Cubetto – the Perfect Robot for Young Learners!

Cubetto, a robot created by Primo Toys, is a cube-shaped robot that is programmed by adding shapes to a control board. This description is from their web site: Meet Cubetto: the friendly wooden robot toy for kids aged 3-7, chosen by 20000 parents & teachers to guide kids on coding adventures without screens.

Having discovered Cubetto from another educator on Twitter, I started researching it and decided this would be an excellent tool for teaching the basics of coding to our younger students. I shared the information with our Chief Technology Officer and our Middle and Upper School programming instructors who were equally excited. Our CTO even found some extra funds to purchase one!

A couple days later, Cubetto was introduced to our Kinder students. As you can see, the mats are small. There is no way you can fit an entire class around one so I asked the teachers to split their class into two groups each. One group worked on the Lego Wall while the other explored Cubetto. We switched after about 15 minutes.

We started by discussing the mat – geographical features, compass rose. It turned out that the students had spent the week learning about maps so this fit perfectly into their curriculum. The blocks were introduced by letting the students try them one a time to see how the robot responded. The function block brought puzzled expressions! By itself, of course, it does nothing. To a young child, the first reaction is that it doesn’t work! Later, they were able to see its benefits.

Then I gave a challenge – “Cubetto wants to travel to the mountains. How do we program it to get there?” As the control board was passed around to each child, we talked through blocks to choose. Then, we pointed to each block as Cubetto followed the commands. Of course, there were some “bugs” to work out which produces great problem-solving. Using the function blocks is necessary because there aren’t enough “go straight” blocks. That’s a hard concept for little ones but it will come with practice. You can see in the picture below that we were using the function blocks to represent 4 go straight blocks.

Everyone worked together quite well. A couple of the students really caught on quickly; you could practically see their analytical minds working! Some children were hesitant to make a decision about the type of block to insert but classmates were eager to offer advice and encouragement.

During the last group, it seemed to be taking longer than any other group to go around the circle so that everyone had a turn to add a block. Turned out, this group was actually larger than the first – one little boy apparently enjoyed Cubetto so much that, instead of going to the Lego wall, he just joined the new group to work with the robot again!

Judging from the reactions of the students, the Cubetto robot was a HUGE hit!

What I Like about Cubetto:

  • A lot of thought went into the making of Cubetto which means all types of learning is going on – directions, map skills, basic coding skills including function, geography, math.
  • Easy to use and perfect for small hands.
  • The hands-on nature of Cubetto provides excellent visual learning for students as they explore computational thinking.

What I Wish:

  • The basic kit comes with only one map and limited coding blocks (directions and 2 function). It would have been nice to have more blocks, including the logic ones.
  • The kits are expensive! You can buy extra mats and blocks, but at $29 each, that adds up.
  • For a classroom you will need at least 2 kits because only 6 or 7 students can comfortably around the mats. Three or four is even better but that gets expensive!
  • Cubetto is a very slow-moving robot compared to others I have. A bit faster would have been nice but we can certainly handle the slowness!

Would I Buy it Again?

YES!! This is an excellent tool for helping young children understand the concepts of coding!

Hour of Code 2014

The Hour of Code is over for this year but our coding has just begun! We have first and second graders who started Kodable last week and they have gone through almost all the levels! I had fun watching students “walk out” the coding steps as they decided which direction the arrow commands should turn. Our fourth graders were presented with a challenge by Dr. Krahn, our headmaster who teaches JavaScript to them twice a week, and they worked so well together to meet it. Their reward was having their names called out for morning announcements! And, wow! They love being mentioned that way!

Enjoy a short video showing the excitement of coding!

Hour of Code Begins!

The second annual Hour of Code is here – celebrated the week of December 8 – 12! Last year, 15 million students around the world learned an hour of code.

