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A Teacher’s POV: My Child Wrote Code?

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Zany Animals Camp 2013

Originally posted on Grow a Generation Blog

by Dr. Ellen Cavanaugh

I took Grow a Generation to a recent Zumbathon fundraiser for the Yellow Ribbon Girls.  Several kids meandered over to the table while the moms were working out. I invited them to play around with the Scratch programming window that was opened on the computer.  One girl, I think about 10 or 11, became enamored with Scratch, asking how to make the cat she choose as a sprite move around the screen.  I showed her a few command codes and encouraged her to experiment.  Intent, she focused as hard on that screen as the 200+ moms focused on their workout. When the workout was over, her mom, exhausted and drenched, came to grab her hand and walk off. It took several attempts by me to convince the mom to actually look, and several more attempts to explain the daughter had not been playing a game, rather programming a new one. She had programmed her cat to dance a Zumba workout.  Even then, the mom didn’t seem to understand and finally looked closer to let her child explain the code she had put in place.  The mom was incredulous, “You mean my daughter actually programmed this?”

AliceI spent this week working with some brilliant young people as they were introduced to Alice 2, a free drag and drop educational programming language that allows students to create computer animations using 3D models. Our theme was Zany Animals and each student was tasked with inventing a creature and animating it with special qualities. J.K. Rowlings inventive imagination supplied fuel for our creativity while we looked at the etymology and origins of some great Harry Potter creatures (Basilisk, Phoenix, Hippogriff, Boggart, and Thestrals). The Discovery channel demonstrated some very real incredible animals and provided a template for our short nature documentaries. We discussed the ethics of animal experimentation and watch some videos of the current status on cloning, using animal to create pharmaceuticals and synthetic proteins, and grafting technology onto animals.

One of the uncles (a young man in his late twenties) stopped mid-week and looked around at the fun we were having.  He shared his remembrances of computer science class in high school, a black screen with detailed code he could not make work.  He had walked away from high school convinced Programming was something he could not learn.

His comments, alongside the mom’s at the Zumbathon, have me wondering about marketing.  Only five students enrolled in the camp.  While other factors played a part, how do I advertise to a generation who cannot conceive a child can begin to write code (and have fun doing it)?  How can we work to allow not just the technology teacher and the media lab director, but also the classroom teacher encourage computer programming and the creation of digital artifacts in the creative expression of their students.

I have had to journey my own learning curve this summer.  I am taking the CS2N Summer of Learning class in ROBOTC.  The Alice 2 tutorials I did in class were adapted from the CS2N Introduction to Alice class that is available free on their website. I learned alongside the kids and eagerly accepted the wonderful help of two area middle school STEM heroes who run their own programming classes in the homeschool network – Fiona and Joseph Chaney.

NatureDocumentary copy

The camp was such fun.  The kids learned to select an environment and create an establishing shot for their animals habitat.  They then created their creature by selecting the object of an animal and changing colors, textures, ear size, nose size, arm length, etc. They started animating their animal to demonstrate its incredible abilities and changing camera angles to tell a story. Finally, they added sound and narration to their animation.  All of this was done while learning basic computer care, where to save and recover files, and how to deal with constant messaging of “Alice thinks you made an error” and carry on through frustration.  The kids will be using the animations they created to enter the CS2N Nature Doc-u-mentary competition.

Two learning leap moments stood out.  The first was a child who had originally placed two dragons into the scene and they create a ‘method’ called fight.  He dragged the method into the editor box and couldn’t figure out why they weren’t fighting.  He had not yet connected the need to write the script for each movement of each dragon to create the method.  The rest of his week was spent focused on getting a dragon to flap his wings. It tied in beautifully with a video on the last day about how computer animation team created the Thestral flight scene in the Harry Potter Order of the Phoenix movie. This boy was breaking down the abstract concepts of ‘fight’ and ‘fly’ and beginning to think in terms of modeling, algorithms, and sequence.

Another moment came when a student wanted to have a turtle disappear into his shell. I found a brief tutorial online (the Alice tutorials are out there, but they are not as easy to find as the Scratch tutorials) and he was able to follow it.  When I checked back in to examine his code, I was so impressed how he could walk me through the control structures he put in place for sequence, conditions, and parallel execution!

High points included sitting outside on a gorgeous rain free day in the shade under the tree at a picnic table at Baden Academy as students typed away on their netbooks creating their animals, inspired by the new surroundings and summer breeze.  Another was the look of such pride as parents and grandparents applauded to see the student creations on the screen in the lab at the end of the week.

Embarrassment of the week – despite a Ph.D., I could not visualize the need to invert the image on the iron on for the shirts – so if you see a smiling child wearing a shirt with a picture of their Zany Animal and all the text is backwards, know that you are looking yet another erratum of Dr. Ellen.

