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!)

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