Archive for the ‘curriculum’ tag
Computers are an everyday part of life. We use them constantly in our personal lives and in the workplace. According the the U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics, over 50% of jobs today require some level of technology skills. And, that percentage is expected to grow to almost 80% in the next ten years.
There’s no question that computer science skills are helping students succeed. But, computer science is about more than just learning to program. Students also need to learn how to think programmatically, to use programming as a problem-solving tool, and to understand the global impact of computer science and computing.
The most effective STEM programs include what are sometimes called the “Big Ideas” of computer science – foundational principles that are central to computing and help show students how computer science can change the world. Here’s a quick overview of some of the big ideas we think are important, and some tips on how you can incorporate them into your STEM Robotics or Computer Science classroom:
- Abstraction – Abstraction is a key problem-solving technique that we use in our everyday lives and that can be applied across disciplines and problems. Abstraction helps students manage complexity by reducing the information and details of a problem, allowing them to focus on the main idea. But how do you teach students abstraction?
One way is to Implement a project that start with a complex problem but uses mini-challenges to break the problem into smaller pieces. Have students solve the mini-challenges, focusing on one aspect of the problem at a time, and then use those mini-challenge solutions to build a final solution to the larger, more complex problem.
2. Algorithms – Algorithms are used to develop and express computational problems and they’re an important part of Computer Science. But, algorithmic thinking is a tool that students can apply across disciplines and problems. Algorithmic thinking means defining a series of ordered steps you can take to solve a problem. Therefore, it’s important that students learn how to not only develop algorithms, but to also learn how to express algorithms in language, connect problems to algorithmic solutions, and evaluate algorithms effectively and analytically.
Here’s one idea for introducing algorithms into your STEM Robotics or Computer Science classroom: Provide students with a list of numbers. Ask them to find the largest number and document the procedure they used. (This is also good pseudocode practice!) Next, tell students that they will be given a program that generates 10 random numbers between 0 and 30 and they will have to provide an algorithm to find the largest number from the list. Once students have generated the algorithm and seen it in action, discuss why the algorithm is valuable. While it may not be a big deal to find the largest number out of a group of 10, what if we increased the range of numbers from 0 to 10,000, and increased the amount of numbers from 10 to 1000? In a situation like that, an algorithm would be able to find the largest number much faster than a human.
To learn more about implementing computational thinking in your classroom, read our blog post from last month, “What is Computational Thinking and Why Should You Care?
4. Creativity – People often think that science and creativity are two terms that don’t belong together. However, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Innovation and creativity are at the heart of STEM and Computer Science. Along with programming skills, students need to learn how to think creatively and need to get comfortable with the creative process.
One great way to do this is by using structured problem-solving in your classroom. Structured problem-solving allows students to be creative, but within parameters. While students will still have opportunities to personalize their projects and justify their solutions, their creativity will still be structured. That way, teachers don’t have to worry about students constantly losing focus.
5. Data – This “Big Idea” revolves around the fact that data and information facilitate the creation of knowledge. Over the past 50 years, the tasks that we perform on a routine basis have gotten more and more complex. According to an analysis done by Frank Levy and Richard J. Murane, the amount that employees are asked to solve unstructured problems and acquire and make sense of new information has increased dramatically, by more than 40% .[i] Therefore, it’s important to teach students how to analyze and interpret data.
You can do this by having students use coordinate data to code precise movements. Or, ask students to design a short, school-appropriate survey to collect data and answer specific questions. Then, have students write a program to input and analyze their data and calculate basic descriptive statistics such as mean, mode, range, and frequency. You can also ask students to plot their data on a chart or graph, and identify subgroups within the dataset to explain response patterns. Finally ask students to draw conclusions or make generalizations from their data and present their results to the class.
6. Impact – Computers have had a global impact on the way we think and live. The way we work, play, collaborate, communicate, and do business has changed dramatically in recent years and will likely continue to change. It’s important for students to understand the global impact of computing in everyday life, and the numerous ways computing helps enable innovation in other fields.
One way to help students understand the impact of computer science is to use activities that involve things like the internet, cybersecurity, internet searches, and the power of programming within advertising. You can also create activities that ask students to connect their programming skills to content from other classes (science, math, etc.). Or, you can ask students to think about and report on the less obvious ways they use technology every day, such as making breakfast, driving in a car, using the self-checkout line at the grocery store, etc.
