Wednesday, October 16, 2019

High School Robotics Class Prepares Students for Careers and More

RADFORD, Va. (WDBJ7)— Radford City Schools continue to expand their robotics and STEM classes throughout the district. Now, thanks to another $50,000 grant, their students are more prepared for technology-driven careers and real-life collaboration after high school.

It might look like fun and games, but even the crashing is part of the robotics classes at Radford High School.

“We’ve ended up being able to promote some really good 21st century opportunities in robotics,” said Superintendent Rob Graham.

The students are now being exposed to coding as early as kindergarten, and intermediate students are taking a full course to prepare for robotics classes.
“We’ve started our middle school students who are interested in that so they can move on and become part of that robotics team and continue to have the good successes that we’ve already seen,” Graham said.

The course for middle school students started this academic year.

Robotics has been part of the school’s curriculum for about three years now. Each year, they were able to obtain this grant that promotes Virginia’s 5 C’s: critical thinking, creative thinking, collaboration, communication and citizenship. Graham said they have studied other robotics programs around the world to figure out what is best for Radford’s students because of these grants.
Graham said the foundation of this knowledge needs to start as early as possible. That’s why they have been so competitive with other area teams that have had these types of courses in their curriculum for so long.

“We feel like as students start moving into the high school now that we’ve integrated this and implemented this into the high school and middle school that we’re going to really have a strong program and have a lot of interest,” Graham said.

Each year, the team has gone far. They qualified for state twice.
This year, they have a Star Wars theme and the group plans to design the Death Star. The objective is to use a robot to build a skyscraper with it, but the students said the challenge is getting the blocks to stack on the foundation.

Senior Gavin Lyman is helping to design the arm that will make it possible.
“We need to put a capstone at the top of them in order to get more points, and right now, that’s a little bit hard,” he said.

Although Lyman is designing this feature, it takes everyone to make the magic happen.
“You need to speak with your teammates and actually get things done and know what each person’s doing on the team so you can just keep up with everything,” said senior Micah Collins.
This is a collaboration that helps them get ready for the real world.

“It’s not a test, it’s actually doing these types of things, so our teachers not only here in computer science, but even in math and English and the core subjects, we’re seeing a lot more interaction,” Graham said.

“I just like everything about it. It’s just fun, especially getting with your teammates that you might or might not have been friends with before,” Collins said.
The first competition for the students is on Dec. 7.

Read the full piece at its source: 

Sunday, October 13, 2019

RIP Woodie Flowers

Sadness continues to be expressed following the news of the passing of Dr. Woodie Flowers. Woodie was known and revered by many as a result of his tireless support and inspiration for those involved in FIRST Robotics, the most prominent and significant STEAM Education effort that I'm aware of.

Below a few noteworthy items that have crossed my screen over the past few hours; RIP Woodie!


This one, below, from Gary Israel of 2Train Robotics (FIRST Team from Morris High School - Bronx, NYC)...

It is with a heavy heart that I share that Dr. Woodie Flowers has passed away due to medical complications. 2Train extends our deepest condolences to Woodie’s wife, Margaret, and all of his loved ones. He will be greatly missed by 2Train and the entire FIRST (For Inspiration, Science and Technology) community.

Dr. Woodie Flowers was Co-Chair of the FIRST Executive Advisory Board, Distinguished Advisor to FIRST, and Pappalardo Professor Emeritus of Mechanical Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Woodie was involved with FIRST since the very beginning. He was critical to establishing the ethos of FIRST by coining the term Gracious Professionalism® and nurturing its meaning in his every action.

This Spring Woodie was gracious enough to be with 2 Train when we were honored on the field at Yankee Stadium: the following day he attended our 20th anniversary celebration luncheon hosted by Columbia University. Photos below.

On a personal note I have been blessed to have known Woodie for 20 years and am honored to have received the NYC Woodie Flowers Finalist Award in April.

