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!

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!

When machines break, and coffee cups burn – just another day in science

In teaching technology we like to say that it’s OK mess up the first time.

This is counter to how we like things to run smoothly. You know: neat transitions, good closures etc. A formula, in other words. Even when doing a demo, you probably want your audience to see the end result.

But I’ve realized that in many lessons – life lessons, and class lessons– the best thing that could happen is for something to fall apart, if not crash.

Earthquake simulatorTake this ‘earthquake machine’ we built from two-by-fours, scrap metal, and some springs. The plan was to simulate tectonic plate movement that brings down buildings. This was for our STEM Night, which happened on Tuesday.

On the day of the event, when a bolt was turned by a power drill, the rickety contraption ran into a few issues. The wheel began to crack. And we had no proper Plan B (a replacement). Plan C was to manually shake the spring-based table. We settled for Plan D – Duct tape! Which looked messy, but worked.

In a sense, I loved that uncertainty. It becomes an opportunity to tell students that this ‘problem-solving’ stuff we go on about, is real –even for us.

Then the next day, last morning), Channel 10 News’ weather guy showed up and I had to demo the cranky machine. More issues.

  • Problem #1: The drill that drove the machine, had been taken home! We scrambled to get one in time.
  • Problem #2: Cory McCloskey wanted to repeat the ‘quake’ and …of course, it failed on camera. Nice.

You cannot plan these things. What looks bad, actually informs the story. McCloskey was here to do the weather report on Earth Day, and connected with the story of how humans might solve earthquake issues. (Actually, this just in the news: earthquakes are caused by humans drilling but not the kind you see above !)

Fox 10 News visits SRES (35)He then spotted the solar oven we had used the day before. I had left my coffee cup inside one of the pans to keep my cup of joe warm while the kids were all gathering for the media truck.

A solar oven can reach up to 250 degrees in 30 minutes. So does the plastic cap, which warped out of shape as you can see in the picture below.

The weatherman’s parting comment: “We’re burning coffee cups in here…”

Indeed. We’re doing messy, fun, science here. Things break. Or bake. You can’t touch this.

 

Solar baking AfterIMG_0659 STEM Night 2nd Red Camera (12)

This Month’s STEM Talk on Swarm Robotics!

Excited to announce the second in our monthly  STEM Talks series.

The speaker:  Dr. Spring Berman, from ASU’s department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. She is a recipient of the 2014 DARPA Young Faculty Award. This DARPA program is to engage the next generation of researchers who focus on national security issues.

The Topic:  Swarm Robots.  Dr. Berman’s ongoing research focuses on controlling swarms and ‘distributed sensing’ of not-so-smart robots.

This will be followed by a demonstration of a swarm. Ruben Gameros, a postgrad student will show how 2-4 bots could be manipulated to do complex tasks. “These tasks or ‘games’ are inspired by ants, which collectively work to deliver food through a tunnel to feed the queen,” he told me.

Date: Mon 9th March, 2015       Time: 4:00 pm           Venue:  Room A122  – Computer & Technology Lab

Light refreshments will be served.

(Check out last month’s STEM Talk)

 

Salt River Elementary featured in Dept. Of Interior News

I covered the visit of US Secretary of interior, Sally Jewell to my school, here on the school website.

It was exciting that she also visited my class, and had a talk about robotics and science. At that time, little did we know how it would figure in the grander scheme of things…as a Listening Tour, of Native youth.

The department’s video below included several pictures of her engaging with our students. Two of the students you see in this are potential podcasters in my class on audio. Three are in robotics.

More from the Department of the Interior’s communication channel called ‘This Week at Interior.’

Local NPR Station, KJZZ covered the visit here.

Here she talks  to two of my students, and watches a demo in my class.

 

 

And this from Cronkite News at ASU.

 

Launching ‘STEM Talks’ with Hamid Shojaee

Happy to launch a new series of outside speakers in a series I am calling STEM TALKS. The goal is to get students at Salt River Elementary School to engage with technology experts, scientists and outside educators. They could learn to feel comfortable asking the tough questions, being curious about other careers especially in the sciences.

To kick off this series, I am inviting Hamid Shojaee, CEO and founder of Axosoft, to talk with our students, during my Robotics class.

In  2012, at age 38, Mr. Shojaee was named one of the ‘Most Admired CEOs’ in Arizona by the  Phoenix Business Journal. He has been an active member of Arizona’s entrepreneur community, and is an angel investor in several software startups.

I was inspired to discover that Axosoft has rooms named after some of the world’s best known problem-solvers – scientists and inventors such as Newton, Kepler, Hawking, Tesla, and Socrates. I asked Mr. Shojaee to speak to the robotics team about programming and being problem-solvers.

The event is via Skype.

Date: Tue Feb 10th, 2015                Time: 4:00 PM                       Place: Computer & Technology Lab

Learning from Steve Jobs – Content for your recording

Students seem to be getting truly excited about creating their mini radio shows, using a microphone and Audacity software.

For content, I give them a rudimentary script, to fill in, and improvise. This week, I’m telling them to consider ‘anniversary’ events as talking point. For instance, the launch of iPod Shuffle, 10 years ago, on Jan 11th, 2005.

If you are a student,there’s a lot to learn from Steve Jobs, whose presentation skills were extraordinary. Listen to how he works up the crowd, and keeps them waiting for that “One more thing.”
Fast forward to 1:35, and see what I mean.

  • He uses words like “noodled on it” (where someone else would have used “we researched it”)
  • He introduces a few unexpected pauses, and slows down and speeds up suddenly
  • He uses visual description – comparing the iPod Shuffle to a pack of gum, and contrasting it with coins

Notice how he also stays away from big words, using words like “easy”, “simple,” “thing,” etc. (And yet, peppering his presentation with keywords!)

I bet if this was not available on video, we would still listen to it.