I close with a recent Facebook post from a mom: “John made this video in his computer class this past week. It is short but he has never done anything like this in the past. Wish the class was longer than five days. He loved it.”

Enjoy the kids work – and don’t forget to add your comments!

Bob Bobson

Crackfire

FireBall the Devious Hamster Crook

Moon Dragon

Turtle Chase

 

Written by Cara Friez

July 31st, 2013 at 5:40 pm

ROBOTC Teacher – Jeff Maxwell

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JeffMaxwellWe’ve featured a couple of robotics students the last few weeks, but this week we showcase a robotics teacher who uses ROBOTC and Robot Virtual Worlds in the classroom. Check out Jeff Maxwell’s interview on why and how he uses Robot Virtual Worlds with his students …

 
 
 
 
 
 


 

A Teacher’s POV: Using Robot Virtual Worlds in the Classroom

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TeacherWe continue the new section to our blog called Teacher’s POV (Point of View) with another post by Jason McKenna, a K-8 Gifted Support Teacher in the Hopewell Area School District outside of Pittsburgh, PA. He took the time to give some examples of how you can use Robot Virtual Worlds in your classroom.

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Robot Virtual Worlds is a powerful tool to teach ROBOTC to students. The unofficial motto for Robot Virtual Worlds is “No Robot, no problem.” That is absolutely true.  If you are just starting a robotics program, or if your budget just can’t handle the cost of physical robots, Robot Virtual Worlds is a powerful tool for teachers.

However, the use of Robot Virtual Worlds is not just limited to replacing physical robots. Even if you have dozens of physical robots at your disposal, Robot Virtual Worlds can still be a powerful addition to your curriculum. Here are some examples:

  1. Differentiating Instruction. One of the hardest things for a teacher to do is to teach to where each individual student currently is in the curriculum. Robot Virtual Worlds allows teachers to do this. Let’s say you have a student that is struggling to learn some of the beginning ROBOTC concepts and another that is breezing through the curriculum. With Robot Virtual Worlds, you can easily create a challenge for each student. Creating a challenge for a student is easy. A new challenge can always be created in the Robot Virtual World Level Builder. Additionally, if students are working in Palm Island or Operation Reset, one student can program their robot to make turns while using timing, and the student that is progressing faster can be shown how to use the Gyro Sensor. In this manner, a teacher can differentiate instruction within the SAME lesson. That is the goal for all educators, and it can be achieved easily with Robot Virtual Worlds. To use another example, let’s say a student quickly solves a basic movement challenge (ex. Robot Slalom) with a physical robot. Instead of having to wait for the rest of the class to finish, that student can use the Curriculum Companion Pack to solve the same challenge virtually. Only now, the student can use encoder values to move precise distances, instead of just timing.
  2. Teaching to Mastery. Because Robot Virtual Worlds allows you to teach programming concepts faster (Physical vs Virtual Programming Fall 2012 Study Results), it also affords teachers the opportunity to present more repeated practice to the students. Missions in both Operation Reset and Palm Island reinforce all of the fundamentals of programming that are found in the ROBOTC Curriculum. For instance, if a student has just learned how to line follow with their physical robot, they can then complete missions in both Operation Reset and Palm Island that also require line following.
  3. Introduction to New Students. As teachers, our days are filled with the unexpected. One of the most challenging surprises is when you are told that you will have a new student in class because the student just moved to your district. Your class is 3 or 4 months into the ROBOTC curriculum, and your new student has no experience with ROBOTC at all.  Here is where the Robot Virtual Worlds came be a lifesaver. Instead of having the student jump into whatever challenge the students are doing with physical robots, the student can watch the lessons from the ROBOTC Curriculum and complete the challenges in the Curriculum Companion Pack. After the student has begun to learn some of basics of ROBOTC, he/she can be introduced to the challenge that the rest of class is working on.
  4. Beginning of the School Year. When students return from summer break, some will have retained all or most of what was taught to them the previous year. Others will have retained far less. With this example, Robot Virtual Worlds can be used as a pre-assessment that can then be used to help direct that teacher’s instruction. For example, a teacher can create a challenge in the Robot Virtual World Level Builder that asks the students to utilize different programming concepts.  By doing this, a teacher can see what skills need to be reviewed and what skills the students have retained. This is a tremendous time-saver. Most teachers work under the assumption that they had better review everything before moving on to a new concept. Using a pre-assessment eliminates this need. Robot Virtual Worlds are a perfect fit for this pre-assessment.
  5. Robot Virtual Worlds Levels Builder.  This is a great tool for, once again, those unexpected occurrences in the classroom. Let’s say you you’ve been pulled into a meeting without a previous notice. A substitute has been sent to your class for coverage. You’re a little hesitant to let the students practice with the physical robots because the students are just beginning and the sub will not be able to answer any of their questions. You don’t have time to introduce a challenge in one of the Virtual Worlds; therefore, you quickly tell the students to open the Levels Builder and tell them to create challenges for each other. The students are now engaged and busy, and you can proceed to your meeting.