Warmest regards,

Dr. Woodie Flowers

FIRST Executive Advisory Board Co-Chair & Distinguished Advisor

Dr. Woodie Flowers is the Pappalardo Professor Emeritus of Mechanical Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a Distinguished Partner at Olin College. Dr. Flowers serves as Distinguished Advisor to FIRST and participated in the design of the FIRST Robotics Competition game for many years.
Dr. Flowers helped create MIT's renowned course "Introduction to Design." He also received national recognition in his role as host for the PBS television series Scientific American Frontiers from 1990 to 1993 and received a New England EMMY Award for a special PBS program on design. He is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. He recently received The Joel and Ruth Spria Outstanding Design Educator Award from ASME, a Public Service Medal from NASA, and a Doctor Honoris Causa from Andreas Bello University in Chile. He is a MacVicar Faculty Fellow at MIT for extraordinary contributions to undergraduate education. He was also the Inaugural Recipient of the Woodie Flowers Award by FIRST. Currently, Dr. Flowers is a director of three companies. He and his wife Margaret live in Weston, Massachusetts.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Robotics competitions engage students in STEM Learning

"Robotics competitions can engage students in STEM"

"'s not just about learning a specific block code language, but rather about students gaining confidence in a new area....

Robin Corbeil is a technology and computer teacher at Litchfield Middle School in New Hampshire.

As the computer instructor for Litchfield Middle School, I’ve tried different ways of engaging my students in coding as well as science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) in general. Some tactics have been less successful than others.
For example, I tried, but my students lost interest after a day or two (the courses have probably changed since then). I also took on responsibility for the math club, but although we did do some competitions, it was a struggle to get students to even be associated with the club because it wasn’t considered "cool." We even tried turning it into a STEM club, but we just couldn’t increase membership.

Two years ago, I began managing student teams for robotics competitions. That engaged some students, but it took a lot of time, effort, energy, knowledge and direction. However, in 2018, our school took part in an online coding and robotics tournament, Cyber Robotics Coding Competition (CRCC). That event took less of my time, was easier to manage, and our school won second place in the state of New Hampshire. And I was able to pull it off with little more than two years’ experience in computer science under my belt.

One of the best things about CRCC is that it can easily accommodate teachers with no experience at all. Participants had to program virtual 3D robots to perform complex tasks and missions, but it didn’t require a ton of my time to get set up on the competition’s CoderZ Cyber Robotics Learning Environment. Also, it wasn’t something I had to take students through step-by-step. The missions were very intuitive, so they could work independently. They really didn’t rely on me for answers, direction or motivation.

The CRCC consisted of four components, the first of which was a professional development webinar for teachers and mentors. The second was a boot camp in which students and educators learned about coding and robotics in a virtual, highly scaffolded “sandbox.” After that, students participated in the qualifiers, competing individually to earn points for their schools. In the finals, which took place nearby at the University of New Hampshire, teams of students represented our school in an in-person event that was a lot of fun.

I incorporated CRCC into my 7th-grade computer class by letting students work on the competition’s missions for the first 15-20 minutes. The official objective was for every student to complete just the first 10 bootcamp missions, but quite a few completed the entire bootcamp and moved on to the more complex qualifier missions. It was a nice destresser for them because it wasn’t assessment based, and it wasn’t something they had to do with a partner...."

Read the full article at its source:

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Middle School Students making breakthroughs in science with ROBOTICS

Nice piece from CBS12 News:

PAHOKEE, Fla. (CBS12) — Scientists in the making at Pahokee Middle School are making breakthroughs in science at just 11 to 13 years old.

They’ve even caught NASA’s attention.

Pahokee is normally known for the touchdowns under the Friday Night Lights, but at Pahokee Middle School, the Robotics Club is changing the narrative.

“My belief is that all they needed is the opportunity,” says Luis Paniagua, the science teacher who founded the club that is tackling important issues.

