Programming, problem solving, and much more for K - 2
Last spring I was able to purchase, thanks to some unspent funding from a grant, 3 Bee-Bot “Hives” – they are about $600 each – each “hive” includes 6 Bee-Bots, a charging plate and a yellow backpack for transporting them. With time short before the school year ran out I taught/facilitated a quick class with 6 teachers from 3 schools to gauge teacher and student interest and learning using robots in the primary grades.
With that success I was able to get funding for an additional 6 “Hives” this fall. Last Wednesday we started a year long cadre of Kindergarten to 2nd grade teachers (I couldn’t get any Pre-K teachers to join). There are about 27 teachers in the cadre from 9 schools and a local children’s museum.
I included the teachers from last spring, and although I feared what they might do if I didn’t include them, the reality is they are all excellent consultants and have already added much to the class.
In preparation for class I charged 54 Bee-Bots (9 “hives”) so they’d be ready to go.
We learned how Bee-Bots work and saw a few short videos showing them in action. Next teachers were given some time to get “messy” with them. Lots of button pushing, discussion and laughter ensued.
Then I passed out large sheets of foam board and let them work in school groups to design straw mazes so they could experience firsthand what their students would be doing (but you can use blocks and lots of other materials you might already have in your classroom).
I also shared a Bee-Bot wiki resource we started last spring and will add to as the year goes on. I was able to include a yellow digital camera in each hive (the color match is awesome). The cameras are NOT part of what comes with a hive, but I wanted a way to collect and archive data and ideas and the cameras were available. I’ll also set up a Flickr account for this class, like we had last spring. We’ll collect data on how long a program students write without prompting to see their progress during the year.
The teachers were sent out with their hives to get started and set-up how they want to manage and utilize the Bee-Bots in their classrooms – the teachers from the spring cadre shared some of their experiences which should help. We meet again next week. More later.
A few years ago (2015) my wife and I were in Christchurch, New Zealand, and we came upon this hands-on Da Vinci Mechanics Exhibit at the Canterbury Museum. I’d meant to share a post about it when we returned and I was reminded of that when I came across the Flickr album I had set up just the other day.
NOTE: Click on any photo in this post to enlarge it. Then you and your students can read the descriptions and see the drawings in more detail.
From the museum web site: “He studied the workings of nature’s devices and sought to recreate these as practical machines: machines for moving water, for war, for excavating, for drilling and, perhaps most famously, for flight. Exhibition highlights include the tank, the spring powered car, the hang glider, the air screw (the precursor of the helicopter) and a robotic drummer.”
What intrigued me were not only the devices themselves, but Da Vinci’s drawings that accompanied them (careful drawings of plans easily turn a STEM activity into STEAM). The fact that this was a hands-on exhibit multiplied the engagement exponentially.
Da Vinci’s designs and devices are a great model for a class engineering/making STEAM experience. What devices and the drawings and explanations that go with them could your students design? Then share them online through Flickr or a blog or wiki or video-conference or … too many ideas to list. Many more photos here.
I noted online that this is a traveling exhibit so maybe see if it is scheduled to be coming to a museum near you. And I bet students could find just a bit more about Da Vinci if they search even a bit. Please share other ideas and links to any “Da Vinci inspired” devices your students “make.”
Awhile back I (well, the place where I work) was able to purchase 3 Bee-Bot “Hives.” A hive is 6 Bee-bots, a charger plate and a yellow backpack to carry everything around. Once I had them I quickly put together a class for Pre-K – 2 teachers. The first class met about a month ago and our next class met last night.
Along with the teachers sharing out what their students have been up to (they are so excited!!!) and me sharing a few more resources on our class “Bee-Bot” wiki page, I asked them to try out a collaborative Bee-Bot activity I thought up. Now to be fair I don’t know if others have thought of this before and done this already – so I don’t want to take undue credit. I was thinking about how to make what you do already with Bee-Bots have an even stronger collaborative bent when I came up with this:
Pair 2 pairs of students and their shared Bee-Bots and have them work together to choreograph a “dance.” Start on opposite sides of a table or facing each other on the floor. Start out having the Bee-Bots approach each other until they are face to face. Next keep adding to your program so the Bee-Bots go around each other, back and forth etc. They can keep adding commands to make their dance longer and more intricate.
Here is a video of one of the teachers “coding” her Bee-Bot with the program she and her partner designed:
Here is a clip of their Bee-Bot dance:
And here is a dance choreographed by another pair of teachers:
I’m looking forward to seeing their students taking on this challenge in the weeks ahead.
