Last year I took over the robotics program at my school. There are compulsory classes for all grade six and seven/eight students. In grade 6, all students do five different rotations of design, with five different teachers doing five different units for approximately seven weeks. The students work with wood in the wood shop, they work with plastics, they cook in the kitchen, they do a digital creation project and they do robotics with me. In grades seven and eight, they do longer rotations spanning closer to 13 weeks which makes it six units over the two years. The units/topics are similar to grade six, with one elective making up the sixth class at the end of grade 8.
In grade six, the students get give a simple, real world problem that they must create a robot to solve. But in grade seven and eight, I give the students a range of different possible real world problems to solve. One of the most popular problems is a robot alarm clock. The students have to design, build and program a robot that uses a sense other than sound to wake up the user. So I decided to give this problem a go myself and build a robot to address this issue. Here is my robot and an explanation of how I programmed it.
In the pictures below, you can see the dock I built for the phone, along with the sound sensor (the orange piece on the front left of the robot) and the pressure sensor (red) at the front to detect obstacles.
You can see from the bottom view below that there are two motors at the back to make the robot move. Two motors are used because it allows the robot to move not only forward and back, but also left and right by moving one motor forward and the other backwards at the same time. There is a metal ball at the front as a third contact point so the robot rolls and to allow it to move in any direction, without resistance.
This year I introduced all of my Grade 7 and Grade 8 students to coding. This great video by Code.org got my motivated to introduce coding to my class:
The video is bound to get anyone excited about coding. However, once the task of actually getting to work arrived, the opinions of my students changed a lot. Some were motived to keep pursuing coding but a lot were frustrated with the process. It just goes to show, coding is not for everyone! The first activity I had my students complete was the Code.org Hour Of Code activity. It didn’t take any of them an hour, but it was a good activity to do as it took them through many of the basics of programming and coding. After the students finished their Hour Of Code, I let them explore the following resources. They could chose a course based on their own interest and skill level.
WHEN STARTING OUT TRY: Code.org – The basic introductory course that teachers you how to program a computer.
NEXT STEPS: Code HS – A great way to learn the basics. The lessons slowly build up to more advanced techniques. Code Monkey – A fun game made by Brainpop to teach you how to write real code. MakeGamesWithUs – Make your own iOS game in your browser! RoboMind Academy – Learning how to program a virtual robot. Scratch – Create basic games and animations using drag and drop. Grok Learning – An introduction to program which builds up to knowledge and skills in Python.
Earlier in the month, Adobe launched a new app for iPad called Voice. It is a very easy easy to use way to make presentations that are visually stunning. It has everything you need (pictures, clipart, music, etc.) stored within the app itself, so there is no need to flip between apps and save pictures to your camera roll just to create a slideshow. I think it is a very powerful tool for use in classrooms and could be used for a range of purposes, such as:
– A way to show evidence of a project
– A way for students to reflect
– A way for students to show their learning in a topic
– A fast and easy alternative to Powerpoint or Keynote
I made a short Adobe Voice presentation to outlines some of it’s features. This took me a minute or two to make, watch it here:
As you can see, you can publish the final video and even embed it, making a very powerful tool for any teacher or student with access to an iPad.
Currently the Grade 6 students have just started a unit on diseases. Before the unit started, the ESL teacher approached me with the idea of incorporating game based learning into this unit. She showed me the iOS app called Plague Inc. I had a play around with it and realised that the students could use this app to help them learn about the spreading of diseases, curing diseases, climatic, geographical and socioeconomic factors that effect disease spread and fatality as well as putting into context a whole range of vocabulary. So the ESL teacher and myself decided to trial it in her class with the students in groups to help facilitate more conversations. The lesson went great and it was amazing to see the children talking about complex concepts so openly and freely. I would highly recommend it to any teacher is teaching a diseases unit, not only were the students learning in context but they absolutely loved it!
At our annual professional development day, I hosted a double session on Slowmations. Slowmations are stopmotion animations, but instead of taking 20-30 photos to make 1 second of footage, you only take 1-2 photos per second. This makes the final movie more jerky, but much less time consuming and accessible to students of all ages.
Below are some great examples of slowmations that teachers in the workshop made:
This is Todd, Eb and Susan’s tsunami slowmation. It looks super fun and I’m sure their children would LOVE to make an animation like this themselves.
Jens, Tony and Gregg on how to use a rowing machine. This one is interesting as it’s the first slowmation that I have seen use real people. I think their’s is very polished and came out great!
A great chemistry slowmation by Antoine and Cameron:
This is a great video from Shauna and Bruce in the math department. I love that they have really made a possibly dry topic very interesting and engaging.
As you can see, the animations can be used for a range of purposes, age groups and subject. Get your students making slowmations in class to really engage them and solidify the concepts learned in class.
I am also planning to present on this same topic at the up coming Association of German International School conference in January. I’m really looking forward to turning some more teachers onto the powers of using slowmations to really solidify understanding of a range of topics.
Evernote is a great too for staying organized and I think it would be excellent for any research assignment such as the IB extended essay. This tutorial explains the basics of Evernote and how to use it as a research tool.
Self Control is a great, free app for Mac that allows you to block website that are distracting to you for set amounts of time. Say you are having trouble concentrating because you can’t stop checking your Gmail account. Then add www.gmail.com to your black list and the app will not allow you to access the site for the time that you set. You decide what is blocked and for how long. Here is a video tutorial by one of my students explaining the features of the software:
I realized that a lot of people struggle remembering shortcuts. So I wanted to come up with the easiest way possible for people to remember them. In the past, I made posters and hung them around the school. But for the average user, they would need to print it out and stick it at their desk. This wouldn’t really be something I would do so I tried to think of better ways. Then I realized that if I made a desktop wallpaper, everyone could have it on their computer, with instant access. What a great idea! This is the result:
So now all you have to do is click the download link above. This will open the image in a separate tab. Now right click (hold control and click) then image and select ‘Set As Desktop Background’. Now all you have to do is remember or write on a small piece of paper the shortcut of fn + F11 and it will hide all of your windows so that you can now see all of the shortcuts! I would recommend writing the hide all shortcut on a small piece of paper and sticking it to the bottom of your screen so it’s always there.
I designed the poster with some black space on the right so that you can have some documents on your desktop. I think this poster will also give you incentive to keep your desktop clean or else you wont be able to see the shortcuts!
If I have missed any important shortcuts please let me know in the comments below. I would have liked to add of the mouse/trackpad shortcuts, so maybe I’ll make another version in the future with those in it.
Please let me know if this was useful to you by leaving a comment below. If you like it, please share it and spread the word.
The portfolio of Mitch Norris
International, ICT educator and
Apple Distinguished Educator.