“There's so many things we could discover in the world,” seventh-grader Alondra Campos said.
So when NASA listed treating astronauts faced with kidney stones in space as one of its problems, the kids didn't hesitate.

Astronauts in space are susceptible to kidney stones caused by losing a lot of calcium.

“We knew we wanted to help because it's a very hard issue to solve,” eighth-grader Nayeli Perez said.
The idea started with this water gun and a game of catch.

After creating the idea, they also received input from researchers at the University of Washington.
“We decided to call them to ask them about our project and they said that it was one of a kind,” eighth-grader Jonathan Perez said.

“I couldn't believe it. I thought it was a joke. I thought somebody was playing a joke on me. This was work at the level of my beginning of middle graduate students who are working on a PhD” says Larry Crum, a research professor at the University of Washington.

The concept utilizes hydrodynamics using water waves to break up kidney stones with the help of a reflector.

It's not a simple solution, but these kids have a bright future; they want to do a myriad of occupations in the STEM sector.

If they succeed, they will be the first in their family to do so.

Right now, the robotics advisors are in talks with the University of Washington in hopes that a work-study program can be made in conjunction with the university so that their studies can continue at a higher level.

Monday, September 2, 2019

Student Robotics @ ISTE 2019

The following section was excerpted from the EdTech Digest article

Ba-Boom! EdTech!
July 12, 2019
Education’s explosive ‘next’ observed through the lens of ISTE 2019.

Student Robotics

I was expecting to find Student Robotics in abundance at ISTE, especially on the exhibition floor. Even with this expectation, though, I was a bit overwhelmed by how this area has grown and how many new offerings are now available, with even more promised to be released soon.
Borrowing Richard’s tagline, one is on firm ground seeing this as The Year of Student Robotics. Although I see no end of this exploding trend in sight, this body of resource and instructional practice has evolved to become a hyper-rich way to provide deep STEAM learning experiences, an approach that I predict will soon be offered by absolutely every school. How could they responsibly ignore it?
Deciding which approach, which way to fit it into the instructional program, and which varieties of materials to select, however—will take some ‘catch up’ as there is such an abundance of high-quality offerings to navigate.
Let’s begin right here, right now, though! Some of the exciting things I saw this year:
As part of the long admired PITSCO Education body of resources, Smart Buddies (to be formally released this coming September) was the first robotics item to grab my attention and shake me up a bit (in the best possible way, of course.) Not what I was expecting to find at ISTE, but so wonderful—this is a very appealing programmable robot, actually a small robot scooter on which a variety of action figures ride. But this resource has a powerful, beyond-just-STEM purpose.
I was won over quickly by Sharmi Albrechtson’s (CEO of SmartGurlz) as she ran down this breakthrough concept for me. The Smart Buddies: Teaching Everyone to Code program is designed to support students in better understanding and embracing diversity in the world in which they are growing up. The kits come with female and male figures of diverse backgrounds and cultures. Through identifying with these and programming the robots, students learn Coding and related STEM curriculum as well as being immersed in Social Emotional Learning and their diverse world. I can see how this will guarantee an important shift needed to encourage more girls—actually, kids of many demographics not historically successfully engaged in STEM—to embrace computer science and engineering and its applications. There are also deep connections to Literacy (here we go with that theme again) as students use the kits to program for important storytelling-based activities.

Pictured: LEGO Master Educator, Ian Chow-Miller, demoing SPIKE Prime.
Another item that really grabbed me is LEGO Education’s new SPIKE Prime kits. Engage Every Learner in STEAM with LEGO® Education SPIKE …
Any significant expansion of the LEGO Education body of robotics materials is a major event in the world of Student Robotics. LEGO’s body of materials, in my opinion, continues to provide the fullest, most accessible, most versatile range of learning possibilities: everything from designing a robot, either as an exercise in engineering imagination or as a solution to a real world problem, to programing it, to testing it, and on to making modifications and improvements in both the robot and the program coded to run it.
Recently released, ISTE 2019 was my first opportunity to get a good look at SPIKE Prime. I think that over the years LEGO’s “Mindstorms” material, which has evolved from original incarnation to NXT and on to EV3, has gotten more sophisticated (a very good thing). However, between the WeDo materials, intended for younger, earlier grades, and the current Mindstorms, is a sweet spot for teacher adopters of these great resources and SPIKE Prime will address it. Simpler, easier to understand, somewhat easier on classroom management and budget, I think that SPIKE Prime will get a great deal of well-deserved attention as teachers gravitate toward it. I think for many it will prove to be the best path into fully robust integration of robotics into their work with students, and one that will prepare them and their students for more complex robotics down the line. I’m on board!

