Over spring break last year, I had the honor of working with a group of Tufts students at a public school in Harlem, New York. There I taught 2nd grade students robotics and engineering using three main tools namely, WeDo, Smartboard, and Legos which are explained in detail below.
WeDo is a robotics education kit that uses legos to encourage kids to think creatively, innovate boundlessly, and learn endlessly. The kit includes a wide array of Lego blocks, hubs, sensors, and motors. WeDo introduces children to robotics by giving them the opportunity to build and program their own robots. For our week in Harlem we gave the children various tasks to guide them as they built and programmed rides you would see at a carnival. Children used the Lego pieces included in the WeDo kit, as well as various recycled arts and crafts materials, to build their ride and then used their newly acquired programming skills to program a fully functioning carnival ride. WeDo was a fun and simple way to teach the children the purpose of a hub, sensor, and motor and to integrate these parts in the creation of a working robot.
WeDo also encourages the kids to think deeply about sequences and patterns. Through programming their robots, children were forced to really focus on what they wanted the robot to do “first”, “next”, and “last”. Initially the students had trouble formulating sequences of directions, so we required the children to write out their potential code in steps before using the computer. Children also learned a great deal about patterns and repeats through WeDo. Through WeDo we were able to focus in on the idea that using the repeat symbol to illustrate a pattern that you want to do more than once is a great way to save time. Children were able to refine their skills around figuring out patterns and sequences, all while creating a robot they could be proud of!
The Smart Board is an interactive white board that fosters collaboration and creativity. This tool provided us, the instructors, with a lot of flexibility as far as note taking, demonstrations, and teaching. In order to write on the board we could use either a special pen or our fingers. We could also drag and drop images on the screen for an elaborate demonstration.
The Smart Board also allowed for easy viewing by the entire classroom. While it would’ve been difficult to teach programming by showing students a small laptop screen, the Smart Board projected the images from the laptop onto its large screen, allowing for easy viewing. The Smart Board was also a touch screen so students could simply touch a desired object to move, resize, copy, or delete it.
One activity that was particularly enhanced by the Smart Board was “Programmer Says”. In this activity, we opened up the WeDo program on the laptop and displayed it on the Smart Board. Taking advantage of the touch screen, we rearranged different programming symbols to present a line of graphic code. We then told the kids to pretend to be the robot, interpret the code, and carry out the code’s actions.
Legos were included in the WeDo kits and provided by the school. Towards the beginning of the week, we had kids work with crafts and then made the transition to Legos. This transition allowed us as instructors to really relay the importance of planning to the kids. Whereas with craft materials the children had more freedom, the Legos presented a few limitations as far as which shapes fit together, and how many of each piece were available.
Legos definitely led the children to think even more creatively and even abstractly about their creations. Instead of making the item they wanted they were required to use the tools they had to make what they wanted.
The technology in the classroom gave way to a remarkable learning experience. WeDo, the Smart Board, and Legos drove the children to challenge conventional thinking, develop unique solutions, and make connections to previously unclear concepts.
- Kristen Ford