Saturday, August 31, 2019

The Impact of Student Robotics on the Lives of Young People

Letter from my friend, Gary Israel, Director and general 'mother hen' of the Morris High School robotics team (Morris is a public school in the South Bronx, NYC) for the past 20+ years. The team, 2Train Robotics, has won many honors and distinguished itself in many ways over the years. Here's Gary's heartwarming recounting of meeting up with a former student/member of the team after a good many years... enjoy!

From: Gary Israel
To: markgura
Subject: Connecting with a Former Morris H.S Student on 2Train Robotics (17 years later)

Dear Family and Friends,

There have been many highlights for 2Train (and for me personally) over the past 20 years, such as being honored on the Floor of the United States House of Representatives in 2003 (and again this year on the team's 20th anniversary), and of course the team being honored on the field at Yankee Stadium for 18 consecutive years,

But for me connecting with former students on the robotics team and listening to the impact the team had on their lives, now that is PRICELESS! 

So of course I was so excited when a good friend in Rockland County NY, told me he knew an extraordinary young man (Carlos Martinez) who not only attended Morris High School in the Bronx but was on the school's robotics team in 2002. I might not know what I had for breakfast this morning but I remember that was a pretty special year. It was the year that I took the robotics team to Kennedy Space Center to compete in our first competition after 9/11 and returning to be honored on the field at Yankee Stadium.

So last week I went to see Carlos, who is the Executive Director of Rockland County's Independent Living Center’s BRIDGES, a non-profit agency (Building Relationships Investing in Diversity Genuinely Empowering Self) dedicated to providing leadership, advocacy and support services to enhance the quality of life for people with disabilities. I couldn't have been prouder as I got the VIP tour and met all the BRIDGES staff. 

The following day I received an email from the Deputy Executive Director who said "It was nice meeting you too! It was pretty special for Carlos to reconnect with you. As a teacher, It must be so gratifying to see a student develop into such an accomplished adult." 

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Teacher's Advice on Using Robots in the Classroom

Great article from Smart Brief
"Tips for using coding, robots in the classroom"

"The importance of coding and robotics in education consistently comes up in conversation at school, tops headlines and makes appearances in several studies that point to preparing today’s students for the future workforce. I realize many teachers have already incorporated coding and robotics solutions in their classrooms, but as a Title math teacher of two years, the mere thought of learning engineering design principles required to build a robot seemed like a daunting, time-intensive undertaking. I anticipated starting out with iPads or Chromebooks to teach math concepts since I only had 30-minute intervention time to incorporate tech in my classroom. It’s easy to say coding and robotics was the last education technology resource on my radar for my struggling kindergarten to fifth grade students.

However, last year I had the opportunity to use KUBO from Pitsco Education, a screen-free robot for early learners. Students use TagTiles that fit together like puzzle pieces to code and tell the robot where to move. Students were able to pull the materials straight out of the box and begin using the TagTiles to move their robot around an activity map. They were completely engrossed in the activity. This is critical when teaching kindergarten, first and second graders; they need something immediately engaging or I’m struggling to keep their attention. But for those 30 minutes with their KUBO, they actually seemed to forget they were learning math.

I have also learned alongside my students. It is hard to let go of some of the control of instruction, but nothing is better than seeing a kindergarten student’s face light up when they realize they taught their teacher something about robots or coding. I embrace those experiences that capture student interest and open their minds to think and learn in new ways.