7. Precision – Programming is precise. It’s important for students to learn that a computer program will do exactly what they tell it to do. This is especially evident with robots. If you aren’t precise about what you tell your robots to do, they probably won’t do what you want. However, precision does not need to be complex. Even simple programming activities can require precise, thoughtful communication – How far should the robot move? How far should it turn?
Ultimately, we’re asking students to change the way they think about giving directions. So, a great activity is to have students create a set of instructions explaining how to do a task like following a recipe, drawing a house, or making a paper airplane. Have one student provide the instructions and a second student act as a robot, doing exactly what student #1 is telling him or her to do. Most times, it quickly becomes apparent that students have not fully considered the level of detail required for programming and that they need to be more precise with how they provide instructions.
If you’re looking for more ideas on how to integrate “Big Ideas” into your STEM classroom, we’ve embedded these “Big Ideas” into our research-based curriculum, which is available for free online, or through the purchase of a classroom edition that comes with the benefits of:
- Guaranteed Uptime – Keep your classroom up, even if your internet is down.
- Zero bandwidth requirements – 30 kids accessing the same curriculum can really slow things down.
- High Quality Support – Have a question or need help getting started? You’ll have access to our best-in-class support team.
- Individual curriculum access for each student or group – With individual access to the curriculum, students can move at the instructional pace that’s right for them.
There is a direct connection between student engagement and student learning! But how do you engage kids in learning? Contextualized activities that relate learning to real-world applications provide great opportunities to teach big ideas in mathematics, engineering, and computational thinking, all while keeping students engaged. If you pick the right activities, students learn because they want to, not because they’re being told, “you need to.”
But, do we really know what students will need to know as adults? Not long ago, it was important to learn to type, but now we have voice recognition software that gets better with every new release. And most of us were taught to read an analog clock, write in cursive, and balance a checkbook, all skills that are no longer necessary in today’s world.
While we may not know exactly what our students will need to know as adults, we know they need to learn “enduring understandings,” things like how to solve problems, how to reason, how to break big problems into smaller problems, and how to organize ideas. Contextualized problem-solving activities, which integrate learning with the development of 21st century skills, are a great way to engage students in learning and teach enduring understandings.
In today’s world, we find new “smart systems” integrated across all industry sectors (medical, banking, transportation, manufacturing, entertainment, etc.). These systems are robotic in nature, which makes robotics engineering problems a great choice to provide contextualize student learning. Here are just a few of the ways you can use robotics in your STEM classroom to keep students engaged:
Use Project Based Learning (PBL) Activities
PBL activities are great because the place the responsibility of developing a solution directly in students’ hands. Studies show that students learning in a PBL environment often retain far more than students who sit passively in class and listen to lectures. PBL activities have also been shown to improve students’ attitudes about your class, and also help develop their critical thinking, communication, and creative thinking skills. ,
Robotic engineering activities are inherently an engaging, PBL activity. However, if you want students to develop the enduring understandings that take place in well thought out lessons, the activities need to be scaffolded and foregrounded in very specific ways. For teachers new to robotics project-based learning, check out our free online VEX and LEGO curriculum, which are designed for introductory through advanced classrooms.
Already have a robotics program but need more ideas? Check out this Teacher POV blog post for some ideas on using robotics in your STEM classroom.
Hold an in-class robotics competition
Robotics competitions have been proven to develop 21st century skills and teach important mathematics, computational thinking, and engineering skills. They also provide a fun way to motivate students and keep them engaged.
But, implementing in-class competitions can be expensive on multiple fronts: the cost of kits for every student, student class time to iterate on solutions, and prep time to implement the actual competition. Our suggestion is to implement a virtual competition as a capstone activity, using Robot Virtual Worlds. Virtual competitions can be direct simulations of existing competitions, or can be hybrid competitions using one of the game worlds that are available. Or, they can even be games that students create using the Level Builder and the Model Importer.
Although virtual competitions may appear to be programming centric, they can also be used to develop teamwork and collaboration (I will solve this part of the problem while you work on that part), develop problem solving and engineering competencies (your team is responsible to develop a virtual robotics challenge that demands that students use feedback from the robot’s ultrasonic and gyro to solve the problems), and develop college and career readiness skills (you have to show your research and present your findings to the class). In other words, virtual competitions provide a unique opportunity for students to practice programming, develop engineering competencies, and have fun!
