Last week, we looked at some of the top STEAM tools for online and offline learning by exploring web-based platforms and unplugged lessons and board games. With President Obama’s recent initiative to bring computer science to K-12 education and make computer programming a basic skill for all students, many of you will be on the lookout for new and interesting ways to bring these STEAM tools to your classrooms. This week, we’ll look at two new categories of tools, robots, and microcomputers and microcontrollers.
Writing code and creating video games in the classroom can be a gratifying experience. However, there are few things in life more exciting to a pupil than writing a few lines of code, and then watching a robot come to life by executing that particular code. Today, there is a growing number of robots on the market that can be used in the classroom by teachers and students, and help them explore a world of endless possibilities.
Blue-Bot By Terrapin ($129)
Blue-Bot is one of the three popular bots made by Terrapin. The other two, the Bee-Bot and the Car-Bot are equally engaging and fun to work with. Students can write a set of instructions and steps that Blue-Bot can execute, so that Blue-Bot can navigate itself successfully through obstacles. Students can either punch the directions directly on Blue-Bot’s control panel, or use the free Blue-Bot app and upload their code via Bluetooth. Terrapin offers a variety of maps teachers can use with Blue-Bot. In addition, the Blue-Bot’s free app is very handy, as it allows teachers to create their own maps from pictures. Furthermore, teachers can purchase direction cards on Terrapin’s website, to help students visualize the code they generate.
Ozobot 2.0 by Ozobot & Evolve ($59)
Ozobot Bit is a nifty little robot that can do some impressive things. The size of a cherry tomato, Ozobot has the ability to read different wavelengths of light, which allows the tiny robot to accomplish some impressive tasks. Out of the box, an Ozobot can follow lines and paths drawn by students on a white piece of paper, or on a mobile device’s screen, if students wish to use one of the two free Ozobot apps. In addition, students can use the cards with pre-made mazes that come with the Ozobot, to learn about the different conditional statements that makes the Ozobots speed up, spin, and flash its lights in a specific way, among other things. However, things can get way more interesting when students use Ozoblockly, Ozobot’s web-based coding platform. On Ozoblockly, students can use visual programming to write code that enables Ozobots to do a variety of things. The platform offers advance options such as tutorials, sample programs, and the ability to save and exchange projects between users, which fosters collaboration among students.
Dash & Dot by WonderWorkshop ($199)
Dash & Dot are two robots that are designed to work with each other to accomplish tasks. However, students can use Dash or Dot independently. Dash is the largest and the most sophisticated of the two, so naturally it is the robot that students will most likely spend more time working with. Dash allows for some advanced calibration and personalization. Students can choose from a variety of pre-recorded sounds, or record their own, customize the light features, select the free play option and navigate Dash through obstacles, and many more other features. The robot is ideal for digital storytelling and social studies projects that include maps and navigation, but can be used in every discipline successfully. Dash and Dot come with a variety of apps, some of which allow students to use visual programming and blockly language to code instruction. In addition, WonderWorshop’s website has been recently updated to include lesson plans teachers can access by subscribing to WonderWorshop’s program.
mBot by MakeBlock ($79)
mBot is a programmable robot that will keep students and teachers occupied for a long time. mBot is the only robot on this list, and one of the few on the market, that can be programed in Blockly, as well as in Arduino. The Bluetooth version is very reliable and particularly handy to work with. Overall, mBot’s quality of materials and reliability of software are above average when compared to its competitors.
Younger students can use MakeBlock’s free blockly apps to program the robot using visual programming, or just navigate the robot with accuracy. Older students and/or students with advance programming knowledge, can use Arduino to program mBot. mBot will set you back $79, which is only 1/5 of the cost of Lego MindStorms, making a compelling case for schools with limited budgets, who want to incorporate a versatile robot with diverse capabilities.
MICROCOMPUTERS & MICROCONTROLLERS
One of technology’s most noticeable traits is that, as time goes by, tech tools become smaller and smaller. Computer boards are no exception. Today, there are numerous pocket size boards, such as microcomputers and microcontrollers, many of which are used in the classrooms. Microcomputers are full-fledged computers that can run multiple programs simultaneously, while microcontrollers can only run one program at a time.
These small but surprising powerful machines can accomplish numerous impressive tasks. Classrooms across the world use microcomputers and microcontrollers to teach STEAM lessons and coding.
Raspberry Pi Starter Kit ($59)
Raspberry Pi is perhaps the most popular microcomputer in the world. The third iteration of Raspberry Pi that was released recently is a lot more powerful than Raspberry Pi 2 and has the ability to become the base of a variety of STEAM and IoT projects in the classroom. With a Raspberry Pi students can build weather stations and cloud storage drives, they can code on scratch and Python, and even build a home computer.
Microduino modules are easy-to-use electronic building blocks that help bring LEGOs to life. They are as small as a quarter, stackable with magnetic connectors, and Arduino-compatible. Each module has its own function. For instance, there are Wi-Fi modules, Bluetooth modules, GPS modules, and sensors modules, to name a few. Just by simply stacking the modules you need, you can create your own projects such as drones, robots, GPS trackers, and even 3D printers.
One of Microduino’s main goals is to turn people’s ideas into reality. Its smaller form factor and modular features make it ideal for young inventors who want to augment their creations and add a little pizazz to their projects. In addition, there is a fairly large Microduino community that can provide support to novice makers as well as STEAM classrooms.
Arduino Uno Starter Kit ($65)
Another commonly used microcontroller, Arduino Uno is based on Arduino, the popular open-source platform, who’s ability to take basic input signals and change them into output commands has made it very popular among people who enjoy creating DIY projects. As one can imagine, a device with such capabilities can be incredibly popular with STEAM classrooms as well as classrooms that foster a culture of makers and support innovative ideas.
Some Final Thoughts
Data from other countries that implemented similar initiatives show that one of the biggest challenges in bringing Computer Science to K-12 classrooms is the fact that most K-12 teachers have not received any formal Computer Science training. Therefore, visual programming and blockly languages appear to constitute an excellent place to start.
We, at Plato Academy, embraced this framework, and view it as an opportunity to introduce computer science to the classroom, in an attempt to equip our students with the best skills they need in order to thrive in the modern world. It is our hope that all teachers and institutions will soon view Computer Science as an integral part of modern education.
To learn more about computer science in the classroom, check out Nik’s presentations at the Superior Tech for Teachers conference – happening later this week!