Kinderlab’s KIBO Robotics impressed me as offering serious coding through materials that are so accessible and appealing to young students. I very much appreciate that KIBO is scaling up its robotics materials in complexity of function. Originally intended for young students who need very simple materials,

KIBO is now expanding programmability to include ways to use sub-routines. As students mature and become more proficient at coding concepts and skills, KIBO will stay relevant and challenging for them. Supporting students to grow and reach without having to leave the comfort of a body of materials that they have become comfortable with (and love, I would expect) I think is a great plus in what KIBO is doing. I found myself marveling at how much these kits allow students to do using a ‘screen free’ learning environment. KIBO offers kids building block-like materials they can manipulate using visual cues, arranging them into robotic programs that model and illustrate coding in ways guaranteed to make great sense to young students who are now learning in an ever more sophisticated environment.

I got an early look at Birdbrain Technologies’ new, updated FINCH 2.0, a more robust version of an established robot that’s proven to be a winner. When I think of STEAM, focusing on the A in the acronym, which stands for The Arts, I generally think about Birdbrain’s Hummingbird kit, often used by students in combination with traditional crafts items, like piper cleaners and cardboard, to produce handmade, robotics-driven expressive and whimsical creations. These kids create to explore imaginative themes and demonstrate and communicate learning; like bringing poems to life.
The Finch – Birdbrain’s other robot resource, is a pre-built robot (elegant design, I think) that can be programmed for traditional and challenging coding activities, like maze navigation, but also for Arts oriented activities, like synchronized robot dance performances. FINCH Robot 2.0, now upgraded to take advantage of the MICRO.BIT processor, appears to be an economic, highly versatile and capable classroom robot that students can program using a wide variety of coding platforms.
OZOBOT – Such a well thought out and executed end to end approach to bringing robotics into today’s Education. And I love the attractive, small scale EVO robot! Hard to imagine that a simple approach to coding, involving drawing and coloring with markers could involve such sophisticated computer science oriented learning outcomes. It’s representative of the overall elegance of design to be seen in the OZOBOT approach. And then, there’s the other option, using Google’s Blockly programming platform. So both screen-based and non screen-based coding is possible, giving great flexibility. This provider’s Feedback Loop, interface seems very promising, too, enabling students and teachers to collaborate in reflective, ongoing robotics learning.
Makeblock – The Makeblock robot I experimented with on the exhibit floor was intended for younger students, enabling them to learn about a variety of robotic machinery and electronic parts. I found it to be quite impressive with a highly engaging form factor and personality, moving around an imaginative, mat type environment. But this provider has 5 lines of hardware products, like its Motionblook materials, with sophisticated mechanical and electronic components, that are capable of performing a wide range of functions, and providing challenges for older students. Students use robotic modules that are simple to combine and easy to work with, supporting them in building any of ten cool preset forms, or even their own idea for a robot. I like that among these are industrial, non-anthropomorphic bots, like a sophisticated robot arm, which, while not being cute like movie bots, can support today’s students in learning about real-world industrial applications of robots. That’s strength in my opinion. Makeblock offers free programming tools and impressive curriculum.