For teachers thinking about trying a new robot or coding in their classroom or for those who, like me, haven’t even considered it, here are four positive takeaways from my experience:
  1. Explore first. Let students dive in with the new resource and explore its capabilities. I never give my students an assignment when we first pull out KUBO. I explain what the TagTiles are and their function, but I then give students the opportunity to make their own code. It is extremely rewarding to see their excitement when they make their robot move along their path -- successfully or with failures. They are learning through exploration.
  2. Students love to teach their teachers. It’s absolutely OK if you don’t know everything about the robot or how to code, let alone have used any technology in your classroom. Research shows we learn best when we teach someone else, so let your students learn how to code and then show you. This will deepen their understanding of the coding concepts, as well as create more excitement for the students since they love to teach something to their teachers.
  3. Encourage failure. Since I teach struggling math students, many do not want to attempt math problems because they’re embarrassed to be wrong. However, when given the chance to code and work with robots, they don’t hesitate to jump right in and fail. Students routinely fail as they work to move their robot around a path. While some get discouraged when they cannot figure out the appropriate code, this is a wonderful opportunity to encourage a growth mindset and get comfortable with the notion that failing is OK. It is part of the process where they can then build from their failure, persevere and learn from their mistakes. One of the best experiences I have had was watching an English language learner who struggles with most reading and math concepts when they are first explained to him. When he was asked to code, he was able to visualize and create the correct sequence with his first attempt. His peers were amazed at how he could manipulate his robot without fail. It was incredible to see him succeed and be able to teach his peers.
  4. It’s not just for STEM programs or computer science classes. Before adding coding and robotics into my math class, I thought these were tools that were only meant to be used in computer science classes, STEM programs or by education tech specialists. I didn’t realize the numerous applications that both can add to any subject. For example, I was able to use the robot with upper grades in my math classroom to code the difference between perimeter and area. It also taught them important communication skills, to think critically and to work in a team. For instance, sometimes partner and group activities can create tension with students, but I observed that my students were excited to learn from each other when coding; they worked through struggles together.
My initial experience using a coding and robotic tool has forever changed my outlook on not only the clear benefits my students gained but also just how easy it can be for integrating into whatever short period of time a teacher is working with. With so many coding and robotics tools coming out all the time, it can be overwhelming which is best or where to even start. Teachers should not be afraid to incorporate coding and robotics into their classroom. If you are looking for a coding or robotics solution for your classroom, I would recommend:
  • Looking for a product that is easy and quick to implement in the classroom. No one has loads of extra time to explain and teach students to code their robot.
  • Using different coding and robotics solutions that are out-of-the-box experiences for students. There is so much that students can learn through exploration, you do not have to buy solutions that require direct instruction throughout to understand.
  • Following educators on Twitter or Instagram that are using coding and robotics in their classrooms; connect with them, ask questions and get a preview of how their students are using the product..."
Read the full article at its source:

Monday, August 5, 2019

University program is training teachers to get ‘comfortable’ with robotics

A course like this one seems like a great "nicety" but as
I pointed out in my book (published by ISTE)
'Getting Started With LEGO Robotics: An Educator's Guide',
extensive Professional Development in student robotics may
not be necessary, in fact, it may be counter productive as is
pointed out in this article...

“The hardest thing is getting teachers comfortable with the idea that they don’t have to be robotics experts,” Gales said. “Robotics is about learning. … Kids are really creative and they’re much smarter than we were. The kids will end up teaching you something.”

"How one University of Memphis program is training teachers to get ‘comfortable’ with robotics"

"Science, robotics, and technology are subjects that typically scare many teachers — and a lot of other people, too.

But a two-day robotics training program at the University of Memphis is trying to show teachers that, really, leading students in those subjects isn’t so difficult.
“We’re here today to let teachers know that robotics is not hard and it’s not hard to get kids interested,” said Johnathan Gales, a senior electrical engineering major at the University of Memphis. He was one of five undergraduate students who helped lead the teacher training sessions.

This is Gales’ fourth consecutive year as a STEM ambassador. The university pays students like him, an electrical engineering major, to go to local schools and show young people how to master practical technological skills, like designing robots or operating a 3D printer. STEM is a widely used acronym to describe fields in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

“The hardest thing is getting teachers comfortable with the idea that they don’t have to be robotics experts,” Gales said. “Robotics is about learning. … Kids are really creative and they’re much smarter than we were. The kids will end up teaching you something.”

Senior electrical engineering major Johnathan Gales was one of five University of Memphis STEM ambassadors who helped lead a robotics teacher training on campus. July 23, 2019.

Helping K-12 teachers overcome the perceived difficulty of understanding robotics helped guide the spirit of the free training program, which was facilitated by the West Tennessee STEM Hub, a collaborative initiative funded by a federal grant. The actual training, which attracted 45 teachers, was paid for by a $20,000 grant from the Tennessee Valley Robotics Foundation and another nonprofit known as Bicentennial Volunteers Incorporated.

The program takes Tennessee — and the nation — one step closer to producing professionals capable of meeting the rising demand for science and robotics specialists. These occupations and those in related fields make up the fifth-fastest growing job sector in the South and are projected to employ 2.6 million workers by next year, according to a report from the Tennessee Department of Education..."

Read the full article at its source: