2017 Adventures in Robotics

It has been some time since I last blogged about the experiences in the Apptive Learning Lab. In 2016 I took extended leave to perform the most important job of all, and returned to work for the second semester of 2017. I am still finding a happy balance between mum life and work life, but feel I am now ready to resume a more active role in the blogging scene. This is a retrospective post sharing two of the highlights from the Apptive Learning Lab since my return to work last year. Special thanks to Vanessa Sims @ICTMissSims, my fellow Digital Technologies teacher, for her work in planning the following units.

Over the semester, year three students explored visual and block based programming, with the use of Ozobots and Lego Wedo 2.0.

Students developed their mapping skills by using ozobots as mini guide robots to show visitors around a chosen place. The ozobots were required to highlight three areas of interest on a map of the place, performing special moves at each location, as well as allowing visitors to observe each area carefully by slowing down or pausing.

Linking to a unit on recycling, students were presented with the task of adding to an existing Lego WeDo 2.0 base model to design a prototype for a robot that could sort recyclable materials. While some existing base models could grab or sweep, students needed to combine ideas and invent their own to meet the brief. The following robot collects waste by sweeping it into piles, then grabs certain materials, sorting them into the attached tray.

Students workshopping ideas for their prototype

I am looking forward to more tech adventures in the Apptive Learning Lab in 2018, and sharing them here soon!

Exploring History Objectives with Dash: A Year Two Unit

At the end of last year our school purchased a class set of Dash robots, accessory packs and xylophones. I couldn’t wait to use them in my lessons this year and could see clear links to be made between the year two History unit and the technology. In their own classrooms students were studying changes in technology over time. What better way to enhance this topic than to look at advancements in robotics over time and how progress in this field has benefited us? From this idea I devised the inquiry question, ‘How have robots changed over time and how do these changes help us in our daily lives?’

Our studies began by sharing prior knowledge and exploring timelines and types of robots as a whole class with the app Robots for iPad. Over a series of lessons, students participated in a range of activities to familiarise themselves with the Wonder Workshop apps and how to use code to control the Dash robots.

Coding Dash to drive in a square with the Blockly app

Students program Dash to play B.I.N.G.O. In the Xylo app

Students program Dash to play B.I.N.G.O. in the Xylo app

Dash obstacle course challenge in Blockly

For their final challenge and to revisit the question ‘How can robots help us in our daily lives?’, students were required to use their imaginations to visualise the site of an earthquake where a survivor was trapped in a maze of rubble. The challenge scenario explained that the site was too dangerous for rescue crews to navigate and therefore it was up to Dash to save the day. Using the Blockly app, Dash’s first task was to shovel fallen rocks away from the entrance to the maze of rubble. Without touching its unstable walls, he then had to locate and rescue the survivor, carrying them to safety. Upon exiting the ruins Dash was to perform a victory song in the Xylo app, to celebrate a successful mission.

The final challenge

While this was a pretend scenario, some fabulous critical discussions followed, where students applied knowledge gained throughout the term to suggest ways that Dash could be altered in order to help us in a range of real life situations. Throughout the unit it was these types of critical and reflective discussions that cemented students’ learning and made it purposeful.


Demonstrating Scientific Knowledge through Animation: A Year Three Unit

I had not used stop motion animation with students for many years, since the days of claymation with a digital camera. Having been given the opportunity to plan my own digital curriculum this year and excited to try something different, I was interested to see how we could use iPads to create animations with cross curricular links. Linking to their Science unit, the year three students were set the task of answering the inquiry question, ‘How can we teach others about living, once living and never living things through stop motion animation?’

A very small percentage of students had prior knowledge about stop motion animation, so our studies began with an introduction to the technology and its application in the real world. This was followed by a whole class project based on the popular YouTube videos, Invisible Go Karts. Before taking the photos for the animation, we storyboarded our ideas and discussed the key elements of a successful animation, such as small movements between frames to ensure a smooth flowing and realistic video. I captured the frames using the Lego Movie Maker app and modelled how to edit and complete the video. Seeing the finished product was enough to get students hooked on the concept of stop motion animation!

Excerpt from one of our Invisible Go Kart projects

In our following lesson students worked in pairs to experiment with the technology, creating a simple storyboard and animation of a plastic figurine. By this stage, many students had also played around with the app at home in their own time and were excited to share with me, their own creations.

Example animated figurine

The culminating project was for students to plan and create an animation to teach others about living, once living and never living things. Over several lessons students storyboarded, made characters, captured frames and edited their animations.

Working from a storyboard to capture frames

Working from a storyboard to capture frames

The finished product

Being the first time they had tried stop motion animation, the students were still developing the necessary skills to create a completely polished end product. What will help them achieve this in time is their new found enthusiasm for stop motion animation, and their ability to provide constructive feedback about the success of their own and others’ animations. While students’ work was not always perfect, our lessons often concluded with very insightful discussions as they evaluated their progress and planned steps forward in their technology learning journeys.