UBTECH Education – has a history in industrial robotics and has brought that experience to providing robots for education. The result of this is that the robots students work with have precisely operating components, servos for instance, that produce smooth robotic movements. UB Tech offers an advantageous range of robotics kits in 3 levels: Beginner (elementary), Intermediate (middle school), and Advanced (high school)… offering experiences from simple coding on up to sophisticated one. Their free UBTECH Education app provides easy-to-follow, step-by-step instructions, 360-degree, 3D modeling tools that supports students build understanding, coding, and bringing robotic creations to life. Some of the bots I saw on display, Yanshee, for instance, were impressive instilling that ‘this is not a toy, this is a real robot’ feel that I’m sure will win over tech savvy students.

At the SPHERO area – I saw some new, powerful items from a provider with an important track record of providing materials to schools. SPHERO is well known for its programmable round robots, Bolt and Spark, This was my first opportunity, though, to get an up close and personal look at their newer RVR robot, a powerful, flexible, robot with lights, sensors, add-on ports, etc. that students can program to operate as is or, importantly, to customize by adding elements, even those acquired from other producers of materials. This is a serious robot J I also got a look at Sphero’s (not a robot) SPECDRUMS, a music education oriented resource that involves putting on app-connected electronic rings and tapping colors to produce sounds. Cool!

But Wait, There’s More!

Some other bots from a very robot-crowded conference—can’t list them all, but here are a few that caught my attention:
Matatalab – My first time seeing or hearing about these bots, which seem to have much to offer. This provider offers assembled robots that students can control, code, and use to gather information through sensors. This, I feel, might be a valuable STEAM resource as along with comprehensive coding curriculum; they offer Animation, Music, and Artist add-on items.

Click image for video: Robotis Robots can dance!

Robotis – A robust, pre-built robot that can dance! (among other things) At their booth I saw a terrific demo involving a group of robots dancing in unison… the person manning the booth also showed a laptop interface which he explained facilitated students programming their robots to dance. They seem to have a wide variety of kits for students to assemble pre-designed robots.

Root Robot – Classrooms that are going to begin with just one robot might select this one. At their booth I was how it is magnetic and can be programmed to perform on a magnetic white board, allowing a full class to focus on and appreciate the behavior of a single robot.
REV Robotics’ Class Bot REV Robotics – A sturdy, robust robot which struck me applicable for high school STEM Learning.
Photon – An attractive newcomer (to me) which struck me as an exciting item to introduce robotics to elementary schools. A pre-built bot with sensors, there are lesson plans and implementation tips. My sense is that there’s a lot here and a lot of good thinking behind it.
And my apologies to all of those other bots at ISTE 2019 I couldn’t meet personally.
There was also robotics in the Computer Science Playground.

Robo Wunderkind demo at the Computer Science Playground made it look so kid friendly with easy-to-use, fun physical components and intuitive software.
AIM Academy – so great to see a school this is “All In” with robotics. I chatted with Doug Markgraf, a full time robotics teacher there and with Robert Ervin, Director of Robotics and Engineering for the school. I had to be mindful of the very powerful, full-size robot prowling the floor, built by the school’s FIRST team and got a close look at their android phone powered robot built by their FIRST Tech Challenge team.
TYNKER – Before seeing the new Tynker robotics kits at the Computer Science playground, I had associated this resource provider with coding in virtual environment. I think Tynker’s decision to also throw its hat into the ring of full blown robotics is indicative that many providers of materials related to robotics will follow suit and formal enter the Student Robotics space… and I think some important developments will result. Welcome!
And a special note here in case you haven’t heard: EdTech Digest will publish its first State of Student Robotics Report/Educators Guide to Practices, Resources, and Visions of Next Level Learning in the early fall of 2019—be sure to reserve your copy! 


Here's the Robotics segment from EdTech Digests's article following the January 2019 FETC Conference...

FETC 2019: The Right Stuff for the Future of Education

Highlights and insights from my personal adventures at the epicenter of edtech.

Robotics, Robotics, Robotics!

