Friday, February 5, 2016

Week 1 Recap: Rules, Regs, and Robots

Week 1 of the After School Robotics Club is in the books!  The first week, day, or session of robotics club involves a lot of me talking, which I don't normally like to do with these clubs, but there are  a lot of necessary rules and procedures that need to be discussed, along with learning about some of the different robotics-specific LEGO pieces, that just make sense to cover at the beginning of the club.  As we go along, there will be less and less of me talking, and more time for students to explore.

Getting ready for this club, I wrestled with a number of things that I wanted to try that were different from previous clubs.  I wanted to provide students more choices for what they could do in robotics clubs, while also ensuring a learning sequence where students are still picking up on all of the foundational stepping stones of building and programming.  I also wanted to provide more supports for students to work at their own pace, to make sure that students who are struggling get the most attention while students who are flying through are not held back.  Finally, I wanted to include more exciting challenges and projects for students to see how robotics apply in the real-world.  All of these combine to result in some pretty significant changes to how robotics club works from before.  I'll outline some of them below.

The biggest change to the program this year is the introduction of badges.  Badges in robotics club will work a lot like they work for the scouts.  Students will undertake a challenge or task, show what they did to conquer that challenge or task, and earn a badge for getting it done!  The added functionality of badges in robotics club, however, is that certain challenges, tasks, and guides are locked away from the students, and can only be unlocked when they've earned particular badges.  If you check out our Badges page, you'll find 15 badges that students can earn during robotics club, and when you look at the Guides and Challenges pages, you'll see that each challenge or guide shows what badges are required to unlock access.  I'm still anxious to see how this system works, but I'm hoping that badges will help me accomplish the balance between choice and learning progressions that I discussed earlier.

Because students have more choices than they have before in Robotics Club, I will be doing a lot less teaching or guiding in whole groups that I have in the past.  Students will reach different stages, challenges, and badges at different time.  At the end of the day, however, there is still only one me, and I have needed to find new ways of supporting students without physically being there beside them.  So, I have developed (and am still developing) a new Guide system with video tutorials to help students at various points in robotics club.  For instance, students who finish building their first robot can access the Beginner Programming guide to see how to make their robot work.  I hope to add more guides along the way, but the end goal here is to help students access support and help on their terms (and to reduce the workload on me).

Another protocol to help students get their questions answered involves activating each other as resources.  One of my rules and procedures is called "C3B4ME," which reads literally as "see three before me."  I am requiring students to see help from at least three students in the room before coming to see myself or another adult.  While implementing this protocol will be an ongoing process, my hope is that students will begin to see each other as experts and sources of knowledge, and that they will do more to work together to solve the challenges ahead of them in robotics club.  There are even a few badges to earn based on using the protocol!

On to week 2!

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