Learning about others through Coding: A Prep Unit

I started working with the Prep students from the first day of school this year. Although many of them had used an iPad before at home, their level of experience was quite varied. I wanted to create a technology unit that would challenge students without having unrealistic expectations for their achievement so early in their schooling. For their first unit I decided students would explore simple coding skills through use of the app ScratchJr, while addressing English learning outcomes based on storytelling. Throughout the term, students worked towards answering the inquiry question, ‘How can we learn about others through coding?’

In our initial coding explorations I would pose a challenge question, such as ‘Can you make a character eat some food?’ or ‘Can you make a diver collect an object from the bottom of the ocean?’ As a whole class we would discuss strategies for solving the challenge and use laminated cards of the coding buttons from the app to visualise possible solutions. Students worked in pairs on the iPads, collaborating to create simple animations to address each lesson’s challenge question. As our lessons progressed and students added to their coding skill sets, the degree of difficulty of the challenges increased.

For their final project, students were required to draw upon the skills learnt throughout the term to plan and create an animation to tell others about themselves. They worked in pairs to design the animation that introduced and shared one thing about themselves. For example, their character may have said “Hello, my name is … I have a pet dog called …” Students drew characters, added movement, backgrounds and photos of themselves into the project.

Students working in pairs to storyboard and create their final projects

Students working in pairs to storyboard and create their final projects

Screenshot of final project

Screenshot of final project

This introduction to coding unit proved to be the perfect way to start the year with the Prep students. I was pleased to see just how quickly students built on skills from previous lessons and used their intuition to make suggestions on how to complete coding challenges. Working in pairs helped students develop necessary early learning skills of sharing and turn taking, while encouraging more able students to support those who may be experiencing difficulty with the task.


Sharing Milestones through Green Screen Exploration: A Year One Unit

Over the past term Year One students have worked individually and collaboratively to answer the inquiry question, ‘How can I share important milestones in my life using a green screen?’ Students were introduced to green screen technology through exploration of its real-world applications in movies and television. Then via a series of whole class, small group and individual projects, they applied the digital skills they had gained to demonstrate their understanding of History concepts studied in their own classrooms.

An excerpt from ‘The Dinosaur Chase’, our initial whole-class green screen project.

Students use mini green screens, puppets and storyboards to share three important milestones in their livesStudents used storyboards, puppets and mini green screens to share three important milestones from their lives.

An excerpt from ‘My Important Milestones’, our culminating project: The green screen videos were combined with background images in the Green Screen app by Do Ink.

The big ‘take away’ from my unit with the year one students was not how quickly they picked up the skills to use green screen technology, nor was it how engaged they were in their learning. What impressed me the most was how they were able verbalise in detail, what a green screen is and when and why it might be used in the real world. This to me is a mark of a successful unit, when students are able to see a reason for their learning.


The Apptive Learning Lab: A Digital Technologies Hub for P-6

This year I was incredibly fortunate to be given the role of Digital Technologies teacher at my school. This change in role has seen the Apptive Learning Lab shift from a small, single classroom entity to a digital learning hub for students from Prep to Year Six. Hence, the blog posts that follow will cover a range of curriculum areas and ability levels. It has been very exciting for me to design a digital curriculum that compliments what students are learning in their own classrooms. I hope that the posts to come engage and inspire you to try something new with your students!

Virtual Excursions: The World at your Fingertips

Recently I began exploring the idea of virtual excursions to excite my students (and myself!) about our new units of work, and connect our learning to the real world in ways we hadn’t yet explored. This term we are studying living things so when I discovered Houston and San Diego Zoo’s webcams and the Smithsonian’s virtual tour, I could instantly see ways to incorporate them into our learning and make links to the curriculum.

Before jumping into our first virtual excursion it was important to establish some ground rules as a class. I explained to students that today we would be taking a virtual excursion, meaning we would travel across the globe without leaving our classroom. We discussed the expectations on excursions we had previously taken as a class, and that some of these would also apply on our virtual excursions. For example, it is important that we stick together on our excursion, so that we don’t get lost and we are able to observe and learn about what we are there to see. For our virtual excursion this means using the given QR codes to ‘travel’ to our excursion location and gather information using the prompts provided. I told students that they could have some ‘free time’ to explore after gathering the required information, just as we do on other excursions.

We traveled to the Smithsonian for our first virtual excursion, where students were given a series of QR codes linked to different areas of the mammals exhibit. They were required to collect information by searching for clues, scavenger-hunt-style. Our second excursion saw us visiting San Diego and Houston zoos to observe elephants and gather information related to the animal’s appearance, diet, habitat and life cycle. Students would later use the information collected from these observations and further research to write an information report on elephants.


Virtual Excursion to the Smithsonian


Virtual Excursion to the Houston/ San Diego Zoos

This was by no means a quiet activity. I found that the students’ reactions to virtual excursions was not unlike their reactions when we take physical excursions. The room was filled with uncontrollable excitement as students were calling out to each other, amazed about what they were witnessing. As I’ve said before, I’m learning to relinquish control of the quiet classroom from time to time, to open up the possibility for opportunities like this, where students are engaged in meaningful, collaborative and stimulating learning experiences.