Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Spider Follows Spout: Blended Learning in Action!

After our success with our third grade robotics project, Spout, we decided to upgrade the mission and hand it off to our sixth graders. Spider was our new assignment and this robot had special powers, an Arduino Nano board which allowed students to program the robots movement and flashing eyes. Our sixth grade students have been learning to code using Scratch and Tynker, and this gave them an opportunity to expand and build on their skills.

The approach for this project was a bit different than building Spout.  Previously, we had Karl Wendt leading much of the instruction of the build in the third grade classroom while the teacher, Laleh Rowhani, supported and taught curriculum content around the project. With this project, Karl was available for consultation, but Vicki Lombardi, the classroom teacher, lead students through the build. Using the video instructions created by Karl at Khan Academy, she planned out each session with additional instructions and graphic diagrams to help support her students through this process. Student teams watched videos and worked through the steps at their own pace with adult support available when needed.

This was blended learning in action.  One of the keys to success with this project was the additional teacher support in the classroom.  This team included parent volunteers, Karl Wendt, two instructional coaches, and Sheena Vaidyanathan, our C-Stem teacher.  Members of the team were available to support students through 3 rotations of science classes.

The students worked collaboratively in teams of two, connecting and soldering wires, as well as hot gluing motors and batteries to popsicle sticks.  They needed to connect the bezel to the base, making sure there was enough room for the wires and Arduino board to fit inside the robot.  One of the last steps involved connecting the wires and LED lights to the Arduino board.  This was an extremely important step in order for Spider to be programmable.  Sheena Vaidyanathan, our C-Stem teacher, worked with students on the programming.  Students wrote code to make the LED lights, which were the eyes, change colors from blue to red to green to purple to orange.  The robot moved forward and backward as well as spun around. Building Spider took 2 weeks with an exhibition day scheduled for parents to view students’ progress. 

Students were in different places of the process by exhibition day.  Some students’ robots were fully functional while others still needed to program or make connections and final adjustments.  Students discovered that if wires were not connected properly, the robot did not function correctly; all part of the learning process.

It was a tremendous opportunity for students to work on persistence and perseverance. Some were frustrated that their robot was not completely finished or not working the way they intended during the exhibition. Students have become conditioned to presenting final projects that are “finished," and this provided an excellent learning opportunity for students to better understand prototyping, testing, and reflecting, as well as practice the design process.

As we look ahead to scaling these experiences out to other classrooms and grade levels, we hope to offer valuable professional development around the project design as well as develop plans for adequate support. As with students building robots, working these projects into the classroom will take some further iteration and reflection, and will continue to be an ongoing process.

By: Karen Wilson, STEM Coach, and Kami Thordarson, Innovative Strategies Coach

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