Here’s a Teacher POV blog post about how you can use a game like VEX IQ Beltway to create an in-class competition. Another option for an in-class robotics competition is to use Robot Virtual Worlds in conjunction with our curriculum to create a scaffold learning experience for your students that’s both exciting and engaging. The schedule below shows how to implement the contest as part of a semester-long project:
Kids attention spans are short, in the 8 – 14 minute range. That makes it difficult to hold their attention in a 50-minute lesson. This is where mini-lessons can help. Mini-lessons are short, 10 – 15 minute lessons that focus on a specific concept or skill. With mini-lessons, not only are you better able to keep students’ attention, you also give them the chance to to practice applying what they’re learning, one step at a time.
Here are a few other ideas for Robot Virtual Worlds mini-lessons:
- Use the Measurement Toolkit to plot out a path, then have your students do the math to hit each waypoint
- Use the Level Builder to teach basic game design principles like obstacles, checkpoints, and goals
- Write a Roomba-like maze solving algorithm (move forward to a wall, then turn right, repeat forever) to navigate custom mazes in the Level Builder
Incorporate student input and interests into your lessons
Students learn better when they take an active role in their own learning. Incorporating students input and interests into your lessons is a great way to get students engaged.
One way you can do this with robotics is to take student input into account when designing projects and challenges. One option is to use Robot Virtual Worlds, along with the Level Builder, to to create different challenges for students to choose from. Or, even better, have students use the Level Builder to design their own challenges!
Another way to incorporate students into your planning is to use automated assessment tools to track students progress and make intelligent instructional decision about what topics students need more help with.
Here’s one way you can use Robot Virtual Worlds to direct your instruction: Create a challenge in the Robot Virtual World Level Builder that asks students to utilize different programming concepts. You’ll be able to see what skills students are struggling with, and can design your lessons accordingly.
Show students how what they’re learning is relevant
One of the biggest complaints students have about engineering and math is that it’s hard for them to see how it’s relevant to their world. By programming robots, students can see how what they’re learning has a direct impact in the real world, and can see how individual math and engineering elements come together to form a solution to a real problem.
New to Robotics?
If you’re new to robotics, check out this video from Carnegie Mellon’s Robotics Academy, which talks about the engaging nature of robotics, and the cools things you can do.
 “Summary of Research on Project-Based Learning.” Center of Excellence In Leadership of Learning (2011): n. pag. University of Indianapolis, June 2009. Web.
 Grant, M.M (2011). Learning. Beliefs, and Products: Students’ Perspectives with Project-based Learning. Interdisciplinary Journal of Problem-Based Learning, 5(2).
Carnegie Mellon’s Center for Computational Thinking says that computational thinking is, “a way of solving problems, designing systems, and understanding human behavior that draws on concepts fundamental to computer science,” and that “to flourish in today’s world, computational thinking has to be a fundamental part of the way people think and understand the world.” But what does that really mean? Think of it this way: computational thinking is like a Swiss Army Knife for solving problems.
Programming as Problem Solving
Computational thinking may sound like it’s complex, but it’s a basic a problem-solving process that can be applied to any domain. This makes computational thinking an important skill for all students, and it’s why our curriculum is structured to teach students how to use computational thinking to be precise with their language, base their decisions on data, use a systematic way of thinking to recognize patterns and trends, and break down larger problems into smaller chunks that can be more easily solved.
Here’s a video from our Introduction to Programming for VEX IQ curriculum that explains the concept of breaking down problems and building them up, and then shows how to apply that concept to programming a robot.
Computational Thinking is Everywhere
Instead of simply consuming technology, computational thinking teaches students to use technology as a tool. With computational thinking, students learn a set of skills and a way of thinking that they can apply to technical and non-technical problems by:
- Applying computational strategies such as divide and conquer in any domain
- Matching computational tools and techniques to a problem
- Applying or adapt a computational tool or technique to a new use
- Recognizing an opportunity to use computation in a new way
- Understanding the power and limitations of computational tools and techniques
Students who develop proficiency in computational thinking also develop:
- Confidence in dealing with complexity
- Persistence in working with difficult problems
- Tolerance for ambiguity
- The ability to deal with open-ended problems
- The ability to communicate and work with others to achieve a common goal or solution
These dispositions and attitudes are all important for students interested in pursuing STEM careers, but they’re also important for any student who wants to be able to succeed in today’s digital, global economy.
If you’re still not sure how computational thinking is important to you or your students, consider this:
- A math student trying to decide whether they need to multiply, divide, add, or subtract in order to solve a word problem
- A writing student who is researching a topic and needs to take notes in an organized and structured way
- A science student trying to draw conclusions about an experiment
- A history student trying make comparisons between different historical periods
- A writing student trying to organize supporting details for a topic sentence
- A reading student trying to find evidence to support character traits within the text
- A math student trying to find a new way to solve a problem
- A music student trying to learn how read a new piece of music
These are all examples of how we apply computational thinking each day, whether it’s in math, science, the humanities, or the arts.
