Code.org visit to Ravo

On Wednesday 30 March Code.org software engineer Brendan Reville paid a visit to Ravo to talk with students about his life, career, Code.org and the Hour of Code. I met Brendan a few weeks earlier at the Future Schools Expo at the Australian Technology Park in Sydney and I was impressed with his talk and the fresh, positive message he made that day. I have been a fan of the Hour of Code and Code.org for a few years so he didn’t have to sell me at all as I was already using the great resources he was responsible for. I was very impressed when he told us he was the mastermind behind the Star Wars Hour of Code last year, one of my favourite coding tutorials. The Code.org tutorials are brilliant, clear instructions are provided, helpful videos explain important concepts, fun scenarios to learn and a whole heap of extra resources to help teachers deliver the content to their classes. The Star Wars Hour of Code introduction video below is a must-see!

At the conference Brendan also mentioned the full curriculums Code.org provide for free on their website. I had looked at these before and dipped in and out of them to use some coding resources and some of the great unplugged resources, but he inspired me to take the courses more seriously and I am now teaching course 2 to my year 3 classes. I love the mixture of unplugged activities and online activities to teach computational thinking, coding and other technology constructs. The first few lessons have gone really well and students have been thoroughly engaged in all the different types of activities.

Brendan’s talk at Ravo was fantastic. He has had an interesting life and career so far and he inspired the students to take software design and coding as a serious career path. He talked about his schooling and university days in Sydney and at Macquarie University and how he started making computer games and first steps in coding. As a big Xbox fan he wanted to work for Microsoft so he moved to the USA to land his dream job. He talked about the great projects he was involved with at Microsoft, including developing user interface’s and the Xbox Music Mixer, as seen below.

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Wanting a new challenge Brendan moved to Code.org to be involved with coding and education and helping to deliver the world’s largest educational event – the Hour of Code!

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Reflection on completing an hour of code.

Brendan also spoke about the wide variety of skills needed to be successful when working for a tech company. It isn’t just coding skills that get you noticed, it is also skills including teamwork, creativity, communication, designing and more. He described his experiences of working for tech companies vividly and the year 9 and 10 students in attendance were enthralled.

Brendan delivered a positive and inspiring message to our girls that they can succeed in the tech industry and land their dream job for a great start-up or tech giant. Through the Code.org resources young people are learning some great skills that will benefit them not just in their schooling but also in their future careers that are sure to be dominated by STEM.

Thank you Brendan and Code.org! (And thanks for the cool Code.org stickers :))

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Code.org also has lots of other great videos to learn about computer science and technology such as the internet and cybersecurity.

Pluto, polygons and Sphero

Today’s Sphero lesson with my two year 4 classes focused on coding Sphero to trace polygons on the floor. Students were not very familiar with polygons and some of the other terms in the lesson, however, during the starter it was evident that some girls had some knowledge, enough for the lesson at least. Students were just about to learn about polygons in their maths class so this was a nice introduction.

So, a polygon is a 2D shape with at least three straight sides: triangle (3 sides), quadrilateral (4 sides), pentagon (5 sides), hexagon (6 sides), heptagon (7 sides), octagon (8 sides), nonagon (9 sides) and decagon (10 sides).

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To help set up the lesson and relate the learning to a real-life, STEM scenario I used a great article from NASA called ‘The Polygons of Pluto’. This blog article by Katie Knight, an undergraduate student at Carson-Newman University in Jefferson City, Tennessee. Katie works with the New Horizons team to help map some of the unusual terrain on Pluto, seeking patterns and estimating sizes and shapes of some of its unusual features.

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This fascinating article talked about the work Katie does to study the geological features and ‘chaotic terrain’ of the surface of dwarf planet Pluto. This also raised an interesting discussion of what is a dwarf planet and why was Pluto downgraded from a planet to a dwarf. This BBC article provides a nice explanation of why Pluto was downgraded. The image below also states the requirements to be classified as a planet.

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I love lessons where I can relate the learning to space, and this was a great example. We talked about how NASA scientists use knowledge of polygons to study the surface of planets to try to discover what the terrain is made from, how big it is and how it formed. They also look for patterns that they try to match with other planets that could help unlock more clues about our solar system. Young girls are curious about space and mentioning NASA always seems to engage young minds. One day some of these girls could be working for a space agency such as NASA and perhaps they could even be coding robots on far away celestial bodies like planets and dwarf planets. This lesson could have gone in so many directions and we could have explored much more about space and NASA, but time limitations meant we could not venture too far into deep space. Perhaps a flipped activity here where students look for polygons on other celestial bodies, how many can they find, what shapes can they discover?! Example below is Eros, an asteroid famous for its close approaches to Earth.

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After describing how Sphero moves using a 360 degrees heading system it was time to start coding some polygons. We started with a square and moved onto a triangle. Some groups absolutely flew with the challenges and were able to complete them quickly. When they completed the challenges they moved onto extension tasks, including coding Sphero to display different colour lights on each side of the shape and coding the shapes in reverse.

Observing the groups at work is interesting. Some girls just want to play for the first few minutes while others start the challenge immediately and can’t wait to finish and show the teacher. However, all girls are engaged, all girls are participating, all girls are collaborating and communicating, all girls are problem-solving and using technology constructively. Using Sphero and an iPad means girls are not staring at screens the whole time, they are actively using technology by using a small robotics device that they love to make move and follow. They are active and mobile coders.

In the lesson girls learnt about polygons, Sphero heading, how to find the angle needed to draw any polygon, how NASA scientists use amazing technology to explore distant bodies and search for certain shapes and the information they can get from them. For me this lesson definitely ticked the STEM box many times over.