Since my days as Director of STEM Education for the New York City school system, years ago, I have closely followed Student Robotics. I find it heartening that finally this variety of resource and practice is finding its way into virtually every school. Even more importantly, in many cases it’s beginning to migrate from the hinterlands of extracurricular and afterschool programs to being integrated directly into core subjects in the regularly scheduled daytime instructional program. Going hand and hand with this much improved appreciation for Student Robotics is an ever broadening range of materials from a longer and longer list of developers and providers; I encountered a couple dozen at the conference.
This rapidly accelerating expansion of robotics materials types and their applications throughout instructional programs, no doubt, is leaving many educators who now want to make this exemplary best practice part of what they offer their students, not knowing where to even start. This growing need for information and insight will be addressed in an upcoming free special ‘State of Student Robotics: An Educators Guide’ that I am developing for EdTech Digest. The express purpose of this will be to make understanding the instructional and classroom management aspects of this area, as well as purchasing decisions, easier. Watch for the release of this item this spring.
Let me share a couple of outstanding student robotics items that caught my attention at the conference.

First, is a new item from LEGO Education. While there were a few other early entrants into the area of student robotics resource and practice way back in the day, items like the Bee Bot, something around for years and years and which was also being shown on the Expo floor, LEGO Education’s now famous Mind Storms robotics kits, in my opinion, truly broke this space open and introduced robotics to schools. I should know, I purchased and placed in classrooms a good amount of the LEGO materials, personally, back in the 1990s. It was an interesting step forward for them when, a few years back, they introduced their WeDo materials, bringing the age appropriateness down from upper elementary through middle and high school to early elementary.
Now, however, they are introducing Coding Express which is intended for very young children, say, in pre-K and Kindergarten. Essentially, with Coding Express, kids program (YES, program) a kid sized train to move as they direct it to by selecting color coded pieces that the kit scans and gives the train directions as it travels 

Truth be told, there were many varieties of robotics and coding resources for very young children to be seen at the conference. What caught my attention at LEGO Education, though, is that this venerable provider has now established a full continuum of materials for the various ages. Under the same brand, there is now a range of materials to take kids from pre-K on up through and beyond middle school and with this consistency, I think; will come both important organizational and instructional advantages.

Demoed at BirdBrain Robotics booth. Click on photo to launch video.
I stopped by the booth of Birdbrain Technologies and, as always, I was impressed with how their approach to robotics blends with required curriculum in ways that teachers can understand and embrace easily. 

I also very much appreciate the handmade look of the robotic creations students make with Birdbrain resources. This samples I played with at the booth very much illustrated how students can use robotics to deepen understanding of the work of writers and how they can participate directly in the genre they are studying while learning important STEM skills at the same time. A Birdbrain representative and a classroom teacher user of the materials showed me some highly inventive and artistic robotics creations, some of which I took to be student done kinetic illustrations of poems: quite a “Wow!” 

Hello, Yanshee! (and Meebot, too)

Outside Apple’s workshop area, where they offered in-depth experiences for the many educators who lined up down that hallway to be admitted, I picked up their menu of offerings whose siren song was kicked off with the line “Join us as we explore new ways to raise the bar for what’s possible in teaching and learning…” (Sometimes I positively love the spirit that Apple imbues Education with!)

A little further down the hall was Apple’s intriguing “playground” titled Theater of Dreams Inspirational Stories. In both their teacher workshop “Teach Serious Coding in a Seriously Fun Way” and front and center on a table in the playground was UBTECH’s Meebot.

UBTECH’s Meebot.
I sat down with Jeff Piontek, UBTECH’s Head of Education, North America and tried to absorb the head spinning information about the rapid growth of popularity of their materials as well as some of the amazing things being done with them. All this while he gave a quick demo of the amazing Yanshee robot (see video below)

UBTECH Education is a welcome, relative newcomer to the American school scene. Importantly, though, it has teamed up with Pitsco Education, a long trusted and relied on provider in this area. Pitsco will be UBTECH Education’s national distribution partner, working closely with districts to launch UBTECH’s UKITs and Yanshee robots in K–12 classrooms. I think we’ll be seeing these robots in a great many more classrooms soon as a result.