I spent the evening yesterday up at Lake Tahoe helping to plan the events and activities for the March For Science Lake Tahoe and Earth Day celebration that will happen in the Village at Squaw Valley(map) from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, April 22nd. I was recruited to be part of this event, instead of the one right here in Reno by scientists and science educators in the area since we work together on several projects.
We will be offering hands on science activities based on Earth science, a climate science short film festival, the “Trashion Show” which is a fashion show of student designed clothing made from trash, live music and much more.
I’ve included an Earth Day graphic for your downloading pleasure:
I’ll be providing the keynote and 2 to 3 breakout sessions. They asked for a “STEM-ish” theme so I’m redesigning my “STEM Is A Culture, Not a Time of Day or Day of the Week” presentation and plan to build in more STEM experiences. My sessions will focus on STEM inquiry and the important parts that get left out too often because the activity is engaging, the students get excited, time runs short and we skip the parts that really make STEM learning powerful.
In case it helped others think about how to incorporate mini drones at their school I thought I’d share this design. Not presenting this as an ultimate solution, just as an example to build on. Please share links to designs you might have in the comments. As an aside I want to stress: I don’t train teachers that students should never fly drones via a joystick … but I am pretty frank that piloting via joystick is more just play – and that is not a bad thing – it has its place. Having students use apps like Tynker where they have to learn programing skills and problem solve to navigate their drone is really the point.
One awesome unintended consequence of receiving a grant is that sometimes there is “money leftover” – usually because of a cost savings or other circumstance. I just came into some “leftover” funds from 2 grants we have going. Some of that money I spent to get more Parrot Rolling Spider Minidrones. When I wrote the NSUAVCSI grant these drones were $99.99 each, the bid we negotiated got the price down to $62 (we bought 65 of them at once) and now the price is down to $49. Parrot has discontinued this model apparently, and the new models don’t have the wheels and are more than double the $$$ that I can get The Rolling Spiders for … so 62 new ones just arrived.
Now that I have some experience with checking out “kits” of drones for teachers to use in their classrooms, I re-designed the kits to make them easier for teachers and students to utilize.
The plastic tubs we have fit about 8 mini drones each, but since many class sizes here can be 30 students or more, each kit consists of 2 tubs (16 drones total) figuring 2 students per drone. BTW – 3 students per drone works too, but I like to provide as much flexibility as possible.
As with almost anything that runs on batteries, you can never have too many. So each kit has 4 battery chargers that each charge 4 batteries at a time – as well as 16 extra batteries. The USB cable that comes with each mini drone also fits the charger (which didn’t come with a cable). Removing batteries from the drones with just your fingers to recharge them in a charger is a bit of a struggle and tends to foster anxiety that something is going to break – so each kit also contains popsicle sticks that work well to gently pry the batteries from their confines.
A power strip with both regular 3-prong sockets and USB ports rounds out the kit for now. One thing that is missing are iPads to program and run the drones. I do have 20 on the way, but that is short of what is needed. A fair number of local schools have iPads, but they tend to be older, non-Bluetooth iPads that won’t work with the mini drones. 20 iPads was as far as I could squeeze the “leftover money”.
Hope that helps anyone looking into adding a programming component to your curriculum that also teaches students the care and feeding of aerial robots!
I’ve written about Mike Ismari’s class before (here and here). He received a grant last summer to buy several models of drones and flight simulators to use with students.
ABOVE: Mike’s drones finally arrived and are stored on shelves his students are building.
Since he had little to no experience with drones he signed up for our institute. His plan was to learn the safety, ethics, programming and operation of UAV’s and then when his drones arrived he’d be ready to go. But, one thing after another delayed his purchase, so he kept checking out NSUAVCSI drones … finally his have arrived along with iPads to operate them. He stopped by my office yesterday to return some Phantom 3’s he’d checked out and told me I had to come by again and check out what his students were up to.
10 students were flying Parrot Air Cargo Minidrones using Tynker to program them. Mike rotates his students through these different activities. Students were paired up – a student that had experience programming the drones with an inexperienced student. The experienced student talked and prodded the new student through the steps to program the drone “around the mountain” -portrayed by a chair on a table. The goal is to take off, fly around the mountain making specific maneuvers meant to keep a front pointing camera (which these don’t have – only down-looking) pointed at the mountain and eventually land back on the spot where it launched. I shot some video of 2 students doing just that.