Computational Thinking in Your Classroom
If you’re looking for an easy way to add computational thinking to your classroom, both our VEX and LEGO curriculum include computational thinking as part of the students’ learning process. Our curriculum teaches computational thinking skills by:
- Immersing students in the problem-solving process, both individually and collaboratively
- Teaching students how to decompose problems and then apply that to larger tasks
- Providing students with opportunities to seek or explore different solutions
- Providing students with opportunities to apply computational thinking skills across different disciplines
If you’re looking for a low-cost way to work computational thinking into your classroom, check out Robot Virtual Worlds, a robotics simulation environment that can help you extend your STEM classroom by teaching kids to program, even if they don’t have access to a physical robot. With the Robot Virtual Worlds Curriculum Companion, you can use both our LEGO and VEX curriculum in your classroom, even if you don’t have access to physical robots.
We also recommend checking out:
We’re excited to give you an early look at the newest installment in our Robot Virtual Worlds series, coming out later this month: Atlantis Prime!
Based around the legendary Atlantean civilization, Atlantis Prime is designed to make connections between STEM and computing, while fostering students’ ability to interpret information presented as charts, graphs, maps, word problems, and diagrams. These skills are important to students’ college and career success, and are crucial factors in standardized tests like the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA).
In Atlantis Prime, students experience all their learning activities through an avatar they select. The avatar is a futuristic explorer trapped in the recently discovered remains of the ancient society of Atlantis. Students must make their way through the challenges as they explore what remains and find their way out!
Here’s what teachers are saying about the game:
“I like the use of and interpretation of graphs exercises. I like the way that the complexity builds as you progress through the game. I teach robotics and science at a STEAM middle school. This is a great program that blends science, math, engineering and technology.”- Paul, Fisher Middle School, South Carolina
“While I was playing the game, I had a few 8th graders come in to help me and observe to see if they would be interested in something like this. They thought it was great and would really like to try something like this in their science, math, or computer classes.” – Maureen, Notre Dame Academy, New York
- Challenges based on programming logic, puzzles, and games
- Player Customization and Online Badges
- Instructional CS-STEM assessments with student reports
- Introductory Programming with a drag-and-drop interface and interactive contextual help
- A comprehensive user guide to help you get started in your classroom
Be on the lookout for more info on Atlantis Prime later this month!
Whether you’re just starting a robotics program, or you’ve been teaching robotics for years, you’re probably on the lookout for new and interesting activities to keep your students engaged and learning. Robomatter’s Robot Virtual Worlds, a high-end simulation environment that enables students to learn programming without a physical robot, is a great tool to help.
Through classroom environments, competitions environments, and game environments, Robot Virtual Worlds enables you to create a scaffold learning experience to teach students important math, programming, proportional reasoning, and computational thinking skills.
And, by combining Robot Virtual Worlds with our curriculum, you gain access to step-by-step tutorial videos that teach students how to program using motors, sensors and remote control, as well as practice challenges that allow students to apply what they’ve learned in either a virtual or physical robot environment.
Designed to complement a physical robot classroom, Robot Virtual Worlds is a natural fit for teachers who have limited budgets. But, not only does Robot Virtual Worlds help you do more with fewer resources, you can also use it to enhance your students’ STEM experience.
Here are just a few ideas:
Create an In-Class Robotics Competition: Robotics competitions are a great way to motivate students and keep them engaged. But, they also provide a great opportunity to teach important math, programming, proportional reasoning, and computational thinking skills. By using Robot Virtual Worlds in conjunction with our curriculum, you can create a scaffold learning experience for your students that’s both exciting and engaging. The schedule below is just one idea for how you can use an in-class Robot Virtual Worlds competition in your classroom:
Use it as a Pre-Assessment: When students return from summer break, some will have retained all or most of what they learned the previous year. Others will have retained far less. But how do you know? Most teachers work under the assumption that they need to review everything before moving on to a new concept. Using a pre-assessment can help you make intelligent instructional decision about what you need to review and when you can move on. Here’s one way you can use Robot Virtual Worlds as a pre-assessment to direct your instruction: Create a challenge in the Robot Virtual World Level Builder that asks students to utilize different programming concepts. You’ll be able to see what skills the students have retained and what skills you need to review, and that can be a tremendous time-saver.
