Friday, November 29, 2013

Check Out These Cool Robotics Projects!

Among the many things I am thankful for during this Thanksgiving week is the dedicated group of individuals I have on my student tech team at Searsport Elementary School.  This past Monday was an inservice day for staff, so there was no school for students (they had the week off, in fact).  And yet, when I asked if any of my tech team students would be interested in helping me with my presentation on LEGO Robotics and Project-Based Learning, nearly all of them volunteered to come in while their friends were sleeping in on that day.  I think that it speaks to what we can create in schools when we establish a culture of high expectations, leadership, and students helping each other (and their teachers too!).  They did such a great job and I heard from many teachers how proud they were of them.  We even had some time to build some pretty cool creations with the additional four kits that we received!  Check them out!

I've also embedded my slideshow below.  Finally, check out the links to the project pages for the spider and the guitar from the videos above.

Robotics Update: Coming Up on the Finish!

Can you believe that we're already near the end of the first session of our After School robotics program?  It's been a whirlwind of a time, that's for sure, but we have just two weeks to go!  After that, we'll be taking some time off, but we'll return with another session in 2014!  Here are some other important updates:

1. We just received four more robotics kits from the Perloffs!  That brings our total up to 10.  I currently have money to purchase two more, but that still leaves us well short of our program goals.  I need somewhere around 20-22 for this year, so if you know anyone who might be interested in contributing to our program, please let them know that they can contact me by email at

2. The last two weekly sessions will be this coming Wednesday, December 4th, and the following Wednesday, December 11th, after school.  In addition, I have decided to offer a Saturday finale extravaganza on December 14th.  We'll have lots to do on that Saturday, including disassembling the robotics kits and doing an inventory.  There will be a pizza party as well!  I am tentatively scheduling this from 3-6 pm, but will have more info later.

3. Though my original plan was to begin the second session of robotics on January 8th, I have decided to push this back a couple of weeks.  We will begin instead on January 23rd, ending on March 20th.  Also, we will be meeting on Thursday for this session instead of Wednesday.

I certainly have learned a lot from this first session of robotics, and I will need the extra time to put all of that learning to work in the second session.  Stay tuned!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Three Weeks In: A LEGO Robotics Update

Wow!  It's hard to believe we are already three weeks into our After School LEGO Robotics program at Searsport Elementary School!  The response has been amazing and parent support has been outstanding.  We've come a long way from our first week with nothing but a tub of LEGOs trying to figure out how to put everything together.  Now that we have complete robots, we have started with some introductory programming to get kids to learn how to make their robots move.  I've also had students attempting some challenge courses out in the hallway.  The first one is to try to figure out how to get their robots to start on the green line and finish on the first green line straight ahead of them.  If they complete that one, they then need to get their robot to start at the beginning, turn, and then finish on the green line of the whole course.  Then, if they complete that, they will repeat the second challenge, except they will then be trying to get their robots to return to the beginning and finish on the green line there.  We had a couple of groups who were able to get through the first two challenge and on their way to finishing the third!  Below are some examples of what they've been doing:

It was amazing to see how the students responded to being able to get their robots to successfully complete the challenges.  I think that it helps that the kids are taking ownership of their work, that they were the ones that got them to do what they wanted.  Still, given the world of gizmos and gadgets and video games that we live in, I think it's amazing to see how much excitement students get out of getting a robot to stop on a green piece of tape!

I'm looking forward to the next several weeks of robotics and I greatly appreciate all the support I have gotten throughout this process!

Next week:  the students will be trying the course above, where they will need to start inside the box, drive around the outside of it, and park back inside the box.  Any guesses as to what they'll be doing for the challenge on the right?

What I Learned From ACTEM 13

A couple weeks ago I had the wonderful opportunity to attend the MainED conference in Augusta.  MainED is put on by ACTEM, the Association of Computer Technology Educators of Maine, which does wonderful work supporting the state's teachers in their use of available technology.  Over the course of two days, I learned about a number of great technology resources that we can bring into the classroom, but I also had a lot of opportunity to reflect on learning and working with children that has impacted my philosophy of teaching.  Here is what I learned from ACTEM 2013:

1. Integrating technology effectively means asking, what can we have students create?

A common theme of MainED 2013 was that using technology effectively is not about the device itself, but what you do with it.  Simply using the technology in the classroom does nothing to guarantee that it adds anything to students' learning experiences.  It just means that they get practice using technology, which our students are immersed in already.  The real question should be about what the students are created with that technology.  This all lends itself to a discussion on digital literacy, a discussion I hope to be having more of in the district this year.  I like to outline two distinctive forms of digital literacy:  consumptive and creative.  Consumptive digital literacy is the ability for people to read, watch, listen to, and shop, safely and securely, with technology.  Most children and many adults are doing these kinds of activities on a daily basis (safely and securely is another thing), so we need not worry too much about this level of digital literacy other than to encourage digital citizenship and online safety.  Creative digital literacy, on the other hand, is the ability for people to, well, create, using technology.  This includes making websites, video, audio, other types of multimedia, all the way up to programming computers and robots, and creating new inventions that make people's lives easier.  This is the level of digital literacy that we need to focus on the most in schools, as students will increasingly need these skills and literacies to compete in the job market they will be thrust into as adults.

The socioeconomic divide between the middle class and the working poor will be increasingly defined as the difference in peoples' ability to create with technology.

Here's a great example of this.  The US is experiencing a resurgence of manufacturing after a prolonged period of outsourcing coupled with the 2008 recession.  However, very few manufacturing jobs are being created as a result.  The reason has to do with technology.  Technology allows for the production of goods in the U.S. without incurring much of the labor costs that incentivized outsourcing in the first place.  60 Minutes did a great piece on this growing trend.

The moral of the story here is that the middle class manufacturing job of the future is not going to be on an assembly line pulling levers.  The middle class manufacturing job of the future is going to be designing a robot or computer to do the things that used to require people pulling levers to do.  How well are we preparing students for this type of future?

The good news is that effective technology integration can be streamlined into what teachers are doing already.  I am a big proponent of the Backward Design model because it starts by having teachers think about the big picture.  Backward Design asks two big questions:  What will students learn/know; and What will students be able to do?  I've found that effective technology integration in the BD model asks a third, related question:  What will students be able to create?  By thinking about the expectations for the learning experiences and the product that will encompass those experiences, we can see how technology can be integrated into a unit or lesson and then begin to think about the smaller parts and pieces that lead into that product.

This is the first of four posts that I will do on the ACTEM conference.  The second post will be about using technology to share learning.