Year3-Week4 – It’s not like it’s rocket science, kind’a

2018-09-04 STEAMLab_wk04 WeDo-kits

Year3-Week4 – It’s not like it’s rocket science, kind’a

2018-19 school year week 4. How do you turn left or right with robots that only have one motor connected to a single axle? Hmmm… I hadn’t thought that about that. I was just so happy that students were completing their builds and the little guys were rolling across the floor to think about programming the little beasties to maneuver across an obstacle course.

Actually, toward the end of their four sessions working with the robots, I wanted to have them do the twister challenge, like what we did at Full Sail Labs. The end of the Robots sessions featured a Robot Olympics with several competitions including a “Twister” game where we would have two opposing robots begin at opposite ends of a twister “field,” spin the color chooser and then program their robot to drive to the color selected. They would win one point for having one-wheel in the colored circle, three-points for two-wheels and five-points for all three wheels. Each team would have three or four turns to hit their targets. But with no way to actually turn the robot, this could be a matter of pointing the robot in the right direction at the beginning of each stage. In the original game you cannot touch the robot during the game, part of the challenge, so programming turns were required to go from colored circle to colored circle. Damn. It turns out that “simplicity” is hard.

Let’s see, I could have two teams work together and combine their robot parts so that they would have two separate motors to program for turns and other maneuvers (at the moment I don’t know if the programming brick would allow for two motors). Or, I could have several pre-built EV3s (that use two motors to facilitate turns) available on the last day for interested students… but that might be too much of a jump from from the WeDo programming system to EV3. Damn.

There really is a huge difference what one can accomplish when you have students working for five to eight hours for five straight days (the summer camp model) versus once a week for only fifty-minutes (the traditional school model). Turns out that a school year of 50-minute sessions is about 31-hours, versus the 40-hours one has to work with for most summer camp programs. Oops. I can’t imagine how irritating it would be to have to start up and then shut down and put everything away every 50-minutes, especially when students get into a building or programming or playing groove. Not cool. But that’s “the best” we can do with the traditional school structure. Ugh. It’s not rocket science, but it’s also not something you can be successful at without a lot of planning, with endless unknown variables (like not being able to turn your robot!).

I created the following video back in the robotics summer camp days as part of their end-of-the-week presentation/celebration event. I learned a lot and these kids were great to work with.

In the meantime the K/1st graders are continuing to virtually “drive” around North Las Vegas via Google Earth. A few have figured out that it’s important to know one’s actual address to better get around the simulation. Fourth and one fifth grade class, continue to noisily learn to program in Scratch block programming. Second and Third-graders continue one- and two-finger typing, a few have broken the 11-wpm rating. I’ve been using the Typing bolt website, but I’m not really happy with the “random word” set up that works against building any typing skill in conjunction with English language construction. I’m looking for something to use that can also connect with real word usage and sentence construction. I know my students aren’t anywhere close to this level, but typing speed comes from muscle memory connected with word usage/sentence construction anticipation and you can’t build the anticipation part with random, meaningless strings of words. Again, it’s really not rocket science, but it’s also not random gobbledygook. Year three – week three: robots rolling.

Year3-Week3 – Welcoming Our Robot Overlords

2018-08-27 STEAMLab_wk03 WeDo-kits

Year3-Week3 – Welcoming Our Robot Overlords

2018-08-27 STEAMLab_wk03 WeDo-kits

2018-08-27 STEAMLab_wk03 WeDo-kits

I’ve been wrestling with this problem since coming here in 2016: how to get robots into the hands of all of my students in the best way possible… And I was so excited that I didn’t take any photos/videos of the first class that began working on their LEGO WeDo robots (you know that’s excited!). Last year’s EV3 experiment was not that great because there’s not much you can get done when you only get 100-minutes with a complicated robot. Very few teams got even close to finishing their first and only robot build.

This year we’re working with a less complicated robot with better tutorials, we have 28 LEGO WeDo robots (instead of eight) to share in two classes at a time in groups of two for four 50-minute sessions. So far I’d guess that half got through the knolling (organize your parts) stage and a third finished the first build (the glowing snail) and a few built the second robot, Milo, the rover. Several teams jumped into the build before finishing the knolling process. We will see how they do as the robots get more complicated. It does take some time to organize the bag of parts. I’ll definitely have the kits pre-organized for the third and second graders and maybe for the fourth graders.

Remember when I thought that I might delay the roll-out of the other curriculum or doing a rolling launch across the grade levels? Yeah, not so much. I had kindergarten and first graders using Google Earth to “drive” around the streets of North Las Vegas, began having second and third graders test their computer keyboarding skills with Typing Bolt, and had fourth and the one non-robot fifth grade begin working with Scratch. It was a good week. It was a very good week.

I wonder what Week Four will bring?

Year Three

Year Three

Even though I’ve been running classrooms for 23-years, the challenge of beginning another school year is more than a little overwhelming. As if that weren’t enough, I also closed on my new condo on the first day of classes, so add moving and setting up a new home to the “beginning of the school year” challenges. But unlike the previous two-years, because I was planning on the new home, I didn’t travel this summer and was able to better attack the challenge of getting my whole school up and running on my school’s learning management system, Canvas. Let’s just say that last year my efforts were sunk by the endless challenges of user-IDs and passwords when working with five- to eleven-year-olds. The other two teachers who tried to use the system quit trying about the same time I gave up, in October.