Use it to Manage Students Working at Different Levels: One of the hardest things for a teacher to do is teach to each individual student’s current instructional level. Robot Virtual Worlds can help. Let’s say you have a student who 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 differentiate instruction by using the Robot Virtual World Level Builder to create a challenge for each student. Additionally, if students are working in Palm Island or Operation Reset, you can have one student program their robot to make turns while using timing, and have the other student use the Gyro Sensor. That means you can differentiate instruction within the SAME lesson.
Assign Robotics Homework: One of the problems with using physical robots alone is that there often aren’t enough robots for each student to have their own. And, even if there were, you might not want to have students take the robots home, for all sorts of reasons. With Robot Virtual Worlds and the Homework Pack, you can easily assign robotics homework without having to worry about managing the logistics of physical robots. The Homework Pack allows students to have their own individual licenses to use Robot Virtual Worlds at home. The Homework Packs also come in handy for students who have missed class and need to make up work.
Mathematize Solutions: With the Robot Virtual Worlds Measurement Toolkit, students don’t need to guess how far a robot needs to travel to solve programming problems. With intelligent path planning and navigation, you can have students do the math, show their work, and explain how they solved the problem.
Get New Students up to Speed: As teachers, your 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 may be three or four months into the ROBOTC curriculum, and your new student may have no ROBOTC or programming experience. Here is where Robot Virtual Worlds came be a lifesaver. Instead of having the new student jump into whatever challenge your students are doing with physical robots, you can have the new student watch the lessons from the ROBOTC Curriculum and complete the challenges in the Curriculum Companion Pack. After the student begins to learn some ROBOTC basics, he or she can be introduced to the challenge that the rest of class is working on.
Go to robotvirtualworlds.com to learn more and get started with a free, 10-day trial!
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The latest chapter within the VEX CORTEX Video Trainer Curriculum is now available … Competition Programming! Located in the Engineering Section, this chapter includes lessons designed to help students prepare their programs for a VEX Competition.
Some of the lessons you’ll learn within this chapter includes:
- Creating a Competition Legal Program with the ROBOTC Competition Program Template
- Performing a hardware-based test of a competition program with the VEXnet Competition Switch
- Testing a competition program through ROBTOC with the Programming Hardware Kit
The latest chapter within the VEX CORTEX Video Trainer Curriculum is now available … Using the LCD! Located in the Sensing section, this chapter covers how to configure and implement the LCD as a useful tool in your program.
Some of the lessons you’ll learn within this chapter includes:
Three steps to using the LCD
Displaying a custom message
How to display continuously updating values
How to use the LCD to debug your program
The latest chapter within our latest VEX CORTEX Video Trainer Curriculum is now available … Gyro Sensor! Located in the Sensing section, this chapter will allow you to to turn the robot by measurements of degrees.
Some of the lessons you’ll learn within this chapter includes:
How the Gyro Sensor works
How to account for the momentum of the robot when turning.
How to use the Gyro Sensor to reduce Accumulated Error.
How to use the Gyro Sensor to increase turning accuracy.
iCarnegie and Robomatter, two STEM Education solution providers, founded by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University, have merged to form a global Computer Science and STEM education solutions company. The mission of the new company is to make research-based STEM educational solutions accessible to every global classroom. The company’s vision is for all students to be technologically literate and computationally proficient as innovators competing in a global emerging economy.
iCarnegie and Robomatter have been partners in developing STEM education solutions for over 4 years, and the combined organization creates a uniquely differentiated company to meet the growing, global demand for high quality STEM education products. Our products will be a combination of our unique brands and attention to quality STEM teaching methods, rigorous curricula, certification, and educational technology to drive change in the globalized STEM classroom. Our classroom programs provide educators and students with a range of resources to accelerate STEM learning–from programmable technology, robot activity and virtual environments to pedagogic methodology, assessment tools and certification programs.
We are excited to share our latest chapter available within out VEX CORTEX Video Trainer Curriculum … Integrated Encoders! Located in the Movement section, this chapter will allow you to increase movement accuracy and automatic movement corrections.
Some of the lessons you’ll learn within this chapter includes:
- Introduction to the Integrated Motor Encoder as an alternative to Rotary Encoder.
- How to use encoders to monitor movement.
- How to use encoders to make more accurate robot movements (Straight line/ turn/ etc…)
- How to enable PID speed control to enforce a consistent movement speed.
- How to more accurately move the robot a certain distance.
At the end, there are two programming challenges, Basketball Drills and Sentry Simulations, that can be completed with either a physical or virtual robot.