Lego WeDo 2.0 Teacher Training Workshop

On Monday 14 March I attended a workshop for the brand new Lego WeDo 2.0 STEM kit. I was involved with arranging this event to be held at my school, Ravenswood, in Gordon. I attended with a year 3 teacher from school. The event was arranged with Modern Teaching Aids and Lego Global Master Trainer Rob Widger led the workshop.

During the workshop we were introduced to the kit, the curriculum included with it, how to build and code kits using the software.

This kit is billed as being a hands-on, innovative and creative way to meet certain science standards in a fun and engaging way. This kit is a step down in terms of ability to the Lego Mindstorms EV3 robot that we use with year 6 students.

After unpacking a few items from the kit we were challenged to build a table fan to help keep Rob (from Dorking, Surrey) cool in the heat, and humidity, of the day! I got nice and hot helping the guys set up, the humidity really was a killer! We made our fan incorporating the motor and the battery hub to provide the power. We then had to Bluetooth the hub to a computer or tablet so the code could be downloaded to it. I could not connect the hub to my school laptop so ended up borrowing an iPad from Sandra, from Lego. The iPad worked fine. I hope the kits will work with the laptops at school! I need to try this asap. So we coded the fan and made it spin.

We also got to construct small Lego ducks during the first part of the day, proof that Lego was fun, creative and you don’t need a lot of it to make something interesting.

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We then delved into the lessons included with the core software. There are lots of science based lessons that aim to teach core science concepts through making, coding and doing. We did the Pull and Push lesson and constructed, with help from the built in guide, a machine that could move and pull something at the same time. Our model worked fine and we coded it to pull some more Lego. Other groups managed to set up a tug-o-war with two machines to see which was the strongest.

 

After our lunch break we delved into another lesson, Predator or Prey. In this lesson we had to team up with another group and decide who would make the predator and who would make the prey animal. There were a few rules to make the challenge more interesting. In the end we went with a predator and built a crocodile with wheels. Other groups designed some awesome looking creatures, that moved in some weird and wonderful ways. This task highlighted the creativity of WeDo and with just a few basic motors and sensors you could add more complexity to the design, along with the code element of course.

After packing away the WeDo kits we got to experience the Lego Story Teller kit. This is themed Lego that students use to tell stories on a series of small panels to represent a beginning, middle and end to a story. We were shown the educational and behavioural benefits of the kit in a nice Lego video and then we had to construct our own story with a few ideas to guide us and make our Lego sets to help tell the story. Our story was a bit out there, as you can probably tell from this pic.

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It was fun for a few minutes and a good resource for small children, but just some regular Lego would do the job really.

Overall, we were impressed with the WeDo kits and these would make a great addition to years 2-4 in the junior school.

Thanks for a great day Lego and MTA!

Robotics in the Classroom – MacICT Workshop

Today I attended the Robotics in the Classroom professional learning workshop at Macquarie ICT Innovations Centre. The course was presented by John Burfoot, an experienced teacher and robotics educator who has spoken and presented at numerous events in Australia and internationally. He began by talking about a recent conference he attended in San Diego, USA, the LEGO Education Elementary Conference. The purpose of this conference was to gather together people who use the LEGO toolset to teach STEM related subjects in the classroom, and try out new activities, share experiences, meet new people and learn about new LEGO developments.

Our first activity today was to build a robot, specifically a robot called Harvey Mark II. We were given the hardware components, including the sensors, wheels, cables and EV3 brick. We also received, to keep, a small bag of LEGO Mindstorm pieces to construct our robot with. It took me 20 minutes to build the robot, shown below, from the instructions provided.

Harvey Mark II

Harvey Mark II

This robot included the 2 main motors, the ultrasonic sensor and the light sensor. We then used the Mindstorm software to code the robot to move and draw a square shape on the floor. The challenging part of this activity is the turn the robot needs to do. It takes a few guesses to make the robot turn the 90 degrees necessary, and when achieved the first turn is perfect, but the next 3 turns needed to complete the square are not 90 degrees, due to some oversteer the robot produces. Other people experienced the same problem, and part of the fun of robotics is collaborative problem solving, working things out with others, trial and error to see what works and what doesn’t in the quest for the perfect algorithm to produce the perfect output.

The next challenge was called ‘Bug in a Box’ and we needed to alter the build of the robot so it looked like a bug. I added some antennae to mine using a few extra pieces of LEGO. On the floor of the room we were in there were floor tiles, and some of them were red, some were beige. Some of the red tiles had masking tape around them, and the challenge we faced was to keep the robot moving inside the red tile only for 1 minute. This challenge meant we had to use the colour sensor to sense the colour of the floor, if the sensor read the red tile it kept moving in a straight line, however, if it sensed the colour of the masking tape around the outside of the red tile then the robot was programmed to turn around back to the red tile and keep moving straight. This challenge was not too difficult, and again people worked collaboratively to fix any problems that arose. People in attendance had mixed experience with LEGO products and robotics, but everyone was fully engaged throughout the day.

We then altered our program to include the ultrasonic sensor, and if the robot was close to an obstacle in the box it would also change direction. For this we used the loop and switch blocks to make the algorithm more complex and efficient. We could use logic like if the robot is less than 10cm from an obstacle then turn around and go back. We also got to program sound effects and images on the screen of the robot to improve the output when these events happened.

We filmed our robots for this challenge and were encouraged to join an Edmodo group to share our videos with the others in the group, which was a nice touch. The Edmodo group included lots of resources from the day as well as plenty of others, very useful indeed.

Some of the resources I learnt about today are:

This was a great workshop and the presenter was excellent. We got to build a robot, program it to move, turn, use the ultrasonic sensor, colour sensor, use loops, switches and more. It was a packed day and the time went really quickly. The course was very well catered and other participants were like minded and enthusiastic to learn new things. After this course I can’t wait to get back to school and use the EV3 with the kids!