Category Archives: Apps

Sphero Bridge Building

Every year, my 2nd grade GT students build bridges as part of a unit on Structures.  We have K’nex kits, and they enjoy learning about the different types of bridges as well as making their own versions.

This year I really wanted to have them do more than follow the instructions in a kit. When I saw the Sphero Bridge Building Challenge, I knew immediately what we were going to do.  I modified the lesson plans a bit, borrowing from some other bridge-building lessons I’ve seen, and created yesterday’s challenge.

I gave teams the task of building a bridge that would span a 14-inch gap between two table edges.  It would need to be strong enough to drive a Sphero across, and cost the least amount of “money” possible.

Of course, they didn’t have to spend real money.  I put a bunch of materials on one of my tables and gave them a chart listing the costs:

  • Popsicle Sticks – $100 ea.
  • Straws – $50 ea.
  • String – $20 per foot
  • Paper – $10 per sheet
  • Tape – $5 per 6 in. (the 1st 6 in. are free)

The students had to plan the materials they would use and then figure out the projected cost.  They had to sketch their bridges. Once I approved their plans, they could build.

I was so impressed with their planning!  They weighed the Sphero, used string to measure its circumference, did complicated calculations of the costs of materials, and measured straws and popsicle sticks with great care.  Great discussions ensued about the best designs for their bridges.  A lot of math was done – most of it correctly.

In the end, two groups succeeded in completing and testing their Sphero bridges.  Two did not.  Their reflections afterward were fun to read.  One student wrote, “We got our bridge done in time but we could have gotten it done earlyer if we had not been arguing.”   All of the students thought planning was essential to a successful project – except one, who stated, “planing wast of time.”  Another commented that the time it takes to complete building something can be delayed by things like, “how prodoctove your workers are.”  His teammate was more blunt, “Our bridge did not get finish because some people don’t work.”  They learned another reason for building delays can be when you don’t plan for enough materials and you have to wait for more to be delivered ( i.e. when there is a line of students waiting for Mrs. Eichholz to dole out more pieces of tape).

I will definitely add this to my lesson plans again next year.  It was one of those experiences where you find yourself slightly overwhelmed by the utter chaos but completely awed by the creativity and engagement of your students.  At the end of the activity you feel the contradictory, but welcome, combination of being both drained and energized.

spherobridge2

Step Away from the Slide Show

In my experience, there are two kinds of slide shows: the TED Talk kind and the Oh-My-Gosh-How-Much-Longer-Can-This-Go-On-And-Why-Are-They-Reading-Every-Single-Word-To-Me kind.

Elementary students tend to do the latter.

Don’t get me wrong.  There are situations when slide shows are appropriate – but Genius Hour presentations generally don’t fall into that category.  In a matter of 20 minutes, a presenter can easily take a topic that he or she was insanely passionate about and reduce it to the least interesting subject ever in the history of time.

So, a couple of years ago, I started to really encourage my students to make their presentations more interactive and to branch out from slide shows.  By displaying the “101 Ways to Show What You Know” options and brainstorming other possibilities, we have ended up with a much more diverse program of final projects.   You can see some examples from last year’s batch here. (Two more sites you can use to generate presentation ideas are 200 Ways to Show What You Know and The Differentiator.)

It’s that time of year again, and my students are once again finishing up their research and beginning to present each week.  Last week, one of my students presented about breast cancer.  He barely spoke to the class at all – except to give them instructions for accessing a game he had programmed using the Hopscotch app.  Through the game, the students learned about the symptoms of breast cancer and side effects of treatments.  Then they were able to try to apply their learning by answering questions. (If you want to check out the game in the Hopscotch public project gallery, it is called, “Breast Cancer,” by Understanding Taffy. You may be surprised to see that there are several Hopscotch games about breast cancer.)

There was a bit of confusion about some of the directions, but his classmates were much more engaged than if the student had tried to approach this subject with a slide show of somber facts.

The presentation wasn’t perfect.  It could have used more “earth-shaking” revelations that were new to the students, and the presenter forgot to cite his sources.  But there is no doubt in my mind that this student spent his Genius Hour time productively and the class will remember more from his project than if he had chosen a less interactive way to present it.

If you are going to require your class to endure a number of student monologues, I recommend you give them some alternatives that will be less snore-inducing than the typical slide show.  It’s a win-win for you and the students.  And the rest of the school benefits, too. The custodians will discover that rarely-used bathrooms stay cleaner and have less toilet clogs.  The admin will marvel at all of the extra time they have gained to do their jobs instead of dealing with a revolving door of discipline referrals. Even the nurse will thank you for the reduction in headaches and other mysterious illnesses that seem to materialize during boring classroom lectures.

For more Genius Hour resources, check out this page.

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Painting with Sphero

A couple of weeks ago I stumbled on a #makered Twitter chat and somehow the conversation turned to using the Sphero robots to paint.  I was hoping to do this with my 4th graders because we are studying mathematical art and I thought it would be a good way to tie it in with the programming they have learned – but I had no idea how to go about it.