Yanshee Rocks! Click on photo for video.

UBTECH recently announced the launch of its UKIT – a new robotics kit featuring curriculum that is fully aligned with Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and Common Core State Standards (CCSS). Its curriculum, developed by experts in their respective fields of science, mathematics and literacy, is designed to teach STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) concepts and skills.

The UKIT curriculum also ties STEM literacy into each unit through a literacy prompt that exemplifies the connection between the lesson content and real-world application. During classes, students collaborate or work independently within their “Big Idea Book” to make hypotheses, gather data, and formulate questions about how the hands-on activity with the robot applies in a real-world scenario or as scientific phenomenon.

“The Big Idea Book, in combination with UKIT, serve as a conduit for children to focus on the essence of engineering – their imagination,” Jeff explained. “When teachers use our kits, they teach that the study of robotics is truly interdisciplinary, and that robotics is in all types of mechanics and electronics today. They teach that robotics can use artificial intelligence and that robots can sense and perceive the world around them. Most importantly, teachers convey the possibilities of robotics and that the field will be a part of the future.”


Here's the Robotics segment from EdTech Digests' ISTE 2018 follow-up article

Report on ISTE 2018: Education at the Top of the Pyramid

Highlights and insights from my personal adventures at the epicenter of edtech.

This year saw the full flowering of Student Robotics at the conference, with a great many resource providers entering the robotics space.

And the variety of robotics materials, as well as the approaches to applying them to learning, is expanding at a dizzying pace.

“The variety of robotics materials, as well as the approaches to applying them to learning, is expanding at a dizzying pace.” 

It’s clear to me that we are rapidly moving past the unfortunate situation of most schools having an afterschool Robotics Club or team that involves just a very few students out of the full student body—to a situation in which robotics is offered as part of the central instructional focus in subjects across the curriculum—and all students are given a rich STEAM experience through it.

LEGO Education, of course, had a very visible presence, both at its exhibit as well as through the use of its materials in many educator presentations throughout the conference.

I didn’t see anything major added to the materials this time, but there were some interesting things underway, like the partnership with Microsoft in which LEGO’s NXT/Mindstorms materials students use Microsoft’s Make Code platform to program their robots.

I was treated to a demonstration of the wonderful KUBO Robotics kit, offered in affiliation with the very well established company, Pitsco Education.
KUBO Robotics fills a serious gap we hardly even know we have:
A robotics platform for very young (K-2, early elementary) children.
The centerpiece is KUBO, a pre-built robot that is very friendly to little, little hands.
Most interesting is that KUBO is designed to teach programming ‘screen free’, without the use of a computer.

Kids program by arranging small, tile-like objects, each with an icon on it.
Students come to understand the concepts that underlie programming, hands-on, by trial and error, gaining insight and mastery as they have fun and progress with these simple yet sophisticated materials.

The KUBO Robot reads the program ’tiles’ as it moves over them, saves the program temporarily in its circuits—and then carries out the program on a small, table mat-like map.

There’s more, of course.

There’s teacher support through KUBO Education, which offers a downloadable Quick Start Guide, Teachers Manual and Cheat Sheet for everything needed to start using KUBO.

Student can earn KUBO’s Coding License, designed to give students aged four to 10 a strong foundational understanding of coding.

The license consists of 12+ hours of lesson plans, introducing movements and routes, sequences, functions, subroutines, and loops.

It is beginner-friendly and gets progressively harder as students develop their understanding of programming.

There’s even a downloadable diploma.

In other words:
This is a very well thought out program, not only in the extraordinary foundational instruction planned for, but in the teacher support, as well.