Those are 5 quick ways that Robot Virtual Worlds can be a big help for any teacher, not matter how many physical robot a teacher may or may not have. Robot Virtual Worlds are not just a replacement for physical robots, they are a tremendous asset in and of themselves.

Unsure what Robot Virtual Worlds is? Check out this video …

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Thank you, Jason! If you are a teacher who would like to share your experiences on our blog, send us an email to socialmedia@cs2n.org.

Top Images - Code designed by Brennan Novak, Teacher designed by Juan Pablo Bravo, and Robot designed by Simon Child all from The Noun Project.

Teacher Appreciation Week Challenge Winners

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TeacherDuring Teacher Appreciation Week, we challenged students to send us stories about their awesome robotics teachers, mentors, and coaches. We received some great stories and are excited to announce the top three stories!! Each teacher will receive a 365-day classroom license for Robot Virtual Worlds. Below are the list of winners and the stories submitted by the students.

 

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CIMG0104-1Liberty Naud

You think you’ve seen awesome but you haven’t met Miss Liberty! In 2009 she convinced our elementary school principal to let her start a robotics class. At first, she volunteered her time to teach 24 of us after school (we were in 3rd and 4th grade)…it was so much fun! She made learning how to program seem really easy. We used both NXT-G and ROBOTC.

Then, she loved doing it so much, she founded a STEM non-profit to start robotics and engineering programs throughout our community. She gave a ton of her time to help start robotics programs at elementary, middle, and high schools and then her “robot fever” spread to the neighboring school districts. She began teaching at multiple schools, starting FIRST teams at all levels, and helping us realize there was more we could do with our future then we ever thought possible.

In our community, because of her passion, we now have three school districts with: 4 high schools with actual engineering and robotics elective classes, 3 middle schools with engineering/robotics electives, and two elementary schools with technology rotations of programming with robotics. To top if off, she recruited other awesome teachers to help with the after school programs and every year there are over 32 schools who have full-time robotics teams…all because she rocks. (oh…and she helped the Palm Springs Air Museum raise over $400,000 to build a technology center for kids who want to do robotics, but it isn’t offered at their school!).

Well, we aren’t in elementary school anymore, but she continues to open up her house for our rag-tag group in addition to all the classes she teaches. We love her so much. She is enthusiastic about making sure we “learn how to learn”; thinking critically about everything we work on, from strategy, to psuedocoding, to prototyping out designs. She always answers our questions with questions, and has a neat way of helping us break down complex issues into tiny bite-size pieces.

But best of all, she encourages us to be “Fruitloops in a World Full of Cheerios” and challenges us to the best of who we can be and embrace our quirkiness.

Yeah…Miss Liberty is awesome!!!!!

X-Treme Team (and the kids of the Coachella Valley)
Mikie
Harrison
Parker
Diego
Matthew
Aubrey
Gracie
Blake
Aidan

 
 
Mr Conlon, Dylan and NiamhGraham Conlon

“We know what we are, but not what we may be.” – Hamlet Act IV Scene V

A life beyond what we can perceive is a tall tale to tell indeed. The future is uncertain, opaque, and daunting. We can never truly grasp what it entails, and it often seems unreachable. Yet visions and plans of a future that we may influence lie entirely in our hands, and these dreams may be brought to reality through the wisdom, guidance and eccentric nature of one great man. Mr Graham Conlon is truly a delight to all. His enthusiasm, insight, good-humour and remarkable wit has propelled our team onwards and upwards to unimaginable renown. Whilst this may be marked as pretentious, there are no delusions of grandeur here. Mr Conlon has been a wonderful and exemplary mentor, showing us that with careful organisation, a calm approach, and a dry joke or two, we can affect and shape a collective future for the team. Regardless of the final outcome, we are taught that the journey that we embark on as a team is far more significant; That growing and developing as a team has more value than success. He centers our main focus around building an exceptional team that can then build, control and influence an exceptional robot. From there, the rest is our own doing.

 
 
Mentor from Reseda Regents Robotics

*We have not got official word from this coach to use his name in the article, so it has been removed from the story.

