Learning about Arduino on Digital Learning Day

DonWilde_tnToday Don Wilde, former Intel engineer, and FLL robotics coach/judge, was here to show our students a different side of programming – the Arduino board.

Don talked about how programming has been invading almost every part of our lives, from cars (which house dozens of computers), and houses to businesses, and libraries. (This session was fittingly held in the library – and I mentioned how students today self-check in and check out their books with a scanner and software).

He also stressed the point of how engineers are needed to design robots, and for online stores, casinos and satellites to function. “Highly-paid work today, whether it is in entertainment or communication needs engineers and programmers, and you could be one of them,” he said.

Don then demonstrated one of the devices he had put together for this, using a off-the-shelf Arduino Uno board. He connected a series of light, touch and sound sensors to show how this plug-and-play device worked.

Board_DLDay2016

By way of comparison, he talked about the Lego NXT robot, itself a micro-controller, with which many students in both 5th and 6th grades are familiar. We have had a robotics program in the school for the past 6 years. Thanks to Don, I have become interested in introducing Arduino to my class. Perhaps someday, we will have programming as a regular class, rather than an add-on to the curriculum!

Micro-controllers_DLDay2016

Advertisements

Teaching them to Code, one block at a time

My colleague and robotics coach, Donna Horn gave me a Wall Street Journal article on Coding that’s worth sharing. It’s about why coding shouldn’t be so intimidating (at least to us teachers who didn’t learn to code).

Titled “We want our children to code, even if we can’t.” it argues why this is a skill we need to introduce early and often. Reading. Writing, and Coding…The timing of the article is not accidental.

February is when Coding fills the news, since Digital Learning Day is on Feb 17th. This year we have plenty to pick from –the usual powerhouses Code.Org and Khan Academy. There’s also Scratch, and other visual programming tools. Plus, there’s Mindstorms, the visual programming language we use in robotics.

Grant Smith, a tech writer for Edutopia makes a god point about teaching coding in schools. We need to set the stage first by (a) Curating the resources into the curriculum  (b) Organizing the classroom to be coder-friendly and (c) Rallying around those who might support your initiative. Including use some of the social media tools to build one’s personal learning network or PLN.

I’m planning on getting experts to come into the classroom, and teach.Ideally I’m thinking of App developers, from surrounding tech companies.

Please contact me if you know of someone!

So kids aren’t playing with rubber bands and string anymore?

True story: Recently I took a small group of students to visit a lab, and while breaking for lunch on some garden benches, they began climbing the trees nearby. They were getting a bit noisy when a lady walking by stopped and looked up into the branches. I thought I would get asked to get them to ‘behave’. But the lady smiled and said loudly to others passing by, “Look! look! children are playing on trees again!”

It took me a few seconds to figure out what she was really saying – that having seen so many kids today plugged into screens, it’s thrilling to see them having fun scampering up trees. (Side note: this was outside a Mars Space lab in Tempe, Arizona, and we were on a field trip to see a whole lot of technology!)

Drawing from : 7th period: Feed a Fish Wikispaces page Click on image to visit this class project page

I keep this in mind when I introduce students to new technologies. Last week, I began a lesson on animation, and as subject matter, I returned to the ‘Rube Goldberg Machine.’ We don’t always need screens for this. (Unless we need to check out the many Rube Goldberg contests like this.). How could we turn students into makers, and innovators, problem-solvers and scientific thinkers?

A Rube Goldberg Machine (or ‘contraption‘) teaches us a lot about levers, gravity, kinetic energy, and chain reactions among other things – such as precision, iterative design, and learning from failure. All it takes is some lengths of wood, string, paper cups, shoe boxes, old clothes hangers, marbles and/or ping-pong balls, rubber bands and cardboard tubes.

I like to get them to ‘design’ their machine first, and see what they come up with – then set them on a building mission! We could use a drawing app, but paper and pencil work just fine!

Image on right – One of the manyprojects from a 7th grade class – found here

Starting a Robotics Program? Check this!

Here’s a video I did with Ruben Gameros, a grad student at State University. It’s about what it takes to start a Robotics program.

This was a hot topic in the STEAM Workshop last December in Colombo and Kandy, Sri Lanka. We know drones are changing the game in many areas. How about ‘Swarm’ robotics? Watch Ruben explain!

Tomatoes on Mars. Peas on Earth

Ok, bad pun! But growing produce on Mars is quite a work in progress, by the folks at MarsOne. Tomatoes, especially.

Despite the Matt Damon agro project, growing food is not going to be easy, from accounts I have read. I know of a teacher who is germinating plants on moon-like soil.

In this blog post by Natasha Schön, she talks about biomass measurements, and the first tomato that grew in martian-simulated soil. Schön explain the need for more work on this:

One of the follow up experiments will be to investigate if the produced seeds are viable. It would only make sense to cultivate crops on Mars or the Moon if the follow up experiments are a success and the seeds are able to form new plants. If the seeds are not viable, a constant stream of new seeds would have to be flown in, making Mars farmers highly dependent on seed deliveries from Earth. 

And yes, they also tried growing peas.

And to justify the bad pun (in the title of this post), there is a children’s book titled “Peas on Earth.”

I believe it has a sustainability angle!

Cheap camera, free eclipse: Quick Ed-Tech lesson

This week’s Blood Moon and the coincidence of a lunar eclipse was made for science teachers.

DSCN1174Or for an Ed-Tech teacher incorporating a lesson in photography –how to frame a slow-moving event; how to compensate for lighting; using camera shake to your advantage.

The camera was a Nikon Coolpix, less expensive than the lens of my trusty older SLR.

Which brings me to the point about technology. How often does we allow technology get in the way of what we are experiencing in the moment? I’ve been trapped in presentation software just to make a point that would have done just fine with a hand-held device – a sheet of paper.

In Ed-Tech, which is what I teach, I like the focus to be more on the ‘Ed’ and less on the ‘Tech.’

The above image was blurred as you will notice. The ‘shift’ was accidental, but makes the point (simulating an orbital path) about light and shadows. I just used this in a 2nd grade class on editing and manipulating shapes. Nothing like a current event to get ideas – design-related, science-based- flowing.

Bring the robots. Lock up the clocks

So a boy could get handcuffed for bringing an electronic ‘clock’ to school, when it is perfectly OK to bring in, say, a robot? This turned out to be an embarrassing story for the school, and a wonderful one for NASA and robotics.

Are we sending mixed messages here? We urge kids to think outside the proverbial box aka a classroom, but we like them keep their inventions at home.

I’m not sure how to handle this. I’m in half a mind to have a “Bring your clockwork mechanism to school” day. Many students tell me about the experiments they do –from a simple Rube Goldberg contraption, to a Lego robot. Or should I tell them that guess what, you just might be invited to the White House…

Which is what editorial cartoonist, Steve Benson lampooned in today’s Arizona Republic. It’s hilarious.