Archive | December, 2010

WeDo in Action: Test drive with a 10-year-old

14 Dec

Kids are amazing. I love the way the way they tilt their heads or squint their eyes when they are trying to solve problems; I live for those moments when understanding or connection flashes and their eyes widen and their smiles spread out across their faces. I got a whole afternoon of amazing kid moments the other day thanks to our new LEGO WeDo Kit.

I spent my afternoon working with Kyle, my co-workers son, (Grade 5) as he assembled and explored the “Drumming Monkey” activity. Kyle had plenty of experience working with computers, and had previously been exposed to LEGOs and robotics, but he had never built an automated model or done any type of computer programming before.

I used a FLIP camera to record some of our interactions mainly so that I could reflect on the experience later. After watching, I decided it might be helpful to give other teachers and school administrators who are considering implementing the WeDo curriculum, an opportunity to see what it looks like in action. Kyle’s dad was kind enough to grant permission to post the videos.

My goals as I worked with Kyle were to:

1) Provide clear rules and boundaries regarding how to use the materials

2) Stay out of his way so he could learn

3) Facilitate his learning by asking questions that would require him to dig deeper and encourage depth and complexity of thought by modeling the act of “wondering” and “testing” or “trying it out”.

4) Encourage him to articulate and use language of the discipline whenever possible

Before we started: I gave Kyle these organizational rules, “LEGOs in the tub or in the box arena. The consequence for LEGOs being anywhere else is possibly losing the opportunity to work with the LEGOs”. I added, “If one falls or if you forget for a moment, don’t worry, just put it back in the tub or the box.” I had him tell me the rule and said, “Do  you know why I made that rule?”  “Because the little pieces can get lost?” “Yep”.  I did not have to worry about the kit after that. I knew he understood.

Video Clip #1: A short clip of Kyle assembling his model. Notice he mentions that he has had previous exposure to reading blueprints. I’ll be curious to see how children that have not previously seen blueprint assembly instruction handle the task.

Video Clip #2:

When Kyle’s model would not make sound, I asked him to consider the problem. Watch his reaction and how given a moment, he is able to trouble shoot the problem himself.

Video Clip #3:

In this longer series of clips, you will see Kyle take the simpler program and design included in the WeDo activity book  to a more complex model and program that  uses input from a sensor to control motor speed and to output sounds depending on the position of his model’s “arm”.

As he works, I observe and only interrupt or stop him when he says he is ready to show me what he has done or when he wants to “tell me what he’s thinking”. I use inquiry to guide his discovery and increase the complexity of the tasks he is completing.

In summary…

So far, I like the WeDo activities because there is ample room for differentiation. Kyle handled every task with curiosity and determination. I’m not sure that a 1st grader would answer questions the way he did. I imagine some of the younger students will be able to understand and make connections the way he did, while others will mainly focus on completing the tasks. And that would be fine.  While one student is simply learning to translate the blueprint into a physical model, another student can be challenged to modify the model or find an alternative solution.

One of the most valuable take-aways I got from my session with Kyle yesterday was developing an understanding of how important it is to model inquiry and curiosity.

I used this format:

“Kyle, I wonder if I could program the model so that each moving arm would make a different sound? What’s something that you wonder?”

I would then listen while he made and “I wonder” statement. We went back and forth a few times. A couple of times after an “I wonder” statement, he said, “I think I know how we can do that!” After a few “I wonders…” I said, “What do you want to try to do next?”

It was so rewarding to watch as that “Aha” smile broke across his face with each new discovery.

Enjoy the videos and please give feedback!

Too Much Fun: Exploring WeDo Activities

10 Dec

Yesterday, I worked my way through three of the LEGO WeDo blueprint activities while following along in the curriculum guide. I highly recommend doing the same if you plan to implement the WeDo curriculum in your classroom. It is a great way to familiarize yourself with the format of the activities and lessons.

