Tech Ed 4 Kids Partners with Parents, Students, and Teachers to Measurably Propel Student Achievement in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math
My biggest pet peeve with holiday gifts has to do with toys that are only played with a few minutes and then get set to the side. I love the toys that get played with over and over again.
Here are some of my favorites:
- Lumi Drone – really there are a lot of drones, but the lumi is easy to control. It doesn’t have the camera like some, but it is easy to control. My son played with ours in the house over and over, up until that fateful day when he decided to swap to advanced and broke the light in the living room. We haven’t used the drone in the house since then, but that is more a statement on my son’s feelings toward breakage than the drone itself. It includes games and kids can play it in the house, and I know I mentioned EASY!
- Cosmo Robot – This robot is small, but it’s cute! My son likes driving it around and playing games with it. The robot comes with some accessories that let you play games, including tap tap, and you get to see who gets the most points. There are a few other similar robots now, but Cosmo is one we have. I’ve seen my little one drive it around the house using the camera through it’s eyes (viewing it on my phone) to see to steer.
- Meccano Robot, We have the large robot. It took us a couple people, a couple days to built. I know the company has some easier kits now, but this one is kind of fun. The robot lets you give it commands and will do activities like dance. You can also record actions on it. So that it can repeat after you. It even has the tell me a joke!
- Raspberry Pi, we have a plain raspberry pi, but there are several kids versions. I think Kano is a popular version. The plain kit can be anywhere from $35 to $60. The Kano was on sale at Target on Black Friday for $99 and looks like Amazon has it for $119 right now We currently have a plain kit, but if the Kano had been available when we found ours I might have went for it instead. The Kano is a Raspberry Pi but comes with several extras just for kids. There is also the Piper and the Sunfounder kit – and I’m sure a few more. If your child is really into electronics and computers this is the way to go!
- Kindle for Kids, I use the kindle myself, but my son is more a paper kid. My son insists all our books come on paper but when we are out somewhere and don’t have a new book with us, he will settle for a kindle book. I just use the app on my phone or ipad, but for younger kids that want educational apps too, the kindle for kids is great! It comes with a two year guarantee in case something happens to it and is in a oops proof case. No worry about broken screens.
It’s always great in our house when we can combine learning and fun, so most of these overlap and are active toys in one way or another. They may contain affiliate links. We have all of them at our house for my son except for the Kindle for Kids – (We have Kindles but not the one for kids.)
For our kids it was the first regional they had ever attended to compete in… My little one attended as a baby with his brothers, but he was way to young to remember toddling around waiting for his brother to finish at each regional.
It’s tough also to go back as a coach after organizing everything in the past. Nothing is done the same as what you would have done it, and if you are a type A personality it’s not easy. After an almost 7 year break since the last regional we competed in – between son 2 and son 3, it’s also tough to come in with all new coaches after having been the go to for questions in the past and now be an unknown.
We came in as one as the only neighborhood team in this particular regional. One other team was a homeschool team. The current regional missed some of the pageantry I’d seen in the past, so our kids were ready for anything themselves, and I was decorated too! Our kids chose to paint their hair, use glitter on their faces, and go with fake mustaches. That along with their matching shirts and they were ready to go.
The kids had started using the iPad with Bluetooth to program their robot and were able to complete three tasks on the table without touching the robot outside home base. By the third run, they were chanting for their team-mates and still had plenty of energy. I suspect as soon as they got home they crashed in bed though, but we were proud of them.
The kids went in on their own to the judges and answered all the questions. Coaches and parents weren’t allowed to see the judging sessions, so we shall see what the sheets say when we get them back for that. All in all though they did great for a group of 9 and 10 year olds that were competing for their first time.
As for how to program the robot, they ended up with the iPad and were able to add one command at a time – walking though programs until the robot completed the tasks they wanted it to do. By stepping through one command at a time and testing the robot after each modification the team was able to catch any errors before adding another step. Debugging long programs with multiple steps is a little complicated when you are first learning a language. By walking through step by step the kids are able to figure out exactly how things work pretty quickly.
The kids swapped the batteries between the first and second run and had accidently swapped the motor cables. On the first robot run, the reaction of the robot made it obvious to them what had happened…. so they grabbed the robot when it reached home base and quickly swapped the cables. Everyone was impressed that the team knew exactly what the problem was.
The kids are ready to start earlier and do amazing things next year!