What is Hour of Code? “A one-hour introduction to computer science, designed to demystify code and show that anyone can learn the basics.” (From Hour of Code FAQs)

Our school will be doing a variety of activities for Hour of Code. On Wednesday, the upper school students will be demonstrating coding during lunch for all K-12 children. K-3 students will be in the computer lab with me exploring the following:

  • Kodable:  K – 2 classes will log in to the Kodable app to learn sequence, conditions, and loops by dragging and dropping commands to program a fuzzy character. The app is free with in-app purchases. A school account was purchased for our younger students so their progress is saved.
  • LightBot: The LightBot app ($2.99) is designed for ages 9 – 12. However, I’ve used it with younger children and it’s always a hit. Students move the character to light a square by dragging and dropping commands. There is also a LightBot, Jr. for the younger children.
  • CodeStudio Course 2: The third graders will begin CodeStudio’s Course 2, a free introduction to coding for elementary students. The course teaches the user to snap blocks together (it starts out with Angry Birds) and shows the lines of written code. The students have a picture log in and they are welcome to progress through the course at their own pace. The link to their class account can be found on the coding page of TVS TechnoWizards. (All K-4 students are enrolled in one of the 3 courses for elementary ages. We will work on the courses throughout the year.)
  • Khan Academy: The fourth graders will continue working with Dr. Krahn in Khan Academy; writing JavaScript code.

appsThese activities are just a few of the many resources available to help students of all ages experiment with coding. Since I work with elementary children, I’ll focus on those designed for this age.

Apps:

  • Daisy the Dinosaur: Snap blogs together to learn coding basics (ages 6-8; free)
  • Bee-Bot: Move Bee-Bot through a series of directional movements (ages 5-8; free)
  • Hopscotch: Snap blogs together to program characters to do tasks (ages 9-11; free)
  • Scratch Jr: Students program interactive stories and games (ages 6-8; free)
  • Move the Turtle: Solve tasks while learning to code (ages 9-11; $)

Online Activities:

  • CodeStudio: Besides the courses available, there are special Hour of Code activities including Frozen, Play Lab, and Flappy Code.
  • Hour of Code with Khan Academy: Practice drawing with JavaScript (for older children).
  • Scratch Programming: Snap blocks together to create games, interactive stories, and more.
  • Tynker Hour of Code: Similar to Scratch with the snap blocks; Tynker also has an iOS app.
  • Blockly Games: A series of games designed to practice coding (Use Safari, Firefox, or Google Chrome).
  • Holiday Lights: Light up the White House Christmas tree by snapping coding blocks together (Use Safari, Firefox, or Google Chrome).

As you can see, there are numerous resources available to learn coding. Learning coding helps students develop computational skills and problem solving. Coding is difficult but the students LOVE the challenge! Give it a try – your children will enjoy guiding you through what they know!

An article to ponder:
Why Every Child Should Learn to Code
from the Guardian

Celebrating the Hour of Code!

What a fun and exciting day we had on December 11th as the entire school celebrated the Hour of Code! Here is a snippet of what occurred that day.

As usual, I planned far too much for 15 minute periods! How could I really think that we could work with 3 or 4 apps in that short amount of time? (See previous post: Getting Ready for Hour of Code). But, that’s alright! The students had a wonderful time working with apps, online programs, and coding with cups during P.E.

I loved watching the thinking processes that occurred as the students worked. You could almost see their brains spinning as they practiced how to solve each level! The collaboration among the students was fantastic. If someone was “stuck” another child quickly and willingly stepped in to offer guidance. The best part was watching the students help their teachers! I even had one teacher who apparently worked with the Cargo Bot app all day; giving up his planning periods to move up through the levels. He even searched for me after school to discuss it!

Our coding day was a resounding success. My part was with Lower School but I know exciting events were going on in our Middle and Upper Schools as well!

Enjoy a longer animoto video of the day.

Creative Computing with Scratch

In May I discovered an online course – Creative Computing Online Workshop, (CCOW), designed and facilitated by members of the ScratchEd Team at Harvard University. Over the past couple of years, I’ve been working with 4th graders on the very basics of Scratch, a programming language designed for ages 8 and up. However, the basics were about all I could do! One of my goals this summer had been to practice Scratch so when I learned about the course, I immediately signed up.

cat1

The About Scratch page describes Scratch:

With Scratch, you can program your own interactive stories, games, and animations — and share your creations with others in the online community.

Scratch helps young people learn to think creatively, reason systematically, and work collaboratively — essential skills for life in the 21st century.

Scratch is a project of the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at the MIT Media Lab. It is provided free of charge.