I sat down to work through the first activity and thanks to the Vista OS installed on my computer, I ran into trouble right away. I couldn’t seem to access the activities modules from within the LEGO WeDo software. I noodled around a bit and figured out what was going on, so here’s what to do if the same thing happens to you.

Vista Users: If you open the WeDo Education software, attempt to access the activities section and find that the “mini-figure head” is grayed out, exit the program. Go to the LEGO program icon and right-click. Choose “Run as an administrator”. If you want to permanently run the application as an administrator. Right-click the icon, select properties, compatibility, and then click the box that says “Run as administrator.”

Once the software issue was resolved, it was time to start building. I started by assembling the “Dancing Birds” model. This project uses a motor in combination with gears and pulleys to animate two birds and make them spin and dance.  Once the model is built, the pulley system can be altered to make the birds spin in different directions and at different rates. You can see my super duper cool 1-minute Stop-motion video of the activity below.  I’ll get to my thoughts and observations on the activities in a bit.

Next, I moved on to the “Smart Spinner” activity. In this activity, a motor is used in combination with a motion sensor to create a handle for a spinning top. When the handle is lifted, the top is released to spin. The motor is programmed to automatically shut off when the motion sensor registers a change in distance to the floor or desk surface, so as the handle is lifted the motor stops.

In the middle of exploring this activity, a co-worker’s fifth grade son showed up. It was not hard at all to convince him to be my test subject for the remainder of the afternoon. Seeing the kit in the hands of a child was wonderful. (Thanks to his dad, I was able to capture some of the key moments from our interactions and will share them with you in a series of video clips in my next post.)

After completing two activities and working with my young friend as he completed a third, these are my  observations and thoughts:

1. Little parts will be challenging for little hands! Since first graders are still developing use of their fine motor skills, connecting some of the smallest pieces and maneuvering the belts onto pulleys may be especially challenging. Not impossible, but challenging.  Building the models will likely foster improvement in the youngest students’ motor skills. However, it may be necessary to assist some of the children with a few of the trickier assembly bits. I foresee second and third graders having an easier time assembling working with the smaller pieces.

2. Troubleshooting is a skill that will need to be modeled and developed. At one point, I realized a gear wasn’t fitting correctly into my model. I quickly began to troubleshoot, working backwards to determine where I had gone wrong in building the model. I realized I was using a skill set that I have developed over the course of my life, troubleshooting.  I imagine it will be difficult for some teachers to resist doing the trouble shooting for the little ones, but letting them work through the problems on their own will foster the development of this important skill set. The teacher will have to get in to the habit of using questions like, “What have you tried so far?” “What does your buddy/partner think you should try?” “Are your bricks clicked in, or do you have loose bricks?“Why do you think you are having that problem?” to help the students identify possible causes for their problem and help set them on a course for resolving the problem.

3. The WeDo blueprints will work well for kids, but reading blueprints is a skill that may need to be explicitly taught in the beginning. The blueprints in the kit’s accompanying book are well designed, colorful, easy to see, and consistent within and across activities. Although I foresee it will initially be necessary to explicitly teach techniques for reading the blueprints, eventually I think students of all ages will be able to work in pairs to construct the models.

4. That little video that accompanies each activity really matters. I watched the video and barely noticed it. I thought it was sweet and knew it would be a good way to lead into each project, but I didn’t fully grasp its importance in terms of providing clues for the students as they work with the models. Watching 10-year-old Kyle work on his activity, I realized how much information he was able to pull from the video. When I asked him, “How did you know to do that?” he responded, “remember in the video when the little LEGO guys were…?” At another point, he said he wanted to try something he saw the LEGO guys do in the video.

So far, the LEGO WeDo curriculum and the kits get an A+ from me. I can’t wait to get them into the classroom and get started with the kids. I contacted the elementary technology teacher and elementary school principal today to set up a planning meeting so we can begin piloting the kits in January. Finally!