My colleagues on Twitter immediately offered fabulous suggestions: use tempera paint, try it with the “nubby” to give it texture, and buy a cheap plastic swimming pool to contain the mess.  One teacher offered to try it the next day with her students and, as promised, sent me pictures of the results.  Claire (@pritchclaire) also gave me the suggestion to stay away from red paint as it kind of stains the Sphero.

pritchclaire
image courtesy of @pritchclaire

After receiving all of this great advice, I introduced the topic to my 4th graders.  Then we set about coming up with a plan.  First, they learned how to program the Sphero to make polygons using the Macrolab app.  (We used the free 2D Geometry lesson from Sphero offered on this page.)  There is an app that allows you to drive the Sphero free-hand, but it’s difficult to make exact shapes that way.  Macrolab gave us the tools to be more precise.

The students needed a good 90 minutes to practice making different polygons.  The next step was to sketch a design. I absolutely loved listening to the conversations about the math involved as they tried to figure out the angle degrees for each command.  Despite their experience with the complexities of Sphero programming, the students started out with grand, complicated sketches.  After doing dry runs, however, they realized they needed to scale things down a bit.  Sketching and practicing took about another 90 minutes.

After many practices, each group came to our improvised drawing board.  Although I loved the plastic pool idea, I realized that the bottom wouldn’t be flat enough to keep the Sphero in control.  I brought a piece of drywall to school that had been sitting in our garage.  We used some extra cardboard to add some sides to it.

With disposable gloves on, the students manually rolled the Sphero around in a puddle of paint, then set it up on the “canvas” and started their program.  I should mention here that I was describing my day to my husband and he said, “You should have just put the paint in a plastic baggie and rolled the Sphero in that.”  Hopefully I will remember that idea next year…

Photo Apr 01, 12 58 59 PM
Preparing a nubby-covered Sphero for making art

As you can see, the results of using a programmed Sphero were a bit different than the above photo.  Personally, either method looks fabulous to me.  The students agreed.  As soon as they were done, one of them immediately said, “We should find out if we can hang these in the front foyer!”

Can you identify when they used the nubby for their lines?

You can see some video of our “technique” below.

After the experience we got into some good discussions about what art is and why the Sphero might not have always acted according to their expectations.  Although this probably isn’t a lesson that could happen in the regular classroom due to time and equipment constraints, I think it worked well for my little group of 6 students!

Robot Olympics

Calling this activity “Robot Olympics” might have been a bit ambitious.  After all, there was really just one event and the only (and extremely tenuous) connection to the real-life Olympics was the fact that chariots were involved.

Nevertheless, “Robot Olympics” was the title of our program last Thursday.  Our after-school Maker Club had been exploring the world of robots for a couple of months – which mostly involved playing, not making.  So, we threw out the challenge for each group to build a chariot for their robot that would carry Dot, the tiny Wonder Workshop sidekick for Dash.

We have 4 different kinds of robots in B.O.S.S. HQ right now, and each one had its advantages and disadvantages for this challenge. To keep the playing field even, every robot was scored with the following criteria:

  • Ability to carry Dash to the Finish Line
  • Chariot Design
  • Making it from the Start to the Finish Line
  • Speed

Penalties were given for running into the bricks on the side and each time the “Robot Wrangler” had to put his or her hands on the robot to redirect it during the course.

The students working with Sphero built extremely elaborate chariots – only to find that Sphero would not budge with all of the extra weight.  The Cubelets teams were so excited about getting as many Cubelets together as possible that they barely had time to build their chariots.  Edison refused to behave predictably when detecting a black line, and Dash’s chariots kept falling off every time they were tested.

“This is good,” I told the students.  “You’re learning how to problem solve.  Remember, “Think, Make, Improve.”

In the end, every robot crossed the Finish Line.  Every student received a robot Spirit Stick.  Dash Team #1 walked away with “gold” medals.

What would I do differently?

Allot more time for the event, make sure the students test their robots on the course numerous times before the event, have 2 courses and 2 sets of judges so there isn’t so much wait time, ask more students to help run the event, and make the course out of something more durable than poster board so it can be reused.

Will we do it again next year?  Definitely – but it will be even better. Maybe we can add a discus throw or something so the “Robot Olympics” will seem less ostentatious…

 

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Canva for Education

I first posted about Canva about 18 months ago when it was in its beta stage.  Since then, this amazing graphic design service has: become a full-fledged website, launched a mobile app, and unveiled its education services (which include sign-in with Google Apps for Education).

I was one of the educators approached by Canva to write some lesson plans utilizing their resources.  (Full disclosure: I was paid for this service.)  You can also find plans from Vicki Davis, Paul Hamilton, Steven Anderson, and William Ferriter.  These plans include many different disciplines and grade levels. In addition, you can access excellent specific graphic design tutorials provided by Canva.

If you are looking for app-smashing ideas for Canva and ThingLink, try these from Lisa Johnson (TechChef4U).  Lisa also explains how to use Canva’s public profile feature in this guest post on Free Technology for Teachers.

One of my favorite things about Canva is how the company has really reached out to educators for suggestions and ideas.  As you will see on their Canva for Education splash page, they have a board of Education Advisors, and I can personally attest that Canva keeps in regular contact with us to find ways they can improve their product.