So, this week has been crazy because I have to reset all of the passwords of all the students because that would be the normal first thing that every student would need to do, and did I mention how high the failure rate of logging in becomes when you trust elementary students to set their own passwords? I’ve been working on the password reset for over a week now. This being the first week, I was also re-introduced to the idea that fourth and fifth graders might be mildly challenged to remember their student ID numbers that they’ve been using for over four-years while Kindergarteners and first-graders struggled with just sitting at their computers for the whole 50-minute class period. Oh yeah, being the first week also means that the list of students that I worked with last night might not reflect which students show up for my lab, be on the roster, be assigned to my class or be recognized by the district’s active directory system. Of my 21 classes, maybe only one or two didn’t have a couple students with errors that prevented them from logging in to the system.

So, week one is done. Thirty-six more to go. That may seem like that’s a lot of time, but it really isn’t and it requires careful planning to get anywhere close to our curriculum potential. Six grade levels, five disciplines… the potential is overwhelming. Just teaching Art across six grades levels would be challenging. Just teaching science or math would also be challenging. One of the errors that I made over my first two-years teaching STEAM was that I felt like I needed to cover all five disciplines over the course of the 37-weeks. But with all of the technical challenges and need to work across the huge instructional differences between Kindergarteners versus fifth-graders, and the low reading literacy of all of my students, I felt like we barely scratched the surface and never mastered anything. I didn’t do any robotics with my students the first year and was only able to get my three fifth-grade classes on to the LEGO EV3s last year. Turns out that having two 50-minute sessions with the robots usually means that almost no two-person team finished the basic robot construction and no one got to the programming level. That would be a FAIL in my judgment.

I’ve decided to reserve the EV3s for advanced students and will use the more basic LEGO Wedo robots for grades 2 through 5 with each group getting three sessions with the robots. But now that I think about it, I may need to extend the sessions to four sessions… we’ll see how the first group does and adjust from there.

Speaking of adjustments… you might have noticed that except for prep week Swarm/Twitter/FB check-ins, I haven’t posted any daily STEAMLab check-ins. I’ve decided that, as much as I like the daily 👍 I get for the brief posts, I don’t feel like I’m really communicating or recording our progress. So I’ve decided to do these weekly longer-length posts to my blog (with links on all the usual suspects: Swarm, Twitter & FB). But because of the algorithms used by Twitter & FB, there’s a good chance that you’ll miss these weekly posts. So, if you’re interested in these posts and the work I’m doing, I’d suggest that you subscribe directly to my blog so that you’ll get a notice in your email whenever I post. Go to the blog at, scroll to the bottom of the page, find the “Follow Blog via Email,” click the red “Follow” and share you email address. Thanks for the “follow,” and let’s see how things go for week two of the 2018-19 STEAMLab adventures.

Learning LEGO EV3 Robots & Kids

LEGO EV3 Gotham Noir by Joe Bustillos
2018-03-13 STEAMLab LEGO-EV3s_1

2018-03-13 STEAMLab LEGO-EV3s_1

Learning LEGO EV3 Robots & Kids

The first time you deploy anything in the classroom, much less something involving lots of small moving parts, I can guarantee that things won’t go as planned but if you planned well you’ll be able to see all the areas you need to fix/change the next time you do the lesson/unit. I’ve been waiting over a year to give my students a chance to do some hands-on learning with the EV3s, mostly fretting over how I was going to share eight LEGO robots with over 400 students spread over 21 classes and survive the experience. Today was the end of our first four-week attempt and boy did I learn a lot about what NOT to do next time (with the next group of 5th grade students beginning next week).

Number one, do not attempt to have groups bigger than pairs working on each robot. Actually, I originally thought that one couldn’t do robots with anything other than a 1:1 setup, but I learned that learning pairs was a much better ratio when I helped do Dash & Dot and M-Bot robots with Full Sail Labs before beginning my Las Vegas robotics experiments. And this past session confirmed that with groups of three (and some groups of four) there are just too many idle students with far less focus on getting the job done. I had been hoping I could spend the four fifty-minute sessions broken down to having students build the robots for the first week, learn how to program the robots the second and third sessions and have a little robot competition session/robotic olympics for week four. Of the seven teams building robots this time only one finished a basic (non-sensor) build and did one program and the other six ended at various levels of incomplete robots and almost no programming. Yeah, we’re not doing that again.

2018-03-13 STEAMLab LEGO-EV3s_2

2018-03-13 STEAMLab LEGO-EV3s_2

So the adaptation from this past four weeks, is to lower the number of group members to 1:2 (one robot per two students) in classes with 23 students. Thus I’m going to split the class in half with half of the class working two-weeks on the build/programming while the other half does online research on robots on the web & some media work on the subject. The second two-weeks I will flip students doing the hands-on robotics with the students doing online work. I’m hoping that the greater focus will allow students to get through the build and programming much quicker with less distractions from non-participants. At the same time, those working online will need to be virtually self-sufficient because I won’t be able to address their questions while working with the hands-on students.

I wish we had much more time to just explore, but sometimes more can get done when one is seriously limited. When we did robotics at Full Sail we had over 30-hours to explore, so I have to be a lot more lean and directed with the 100-minutes I have available to expose my students to robotics. Watching my students these past few weeks, I’m thinking that part of the difficulty that can be addressed is giving them experiences following build directions with other LEGO projects before attempting robotics (next year). Many got so confused when they ran into a simple SPIN direction (blue arrow) that indicated that they were supposed to turn the robot around to do the next step(s). This threw off several groups. So, more hands-on with other directed build projects should help them when they do this EV3 build. So, between now and next Wednesday I need to prep for the next group of students (disassemble robotics and make sure they have all the needed parts in their kit) and develop the media/online research component for the non-hands-on students. Nothing stress-tests any classroom unit or technology like a classroom of students. My lab hardware and I have the scars to prove it.

2018-03-13 STEAMLab LEGO-EV3s_3

2018-03-13 STEAMLab LEGO-EV3s_3