I think KUBO is introducing exactly what education needs:
A vehicle by which the crux of 21st-century learning is inculcated and learned before students arrive at their upper elementary and middle school experience.
My mind races at the thought of where such easy, early preparation will take us, the creativity that will emerge from students who have already mastered the basic ideas and skills and who are liberated to work on how to apply them!

On the exhibit floor, a newcomer

Out on the exhibit floor I was captivated by the displays of a newcomer in the field, UBTECH Education, which was created in early 2018 by its parent company, UBTECH, an industry leader in humanoid robotics.
The company states that its purpose is:

To support teachers with powerful digital tools and resources to help prepare all students for STEM careers through active engagement with robotics and rigorous NGSS-based curriculum.

But from where I stand, the variety of learning offered goes beyond career destination.
It’s stuff that greatly enriches one’s understanding of the world that is unfolding all around us—something much broader—and dare I say it, even more important than STEM in isolation.

The programming interface for the UBTECH robots I saw is elegant and offers several modes of view including block programming, and an arresting ‘avatar’ view, in which on the screen of the device used (a student-grade tablet for my demo), a beautifully and faithfully- rendered drawing-like representation of the robot appears—showing important information about how the robot will behave even before the program is tested out with the real robot.

Obviously, there are some deep classroom management advantages to this.

I also got a look at an augmented reality interface in which the robot is seen in a virtual reality setting provided by UBTECH, thus giving students the ability not just to see the robot they are programming on a desktop or classroom floor, but say, on the moon—through the view this interface offers.

The student robotics space is a dimension of education that is already 30 years old and showing it, in the offerings of other companies.

But UBTECH strongly freshens it up by bringing some very sophisticated and up-to-the-minute technological innovations into what they have to offer.

They offer a Family of Educational Products, including
  • UKITS on the Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced levels;
  • Jimu Robot Educational Bundles (e.g. AstroBot, BuzzBot, MuttBot, etc.); and
  • YANSHEE for high school and college students—something worth special mention here, as it is one of the 2 or 3 most robust, sophisticated, and appealing robots I’ve seen, intended for student hands.
As if robot personality in abundance wasn’t enough.
This one has, to name just a few of its remarkable features:
  • facial recognition
  • voice recognition, and
  • gesture recognition.
In other words:
Cutting-edge robotics for the classroom.

A category unto itself

In what strikes me as a category unto itself, another very attractive student offering I spent some quality time with is Microduino, which describes itself as:
(Take a deep breath.)

‘Stackable electronic building blocks, related accessories and peripherals, and in-class science STEM learning systems which encourage and enhance inventors’ creativity, imagination, and ingenuity through project-based learning.’

Microduino offers a range of kits and materials that start with basic concepts, like circuitry for young kids—to far more complex and sophisticated kits that feature its ‘m-cookie’ building blocks, based on the Arduino processor.

The flyer I picked up boasts, “these materials are highly flexible”, are “compatible with LEGO products”, and “help bring LEGO to life” and further, “…enable creators to bring their inspirational and pioneering concepts to life.”

I walked away wanting to spend more time with Microduino down the road!

An eye-opening half hour

A quick mention, too, about ROBOKIND, which showed me a student robotics program intended for use with autistic students.

I sat for an eye-opening half hour with MILO, a robot that is so uncannily lifelike and appealing that describing it as:

“a socially advanced robot, whose proven effectiveness with learners with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) is over 80 percent as opposed to the 3 percent for traditional therapy”
…rang truestrongly.

It was just one of numerous ‘ah ha’ moments I had at ISTE that has me ever more enthusiastic about the new horizons for educational success that technology continues to bring us at an accelerating pace.

“It was just one of numerous ‘ah ha’ moments I had at ISTE that has me ever more enthusiastic about the new horizons for educational success that technology continues to bring us at an accelerating pace.” 

On A Roll. Having a STEM laugh with the old Toilet Paper Dispenser Robot—this version displayed as a possible student project by Robobloq, a Chinese student robotics material provider on the exhibit hall floor.

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."