Canva is free, but it also offers graphics for a fee.  It’s easy to train your students to identify the free images, backgrounds, etc… so their projects don’t end up costing money.  In addition, they can upload their own images, and take advantage of Canva’s free templates to design eye-popping presentations, posters, and collages.

If you have students in elementary school, I recommend that you create one account that your students will all access.  This will allow you to keep track of their projects and, if you are in a school where students share iPads, then this account can stay logged in.

The best way to get started with Canva as a teacher is to open a free account and start using it yourself.  Make blog graphics, picture collages, quote posters for your classroom.  Once you see how easy it is to create something that looks professional, you will come up with your own ideas for ways to integrate it into your classroom.

A six word memoir of The Giver created by one of my 5th graders in Canva
A six word memoir of The Giver created by one of my 5th graders in Canva

 

Please Allow Me to Reiterate

I was feeling pretty clever.

As most of you know, that is never a good sign.

My creative, engaging activity for the day turned out to be one of those lessons that makes a teacher ask the dreaded question, “Should I continue this fiasco or give up and find a video?”

The concept was simple: I wanted to use the idea of Hexagonal Learning with my 3rd graders so they could synthesize what they had learned from our systems thinking book, Billibonk and the Big Itch.  One of the online tools for hexagonal thinking is called Think Link.  This reminded me, of course, of ThingLink.  And I thought, “They can make ThingLinks of their Think Links!”

Technically, the students didn’t use Think Link, though.  Instead I used the Hexagons Generator from ClassTools to print out the hexagons with words that related to the book. The students worked in groups to connect their hexagons in deep and meaningful ways that they could explain in detail using an interactive ThingLink.

Well, that was the plan.

The students quickly arranged their hexagons.  Then they took pictures of the groups and started making their ThingLinks.  They liked the idea of using video to explain each node that connected 2 or 3 hexagons, and started to get creative – using newscaster and professor voices.

Then they started to get a bit silly.

Plus I realized that their connections weren’t exactly deep and meaningful.  And some of them didn’t make any sense at all.

And then 2 groups accidentally lost 45 minutes of work on their iPads.

And the third group finished theirs, but ThingLink stubbornly refused to save it – grimly offering that I could “retry” or “delete” each time I attempted to upload it, but making absolutely no effort to offer the preferred third option, “Start this day over with a little less smugness and a little more planning.”

I looked at my giggly group of grade schoolers and took a deep breath.  Despite having to start their projects over, they were all quite cheerful.  And, the truth was that I had learned a lot from listening to their recordings – a lot that I needed to discuss with them to ensure they understood the text better.

We gathered in a circle and reflected on the day.  We clarified lessons learned.

And we decided to try it all again next week.

Earlier in the day, I had talked about “iterative”  with some of the teachers in the lounge.  We  agreed that it seemed to be quite the education buzzword these days, and I looked it up to make sure I was using it correctly.

This was the first definition I found. (Google’s version)

iterativeNot exactly helpful.

So, without any sense of irony, I looked it up again. (Wikipedia’s verson this time)

Screen Shot 2015-03-24 at 5.33.55 PM

Next week, we will attempt iteration #2 of the Hexagonal Learning Lesson.

Hopefully, we will get some things right and all of the mistakes we make will be new ones ;)

Makerspace Essentials – Robots

I am frequently asked for advice on what materials to purchase for school maker spaces.  I am definitely not an expert on this topic, but I have gotten a couple of grants for B.O.S.S. HQ (Building of Super Stuff Headquarters) that have allowed me to try out different products.  I thought I would devote this week to sharing about a few items that I have judged to be well worth the money.

(If you intend to apply for a grant for a school maker space, be sure to research your district’s policies on spending grant money.  If you need to use approved vendors, then you should verify that you will be able to purchase the items you propose and that the vendor will accept your district’s preferred method of payment.)

Maker Space Essentials - Robots

We are about to wrap up our robot activities in Maker Club for this year, and I’ve learned a lot about the robots we have in our space.  If you are thinking of purchasing robots for your maker space, there are many factors to consider.  Of course, I didn’t consider any of those factors – just creativity potential.  We were also sent a couple of robots by companies for review.

Of course we have been learning as we experiment with various robots that they each have pros and cons.  Keeping them charged, for example, can be a challenge.  And the learning curve definitely varies.

I thought I would share some of the info I’ve gathered about the robots we have in case you would like to see a side-by-side comparison.  I’ve embedded the sheet I’m using to keep notes on each one.  It is a document I plan to update in the future with some of the other robots we are still trying out.  You can also access it here if you prefer not to have to scroll to see the details.

One thing that I would recommend is that you commit to buying at least 2 of whatever robot you decide on.  It helps for grouping – and when one of them has a dead battery or other troubleshooting is necessary.  For our Maker Club, we have 4 different types of robots, so the students rotated to each station to try them out.  Then, their groups were assigned a specific robot that they are currently preparing for our Robot Olympics.

If you have any questions about the robots, feel free to leave a comment on this post.  For more maker space resources, check out my Pinterest Board here.