In this first video (less than a minute long) they are troubleshooting their most recent flight:
Now they run the program with the changes they just made (about 20 seconds)
Some students were learning and practicing computer programming on the NCLab program our grant provided:
Others were constructing vehicles:
Others were practicing with RealFlight flight simulators (not pictured).
Great “messy” things happening! More photos and videos on the link below:
Nevada STEM Underwater and Aerial Vehicle Computer Science Institute
Sarah Richardson, a high school science teacher at Virginia City High School in Nevada, and also a participant in our NSUAVCSI program checked in with me while I happen to be writing my last post. Virginia City, Nevada is in the Storey County School District, a very rural school district that also happens to be home to the new Tesla Gigafactory and the largest data center in the world the Switch Supernap. And yes, it’s the same Virginia City made famous by the TV show Bonanza.
I delivered Parrot, Phantom 3 and OpenROV drones, 10 Chromebooks, and other materials the grant provided, to Sarah in mid January which was later than planned because of the historic rain and snow we’ve had. Sarah took it from there. Today she emailed me this update on what she and her students have been up to:
I am having the students (well I am trying to get the students) to make videos about what they have been doing. We have come up with a few road blocks with the drones that they have problem solved. We could not get the drones to pair with the controllers. I told them to figure out what to do, and they did it. I was excited that they actually did it! Once paired they played with the flight simulator. I am hoping that once the weather clears up, we will get them piloting outside!
After they get comfortable with the controls, they are figuring out how to code a course that will take a panoramic picture of the school. Our final project… hopefully, will be to create a topographical map of the school grounds. Then I have grand ideas of using that map to design a sustainable slope in the front of the school. As we have one side of the front of the school that is covered in rocks that flooded the walkway and the other side is full of weeds. I am hoping to have them design a sustainable slope or create a terrace garden of sorts with a native plant garden. That is my vision, but the second part might take a while to do.
You can tell from the bulk of my most recent posts that a big part of my job right now is about facilitating our STEM institute. I actually have another post about telescopes waiting in the wings for after I get a couple of questions answered. This video was produced by the Washoe County School District to celebrate Mike Ismari’s STEM class at Dilworth Middle School STEM Academy. Mike signed up for our STEM institute right away last year because he had received a grant to buy several models of drones (you mostly see them in the video, but a few he checked out from the institute make an appearance as well). Mike wanted to learn about the ethics and safety of utilizing drones in the classroom as well as the pedagogy to consider. Our institute is still ongoing and will be pretty much right up to the end of the school year. I think you’ll enjoy the video … it’s does a great job of showcasing Mike and more importantly his students and the learning they are part of. Enjoy!!
Although classroom visits are not actually required by the Nevada STEM Underwater and Aerial Vehicle Computer Science Institute (NSUAVCSI)“College and Career Ready” grant I wrote last summer, I believe visits and mentoring are a vital pieces of quality professional development. I’ve done about 4 visits so far and plan to do many more. Back in December (Yes I’m late getting this posted – Urgh!) I visited Carrie Mieras’s class at Sparks Middle School. They were experiencing using the Parrot Spider Minidrones for the first time although they had used another type of drone that only allows controlling via a joystick controller, so this would be their first attempt at writing a program to fly.
They worked in pairs and “3’s” to assemble the wheels that allow these drones to roll on the ground ceiling or walls, but also perform as blade guards. While one partner was assembling, the other was setting up either Tickle or Tynker on their iPads or iPhone to write their block program that would tell the drone what to do.
Block programming is a great first step to learn programming because it can be used successfully by even young children. Even though students are not writing actual lines of code, the process of block programming includes many of the thinking and problem solving skills required to program in languages like Python.
It was interesting to watch students struggle some to write their first program, but also to identify which of the 8 or 9 Parrots that showed up on their iPads was theirs. Several times students would choose the wrong one and when they started their program someone else’s Parrot would spring to life and begin it’s journey. That led to a quick lesson on how to tell which is which and then they were off!
You can see the block program on this student’s iPhone (he was using Tickle, (Tynker doesn’t work on iPhones) to tell his Parrot Spider Minidrone what to do.
By the time everyone had had a chance to get things off the ground a bit the period was over (“Whaaaaat!!??”) and it was time to put stuff away.
It was definitely a bit of a “messy” experience for the students, so I loved it. They weren’t taught everything … they had to figure things out on their own, but they were now ready to be more productive the next day!