This year has been tough for us with the new systems put in place since our oldest kids aged out and our youngest child became old enough to participate. FLL has instituted a new system for parents that isn’t easy to use. Our old team number was under my old email that I don’t have access to, so we have a new team number, and the paperwork still isn’t all in the system for all our parents. We have some filled out by paper that we downloaded, yet the local person sent us last years copy of the consent form… So it became a question of use this years that we downloaded or last years.
Most of our kids have special dietary requirements and some are special needs, so the local regional’s rules about no food brought in (not to mention the exorbitant prices) looked pretty tough for kids that are seeing a schedule with them busy from 7 am to about about 3:30 in the afternoon. Despite the downtime that is mentioned, I’ve been at tournaments before and the kids are generally hyped, trying to fix robot flaws, talking to other teams, and end up with no time to go run out to some local place to eat. Luckily an email resolved this with a bring food for any dietary needs. Having a child that has the same lunch and same dinner every day frequently isn’t understood – mine even makes me pick out all the veggie straws that aren’t the right color… so I’ve dealt with the funny looks and comments before, I just like to shield my little one from dealing with them.
We are also dealing with scheduling issues that were made more difficult by conflicting schedules we seem to be seeing. Hopefully it will all be cleared up when we arrive at 7 next Saturday.
To get ready, our kids have toured a water treatment facility (thank you Bowling Green Water!), gotten matching t-shirts, done water tests with different water filters, and learned a lot about programming their robot. Being their first year and with none of them having even seen FLL before, we got off to a slow start, but the kids have been starting to get it and are getting excited. With one week left they are starting to plan a play to show off their research. Tomorrow will be our last meeting and the kids will finish up everything they can and make their plan for next Saturday.
We are starting over this year with our youngest. Our older two aged out of FLL robotics a few years ago. – Like 6 years ago! Our family had went through everything from teams in Illinois and Kentucky, having coaches, coordinating regionals, state championships, and running workshops for teachers. Our first year was Mission Mars and our oldest started as an eight year old… that really seems like forever ago!
It took a little bit to get registered this time since the registration had actually changed a lot. I’m still not completely sure I have everything completely done, but I have finished the background check portion. In previous years it was a simple register your team… all in one place and the kit would show up. This year there were so many more steps. As a simple home team, coordinated by parents on the team it definitely didn’t seem to be organized for the parent who just wants to get a neighborhood group together. Even being very familiar with FIRST I was quickly lost.
I registered our team, and shortly after realized I hadn’t completed a step to get our mat. I had to re-sign in and go to LEGO Education to order our mat. Luckily I figured that out and got the mat ordered. A few days later I received notice that a background check wasn’t finished. No matter how many times I signed in and tried to complete it, the system just gave me errors. FIRST was great helping with getting that completed! I finally have that part completed. I wasn’t sure where to list the other parents, so for now I have them listed in the system as mentors. We shall see how that goes.
Our kids first couple meetings, we had the kids work on building the models – which our eight and nine year old kids were not happy about. The kids left that up to the parents every chance they got and ran off to play with the robot. I do think when the kids get to the robot programming we aren’t going to have any problems.
We are at the point where we plan to pick a team name and start making an agenda each week. This year we only have one robot so that kids will have to work on more than one thing…. but it looks like they will make a great team!
When I was in grade school, the school decided to have a team of dancers for the basketball games. Out of all the girls only two weren’t on that team, myself and my friend Iva. Yep it bothered me. But I wasn’t good at dance, I wasn’t coordinated, my parents would have been disturbed in their schedule, there were a million reasons I shouldn’t try out and be on the team. I’m not even sure if it was a case of go and try out or if you signed up…. just that I wasn’t on it and everyone else was.
When I hear my husband talk about the thinks my son isn’t coordinated enough to do, he might get hurt, the other kids will make fun of him…. What I think of is the flip side, what happens when you don’t try. There are so many opportunities out there for kids that aren’t coordinated to still do sports in a non-competitive environment….. I recently read an article online talking about how positive reinforcement doesn’t work in the long run. I can honestly say that what happens when you focus on punishment instead is kids remember, and I don’t mean that in a good way. I remember teachers making me stand in the hall for blowing my nose too loudly in class, making the other kids laugh at me. Calling attention to me for having allergies – years later when my high school offered a trip to Hawaii and I got to go…that grade school teacher was a chaperone. You can bet it put a blight on the trip. Even now the group pictures are ruined having that teacher in them.
