coding until they were ready to go back to work.  At some point, they all went back to their computer.

Hour of Code Day 1 (1)

I also loved that some students who speak other languages saw that they could switch the language on the Code.org tutorials.  Rather than flipping back and forth to Google Translate, they could read the site right on their screen, and these students were over the moon with excitement and were extremely successful in their coding.

The Code.org site was very reliable on our first day.  In the previous 2 years, we’ve had problems with the site crashing or being slow, but day one went really well.  I had some backup plans though.  One of the other activities that students were able to do in small groups was visit our Finch robots, which are on loan from Birdbrain Technologies.  Students worked alone to use Snap to program the robot to maneuver around the floor.  There wasn’t a specific task other than to explore what the robots could do and what each block of code meant.  Some students had the robots congregating together on the floor or even doing a dance together.  It was fun to see what they came up with in such a short amount of time.

As usual, teachers observed students who struggled in academic areas suddenly find a spark with coding.  I hope that seeing some of these students’ excitement will spark ideas for all of us in how we might use this momentum to connect to curriculum content.  We can’t dismiss the tools that get students excited about learning.  We need to embrace tools like Minecraft and the expertise that our students hold in these tools and consider how these might enrich the work we are doing together in school.

I can’t wait to see what else the Hour of Code week holds for us.

Tinkering in Our Open Makerspace

artbot (2)

It’s been awhile since I’ve shared what has been going on in our open makerspace time, but there has definitely been a lot.  Through our collaboration with Gretchen Thomas at UGA, we have been able to offer an open time on Tuesdays and Thursdays for students to come and explore various parts of our makerspace.  Students sign up for a 30-minute segment to come and explore a pre-chosen topic.  Last year, we tried just letting students decide what they wanted to do, but we found that most of them were either unsure of what to try or all wanted to try something different and didn’t know how to start.  It was hard to manage and it was hard to accomplish anything in 30 minutes.  This year, we decided that for the first half of the year we would offer 2-3 opportunities at each makerspace session.  One of the experiences is technology-focused and the other is more craft-focused.  Sometimes these experiences compliment one another. For example, students might get to make a figure out of pipe cleaners, clay, or Playdoh as the craft and then use that figure to create a stop motion video with the iPad.

artbot (1)

At each session, 3-4 UGA students come to support students.  They often lead the work while I assist other students in the library or teach classes. However, I also participate in the makerspace and learn alongside the students.  This is a great time for me to see how students are using the tools in a smaller setting.  I can think about management pieces to make the process more accessible to students. I can also reflect on how various tools or activities fit into grade level curriculum.

In today’s makerspace, students created stop motion animation using clay figures. For some of them, it was the second time using stop motion animation, so they had a better understanding of how it worked. They were able to get to a point that they could actually upload a short video that they created in a 30-minute window.  Some of them even worked together to use pieces that they had each created in order to make a collaborative video.

It was a busy time and the UGA students worked so hard to get students creating figures and encouraging them to give the video a try.  I love hearing how the elementary students and college students talk to one another.  They both amaze one another with some of the things they come up with and share.

As usual, voices emerged with artistic talents or technology expertise. One of our students, Anarian, who we learned is an expert at making figures with pipe cleaners is also very talented at making figures out of clay.  There’s so much potential for his work to develop into a stop motion video for any of his content areas.

While the UGA students supported the stop motion, I pulled out our Finch robots, which are on loan to us this year from Birdbrain Technologies.  We opened the basic version of Snap, and student tinkered with programming these robots with simple block coding.  We are going to do a lot with these robots this year and open makerspace is a great time for me and the students to learn a few of the basics so that our content work can be more productive.

By the end of the first semester, we hope that many students have gotten a small taste of all of the tools in our makerspace, so that the second half of the year can be spent focusing on how these tools can work together to create something great.  We have no idea where the makerspace will take us, but we know that miraculous things will happen along the way.