I do not write to you today about a mentor of my team, at least not a formal mentor. Instead I write of VRC#20 mentor. I recall him asking why I “wasn’t smiling” very much during the 2011 world championships as he handed me a completed score sheet with a win for red alliance. I find it strange; that single comment brightened the rest of the competition for me (even though I wasn’t sad, just tired) and forever made me a bit appreciative of what he does for robotics. Each year, my team (VRC#599) hosts a VEX tournament for teams in our area that services around 40 teams each year. As such a large event, we draw volunteers from numerous sources and rely heavily on volunteer support. Amongst the volunteers stand STEM teachers, college teachers, students, engineers, and parents. At my very first event, I knew the volunteers from my team and no one else. Within a year I recognized each face and knew each volunteer by name. I see the Reseda Regents Robotics mentor in the morning donning the bright Reseda Regents blue. Just as soon as his team is registered, the Reseda Regents Robotics mentor has put on the striped referee shirt. At every event, he does the same. You see him in bright blue, you see him in black and white. One would expect his black and white referee uniform to juxtapose his Reseda shirt just as the black juxtaposes the white. One would expect an on/off relationship  of volunteer to coach; a relationship that leads him to coach his team and volunteer as two separate entities. His Reseda blue very well may be the black and white of the Referee shirt or the gray of a volunteer shirt. In everything he does, he presents a team that inspires. Reseda blue stands out amongst the field reset crew. Reseda blue stands out amongst the queueing team. Reseda blue stands out amongst the half assembled fields. Reseda blue stands out amongst my Robodox green.  Reseda blue stands out because team 20, Reseda Regents Robotics, and everyone else emulate an outstanding mentor and teacher whose Reseda blue stands out amongst everything he does.

Account provided by Chris Miranda of VRC#599, Robodox

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Thank you to every one who sent in their stories and thank you to ALL teachers, mentors, and coach for everything you do for your students!

Written by Cara Friez

May 17th, 2013 at 4:58 pm

A Teacher’s POV: Robotics in a STEM Classroom

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TeacherI’d like to welcome a new section to our blog called Teacher’s POV (Point of View) that will allow guest bloggers who are teachers, mentors, and coaches to share some of the lessons they have learned while teaching robotics. Our first guest blogger is a good friend to the ROBOTC family, Jason McKenna, a K-8 Gifted Support Teacher in the Hopewell Area School District outside of Pittsburgh, PA. He has been kind enough to put together some blogs about his experiences teaching robotics.

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As teachers, we are constantly looking for ways to make the subjects that we are teaching relevant. Students are always asking when they will ever use a particular concept, or how what they are learning applies to a real life scenario. Admittedly, teachers sometimes have a hard time answering those questions.

Thankfully, teaching Robotics and computer programming puts those questions to rest. Because technology is so ubiquitous in students’ lives, students will immediately see the benefits of learning how to program. Moreover, Robotics is the perfect platform to show the application of math and science concepts to everyday scenarios.

In addition to all of that stuff that we educators like to talk about, students just have fun programming a robot to do something. Add in the allure of some competition, and you have yourself a pretty engaged classroom.

 

With that in mind, I decided to have my 8th grade students participate in a line following car race. Students were to program their robots to follow a line as fast as possible. Of course, the trick is the robot has to stay on the line. While following a black line, the robot has to decide (using a light sensor) if it is on the black line or on the white part of the mat. For the competition, the students added some PID concepts to their line following. As many of you already know, PID is used in many control systems, from your car, to your homes, to large scale factories. The students and I discussed how PID is basically a control system that tries to calculate an error and make adjustments to a control system based upon that error. The robot calculates an error (how far it is off the black line) and then makes adjustments to the motor speed based upon the error. That is what makes it proportional: the movement is based upon the error. Large error equals a large correction whereas a smaller error creates a smaller correction.

The students were able to apply some of the concepts they are currently learning in Algebra to their program. For example, they are utilizing the slope intercept formula (y=mx+b) to find their turn. Y is the turn distance, x is the light sensor reading (the error), and m is the change in y (maximum and minimum turning power) divided by the change in x (maximum and minimum light sensor reading). Students get to apply an important math concept to a fun and engaging scenario that has real-world applications.

 

The students then decided that they wanted to see what would happen with two light sensors. The students adjusted their code, conducted some iterative testing, and surveyed their results.

 

In conclusion, one really sees how Robotics and ROBOTC meld perfectly with the goals of a STEM classroom. Really, the only limitation is a teacher’s (and students’) imagination.

- Jason McKenna

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Thank you Jason! If you are a teacher who would like to share your experiences on our blog, send us an email to socialmedia@cs2n.org.

Top Images - Code designed by Brennan Novak, Teacher designed by Juan Pablo Bravo, and Robot designed by Simon Child all from The Noun Project.

Written by Cara Friez

May 16th, 2013 at 6:18 pm