Back to the course – the workshop was 6 weeks long and well-worth the time spent! The first three weeks were fast and furious; learning more and more about the power of Scratch. I quickly realized that, although this was a program designed for children, my non-analytical mind just couldn’t grasp everything as quickly as I’d hoped. At one point I became so frustrated that I was ready to quit! I’m glad I stuck with it! We were supposed to be looking at other design notebooks and leaving feedback and it was all I could do just to keep up with each week’s assignments.

Fortunately, the ScratchEd team AND the CCOW community were absolutely fantastic! From the excellent how-to videos to the “office hours” to each week’s activities, the designers of this workshop guided us to the point where we were ready to create a final project to share with our fellow CCOWers. I can’t say enough about the community of learners! There were beginners all the way to expert programmers who easily created amazing Scratch projects! And, then there was me – plodding along, not able to figure out why something didn’t work . . . But my fellow workshop members were ALWAYS available to fix issues, answer my “why” questions, and offer guidance on how to feel more comfortable using Scratch.

Throughout the six weeks, we kept a design notebook describing our thoughts, practice projects, and finally, our final project.

My project was three-fold:

  1. Continue practicing Scratch projects. (I struggled with some projects that I just couldn’t get to work but I was particularly proud of a multiplication and addition game – thanks to lots of help from the CCOW community).
  2. Collect resources and create a Scratch Resources LiveBinder.
  3. Make some new Scratch cards to use with my students.

Although I didn’t progress as quickly as I’d hoped (As I mentioned before, programming baffles me!), I am definitely further along than before taking the course. This was challenging but one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve ever had! I am excited to use Scratch again with my students and now feel that I can do a much better job guiding them to ask questions and problem-solve with each other.

I did learn something important. Normally, learning comes easily for me but this time it didn’t. It’s important to share with children the struggles that occur in the learning process – how important it is to ask for help, to share ideas, to understand that sometimes you just have to step away for a bit, that learning is ongoing!

Now that the CCOW workshop is over, my learning won’t stop. I know it will takes LOTS of practice to feel confident with Scratch. I’m now enjoying having the time to examine the many projects created by my fellow CCOWers. What I’ve seen so far is superb! As I titled my final project

Image from Haiku Deck

Image from Haiku Deck

Scratch with 4th Graders

This week, one class of 4th graders was introduced to Scratch, the programming language developed by the Lifelong Kindergarten at MIT. Scratch is intended for ages 8 to 16. 

As the Scratch Educators page says, “Scratch is designed with learning and education in mind. As young people create and share projects in Scratch, they develop important design and problem-solving skills, learning how to think creatively, reason systematically, and work collaboratively.”

The students had seen the link to Scratch in their 4th grade folders but I hadn’t said anything about it. A couple had already done some exploring and discovered they could draw things but hadn’t yet figured out that they could make the sprites move! So, when I mentioned Wednesday that we would learn about Scratch the following day, there was a good deal of interest.

The next day I started out by having the students open Scratch then come to the floor to watch the following video.

Intro to Scratch from ScratchEd on Vimeo.

Upon returning to their seats, it was all I could do to keep the students’ attention as I tried to guide them through creating the cat to move! They were SO excited. We did some basic blocks (move 10 steps, forever loop, change costume) then I let them loose. They spent the next 15 minutes exploring and seeing what they could get their sprite to do. I felt like I had lost complete control but while watching them, decided they needed the exploration time more than they needed me talking!

The next day, several of the students excitedly reported that their parents had downoaded Scratch at home. When others heard that, they wanted to know exactly how to find the program so that they could also get it. Everyone was eager to start class, so we began by building onto the dancing cat program started the day before by adding a speech bubble and a color change.

Before letting them explore, I wanted to show the pen down block. Everyone chose a ball then we added the following blocks: move 10 steps, if on edge bounce, pen down, change pen color by 10, forever loop, and clear. The students experimented with how to make the ball bounce in various ways so that it didn’t always move in the same direction.

When class was over, I asked the students to save and shut down the computers. There was no response! After several requests, I finally asked, “By your lack of response, am I to assume that you are enjoying this activity?” The answer was a resounding, “YES!”

The exciting thing about Scratch is how it draws in even the most reluctant learners. Everyone was eager to experiment with the sprites and the blocks. There was a healthy buzz as students offered suggestions to each other; lots of problem-solving going on!