Good teachers know when it’s right to use the carrot and when it’s right to use the stick….You can’t just use the stick. You also can’t stop kids from participating out of fear that they will fail. I went on to take jazz dance my senior year in high school… yep, me and a bunch of younger kids, but I did it. I had to wait until I was old enough to drive myself in, but I was able to…
How does this tie in to Tech Ed? Kids today aren’t different, they just have different interests. Noses buried in phones or computers, doesn’t mean that’s a bad thing, it just means that you have to find an activity with a theme that they like. Minecraft programming, Minecraft geometry, Pokémon Math, make your own video games … even American Ninja Warrior style games – all get kids interested.
Recently we had a child over that was in everything in our house. He touched everything my son had, opened our cabinets, dumped our piggy bank…. So what did we do? We decided to make shrinky dinks. It took about half an hour, but it was fun and we all learned something. I actually have a pile of ‘to do’ activities for when we really need something to do. Everything from make your own snow to make a terrarium.
One of my big fears is that my youngest will be disciplined for something just because the teacher doesn’t understand the way he thinks. Especially when I hear stories about kids locked in duffel bags or put in rooms and forgotten. I’ve been there when my son has walked in a classroom and announced that the decorations look stupid – because they have clowns and the circus and he didn’t like them, or him refusing to enter a room because the sound was too loud for him and was painful. Not wanting to participate in activities because either the items were touching, things were messy, or it involved getting wet and he doesn’t like doing that. He has him own idea of color, order, and clean and operates on his own logic.
So what do you think, can positive reinforcement work? Especially with teens?
About the author:
Linda Liukas, author of Hello Ruby, is a programmer, storyteller, and illustrator from Helsinki, Finland. She is a central figure in the world of programming who worked on edutech before it was even called that. Linda is the founder of Rails Girls, a global phenomenon teaching the basics of programming to young women all over the world. She has studied in business, design, and engineering at Aalto University and product engineering at Stanford University. She was selected as the 2013 Ruby Hero (the most notable prize within the Ruby programming community) and she’s the Digital Champion of Finland, appointed by EU commissioner Neelie Kroes.
With the release of the movie Hidden Figures, a little more focus has been on the women in programming. I just received a message that the University of Illinois has received an award for increasing the number of women in engineering over the last few years! Yeah! I still remember one of my programming classes in college, taught in the math department. Five people in the class (Pascal), and I was the only women. Another class was a full classroom (Fortan), I always sat near the front and it wasn’t until the professor mentioned it, that I realized I was the only women. Most of my classes were like that.
It’s hard to imagine that most of the original computer programmers at places like NASA were women. It was considered a women’s job since typing was involved. It wasn’t until later that it became a man’s field. Interestingly enough one of the things that U of I mentioned was their changed in recruiting and removing gender bias. My husband and I had a discussion about how bias is included… It’s interesting that it’s so ingrained that we don’t even realize it’s there… Like the fact that women are usually called girls whereas boys are called men.
I loved the movie Hidden Figures! I really loved the statement where the black women computer was asked if she would want to be an engineer if she was a man and she replied, No, she would BE an engineer. The sad thing was that it was true. The movie showed the battles that not only women faced, but also blacks. If we don’t remember history, we are bound to repeat it. If you haven’t seen the movie, it is definitely worth watching! I’ve seen it twice so far!
Women (and Girls) should be able to be anything they want to – whether it’s a computer programmer, a scientist, or a pageant queen…or even a pageant queen that is a nuclear scientist. We have famous actresses that hold degrees in STEM that are setting wonderful examples. Look at Mayim Bialik from The Big Bang Theory that holds a PhD in NeuroScience and Danica McKellar from the Wonder Years that has a degree in Mathematics – including a theorem named after her! And McKellar has some Kick Butt math books that she has written!
Hello Ruby is a book that works through some adventures on learning creative thinking. It isn’t really a book on how to program – there is a workbook though. It will work through the concept of programming, not programming itself. I was originally a little confused by the fact that Ruby is actually a computer language also. Ruby is actually a free language, downloadable. Ruby the language isn’t really a beginner language in my opinion though.
In this book, Ruby is a girl that is followed through the book as she solves puzzles. The book works through the puzzle solving process. There are activities and exercises. I do recommend this book – but not if you are wanting a book to be a tutorial to walk you through programming.
Meet Ruby a small girl with a huge imagination, and the determination to solve any puzzle. As Ruby stomps around her world making new friends, including the Wise Snow Leopard, the Friendly Foxes, and the Messy Robots, kids will be introduced to the fundamentals of computational thinking, like how to break big problems into small ones, create step-by-step plans, look for patterns and think outside the box through storytelling. Then, these basic concepts at the core of coding and programming will be reinforced through fun playful exercises and activities that encourage exploration and creativity.
In Ruby’s world anything is possible if you put your mind to it.