This blogpost is written by Nicole Smirnos- North.
At Mulvey School we strive to educate our young leaders of tomorrow by creating an inclusive learning environment, where all of our students’ diverse learning styles, needs, interests and strengths are considered and valued. We therefore encourage the great curiosity our students have for technology and try to infuse it into our teaching to create an engaging and well-rounded learning experience. With this in mind, we journeyed into the exciting world of digital literacy through coding.
Now-a-days, children are fearless when using computers. With every touch to the screen and hitting of a key, they gather further knowledge on how they actually work and carry out the functions that are so useful in our daily lives. I wanted to empower my students to get to know such imperative products, using them to create rather than just consume.
We were so lucky and grateful to receive a grant from The Manitoba Association for Computing Educators and were able to purchase two Sphero SPRK Edition Robots, two Mini Parrot Rolling Spider Drones, and an IPad Air. Going into this project, my intention was to have my students cover some mathematical concepts, I was excited to observe just how much and to what extent.
We started our project by completing a series of mini challenges the Learning Technology Support Teacher: Keith Strachan, the Mathematics Learning Support Teacher: Christina Couture, and myself put together. We started out by practicing our coding skills by using our bodies as robots and controlling one another with a series of symbolic computer-type commands to pick up, and build objects around the room. We also started coding on the computer through the website code.org. When we received the robots we started experimenting moving them about our classroom around certain obstacles, using the applications: Tickle and Lightning Lab. From doing this we got comfortable with using the commands, and practiced our patience with perseverance when faced with problem solving.
Next, Mr. Strachan visited our classroom and gave us some challenges with the application Hopscotch. He introduced the students to concepts in computational thinking, which we practiced and refined as the project went on. The children were encouraged to use even more coding commands and it brought us to the concept of angles. The children shared some of their experiences through our Twitter hashtag (#room16mulvey), and were very excited to show each other the differences in the code they had written which still gleaned the same result.
Afterwards, we had a classroom discussion on the different robotics we had been working with. The children decided that they wanted to create “Marvelous Mulvey Mustang Mazes” and code the Sphero’s to run through them. We created criteria together that included the number of entrances and exits, the minimum amounts of turns we wanted to see, and how the mazes would be drawn out on graph paper. The students used their imaginations to create a blueprint in groups on centimeter graph paper. This brought us to many concepts including measurement, scale, and some concepts related to the laws of physics. We tested out our robots’ movements on the tiled floor noticing the relationships between speed, distance, time, and resistance. We then created tables that we analyzed for patterns on how many tiles the Sphero could cover when we entered our calculations. It was a great segue way into ratios and using our logical reasoning in a way that had immediate results that the students could test out and instantaneously see.
It was up to the students to measure the area we were using in our library and equally share the floor. The children scaled their blueprints up to create their mazes on the floor and used rulers, protractors, and painters tape to create personalized mazes on the floor. I was so proud to see just how well-worn their blueprints were as they collaboratively calculated and communicated their ideas to get their mazes on the floor in the shape they had made as a group. This project naturally was great for differentiation as the groups could make the twists and turns in their mazes according to the level of difficulty they wanted to approach based on their coding and mathematic ability levels. Most were very interested in creating a challenge and did just that.
Once the mazes were securely taped down, we began coding our Sphero Robots using the application Lightning Lab. The groups leveraged a variety of coding strategies to complete their task. One group coded their Sphero to change colours with each turn it made in the maze, in order to notice the sets of code that corresponded to each path to make organized adjustments. Another group strictly used trial and error, and would read through each command every time to notice the modifications that were necessary to get through their maze. Alternatively, one group was able to understand the efficiency of “loops” to complete their task, and were able to write a more concise code for their robot to make it through their maze.
This hands-on experience was so great for meeting the programming and mathematical abilities of all of my students. Some were able to notice the sections of their maze paths that were half or double the sizes and were able to use their multiplicative reasoning to write their codes in a logical way. Others used what they knew about repeated addition to notice the measurements on the floor and the distance calculations they needed to make on their IPad. The methods of problem solving varied according to the challenges the groups took on.
At the end of this project, it was very apparent that the children were extremely engaged throughout the learning process and learned a lot by their reflections.
The best part was that they learned so much from their peers. The conversations they shared when they showed each other what they had done and how they approached the tasks were entirely student-driven. It was so interesting to notice the computer programming terminology they had gained over the course of the project, as well as how the terms and concepts had become second nature. This project included a process that took months, and there were many struggles that we faced along the way, but we all persevered and learned together as a team.
All and all, I would say that the students learned so much more because they were able to physically see the gratifying results of their labour. Not only did we learn about so much mathematically, the students were able to really experiment with the concepts by making tangible movements with the robotics. We were able to reflect on the experience and could see the scientific, mathematic and language arts concepts we were able to achieve through this project, and how encompassing the learning that resulted became. Not only was this a unique experience it was a practical one that was authentic in the way that the tools supported their learning, that I know my students will remember and perhaps pursue as they continue on their learning journeys.
On behalf of my students, myself, and the greater Mulvey School Community, we would like to thank the ManAce group for making this enriching experience possible. We are already starting our next coding experience using the robotics and IPad purchased with this grant, with another project that the students are creating. Our next venture involves designing a miniature golf course that our robots will maneuver through with our grade 3 and 4 students, and we are very excited to see where this next project takes us. Our students are bound to experience greater technological reasoning in this high tech world with the addition of the engaging skills they are encountering, and we are so proud and excited for them to have this opportunity in their education.