(Be sure to check out tomorrow’s post which will focus on taking a close look at how 10-year-old Kyle and I worked through a project through a series of annotated video clips!)

New LEGO WeDo Kits Reviewed!

7 Dec


Yesterday was a big day. The LEGO kits I ordered finally arrived. I have been pushing the idea of implementing LEGO curriculum starting in Grade 1 since I arrived here last September, so as you can imagine I was overjoyed to open box after box all full of LEGO WeDo and NXT kits.

I spent the majority of the day working my way through 20 WeDo “Get Started” tutorials, exploring the software interface, and putting together my first self-designed automated LEGO car. What a blast!

Here are my initial observations regrarding the LEGO WeDo Kits, Software and Curriculum:

Observation #1: The getting started tutorials rock.

The LEGO WeDo “Getting Started” tutorials are definitely a great place to start if you will be implementing the LEGO WeDo curriculum or using the kits in the classroom. After completing all twenty tutorials and following along in the teacher’s guide I now have a good grasp of:

  • The vocabulary needed to describe kit parts (cam, sensor, bushing, belt, gear, worm gear…)
  • The vocabulary needed to describe what can be observed (ie. the motor is turning the driving gear and the following gear is turning clockwise)
  • The WeDo software interface and its programming objects
  • The vocabulary used to describe the interface and its objects (Motor On button, Send Message button, Wait button…)
  • The questions to pose to students when they are introduced to and begin working through the tutorials (Are both the gears turning in the same direction? Which pulley is moving faster? What do you think the cam is used for?)

While the getting started tutorials are easy to follow for an adult or an older student, I do foresee having to do some significant initial training with younger students. I think it will be beneficial to spend the first few lessons learning how to access the tutorials, how to choose the correct pieces by matching them to the on-screen materials list, how to rotate the on-screen model, and how to use spatial skills to construct the models and compare them.

Observation #2: If a teacher can read a manual, ask probing questions, manage behavior and not be a total control freak, then he or she can teach the LEGO WeDo curriculum.

So far, the teachers guide appears to be well written and easy to follow. Teachers do not need to have experience with robotics to use the kits or to teach the WeDo curriculum. What will be most important for successful implementation is finding teachers that are able to act as facilitators during lessons, who will teach using inquiry-based methods, and who will get out of the way of the kids so that they can learn. Luckily, the teacher’s manual includes a few well though-out questions, so even a teacher new to inquiry-based teaching can get started. In addition to asking the right questions, I foresee good classroom management skills as another key pre-requisite for teaching WeDo curriculum because…

Observation #3: There are lots of tiny little pieces.

There are a number of very small parts. For little hands, it will be important to have a plan in place prior to piloting in the classroom. Without a plan for how the kits will be stored, maintained and used in the classroom, and without a behavior management strategy, these kits (which are not super expensive but not cheap either) will be rendered useless within weeks.
I am dabbling with the idea of creating “LEGO felt boards”. I have access to power tools, press board, felt and glue are pretty affordable and I’m pretty crafty, so I think I can make it happen. I’m imaging a rectangular, felt-covered surface with a small 3/4″ lip. The felt will be handy for creating a surface with some friction to keep pieces for sliding around and to help wheels move more easily. The lip will give a visual boundary for students and help them remember to “keep pieces either on the mat or in the box”. (If I make them and find them helpful, I’ll be sure to post photos & design plans.)
Observation #4: There are enough pieces to allow for creative play and exploration, so kids can use imagination to make “cool stuff” on their own.
One of the concerns I had about the LEGO WeDo kits was that students and teachers might be limited creatively by the pieces in the kit. I worried that, outside of the prepared projects shown in the included blueprints, there might not be room to just “make something cool”. So I ended my day by challenging myself to build a car that could move in two directions and that I could speed up and slow down. (Keep in mind… I am brand new to robotics.) Here is what I came up with!
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