Exploring the Robotics and Automation Curriculum

As part of my major project, I wanted to spend some time exploring the Saskatchewan Robotics and Automation Curriculum. Although this is a high school curriculum, I thought it would be valuable to see how my students can continue using the skills learned in the middle years when they move to high school. In addition, I though it would be valuable to identify some important concepts and find way to incorporate this into the middle year. I believe that approaching coding and robotics as a continuum is far more valuable than random coding activities.

It appears that this curriculum was introduced to school divisions in the fall of 2019. According to a CBC article from September of 2019, “School divisions are responsible for determining what schools in their jurisdictions will offer these courses,” an email from the ministry said. “Divisions assess local needs and make programming decisions accordingly.” When I read that, I’m curious as to how often these programs are offered in our high schools across this province. In addition, do our schools have the necessary tools and resources to successfully offer these programs? Resources for robotics are not cheap and I worry they would not get the adequate funding to create a strong robotics program.

As I am an elementary school teacher, I do not know if these courses are offered regularly in our high schools. Please leave comment below if you can provide some insight on this question.

What is this course about?

The focus of this course is on design, construction, operation and use of autonomous and/or radio-controlled robotic devices. In addition, a focus is placed on the computer systems necessary for their control. Project based learning, design thinking, and inquiry learning are used to help students explore the processes and skills needed to design devices that they can control. Students can explore technology, automation, and robotics in this course. Lastly, computational thinking and coding skills will be developed to help them control their robotics or automated devices.

How should robotics and automation be taught?

The curriculum suggests two different course configurations for each grade level be developed; one with an autonomous focus and one that reflects a radio-controlled focus. An autonomous course would focus on the programming a robotic or autonomous device to perform pre-determined tasks. Some examples of this that are also used in elementary school include Ozobots or Edisons.

The second type of course they suggest is a radio-controlled focus. This is when the actions of a device are not pre-determined and need to be controlled by an operator. An example of this would be a robotics competition, where students control a robot to perform specific tasks. There was a group of high school students from the Trojans Robotics Team that traveled to Houston for a robotics competition.

The curriculum also allows teachers to create a course with a mixed focus of both components.

What are some key components of robotics and automation courses?

Computational Thinking: A broad set of problem-solving processes which provide a new entry points for new ways of thinking. Teachers should highlight the essentials of computational thinking, which include decomposition, pattern recognition, abstraction, and algorithm design.

Elegant Code: It needs to be simple and easy to understand. Developing an algorithm which simplifies code will make it more efficient. Writing elegant code involves carefully analyzing the problem and creating a balance between a minimal amount of code and the code being reusable.

Reusable Code: Teaching students how to find the bit of code they want and to interpret how to adapt it is a valuable part of learning to code.

Visual or Block Based Coding: Students that use visual coding environments have shown greater learning gains and higher level of interest in future computing courses. Students should also use text based editor as they are more similar to what professional programmers do. There is value in using both types of coding.

Design Thinking: This is a process for creative problem solving that uses human-centered approach to innovation. Design thinking is inherent to the project based nature of designing and actualizing a robot or device. This also empowers students as makers and creators who solve problems by using working devices.

In conclusion, I think there are many good reasons as to why there should be robotics and automation classes offered in all of our high schools. For one, many students will likely pursue a career in a technology field that will utilize the skills developed through this course. Whether it be computational thinking or text based coding, these skills will be very valuable more many students. This is the perfect time for them to prepare and develop the proper skills to be successful in the professional world. I have personally used the design thinking model in my classroom and had great success with it. This model allowed my students to identify real world problems and take the appropriate steps to address it. Through this model, it allowed my students to think about problems in a different way, collaborate with their peers, and create products to fix these problems.

I love forward to seeing this curriculum being offered more frequently in our high schools, as Dean mentioned on Twitter. As a middle years teacher, I plan to further develop my students skills to be successful in these programs.

Ethical and Legal Issues In Education

As I embark on my personal journey through supplemental learning, there are many ethical and legal issues that a teacher must consider when putting together supplemental curriculum to be delivered online. In my personal experience over the past couple weeks, I agree that this is not an easy task when we consider these two things. The reality of the current situation is that teacher’s are working extremely hard, stressed out, and trying their very best to put together something meaningful for their students. In a situation such as our current reality, where teachers are expected to develop supplementary curriculum to be delivered online in a relatively short period of time, I find it difficult to judge a teacher’s decisions, even if they are stretching copyright law a little bit. There’s no manual or guidebook for this experience. And for that reason, we must be empathetic and supportive of our colleagues during this difficult time. As a profession as a whole, I think we have many things to learn about the legalities when using other people’s work in the classroom.

In my personal situation, I can critically look at the situation and see that I’m privileged when it comes to developing a curriculum to be delivered online. Technology has been embedded in my teaching practice since the start of my career, I’m in a graduate level course on educational technology, and I have 1:1 technology in my classroom. Even with my experience with technology in the classroom, this process has still been a great challenge for me. I can only imagine the stress many teachers are experiencing during these times. As I continue on this journey, I am challenging myself to consider some of the moral, ethical, and legal issues when developing curriculum to be delivered online. More importantly, I am hoping to find ways to support my fellow colleagues during these difficult times.

As Curtis mentioned in his video, we have to remember that not all of our students have equal access to technology and the digital divide is something we must think about as teachers. The digital divide is, “A term that refers to the gaps in access to information and communication technology.” Over the past week, I have been working with parents and students in my class to get a better understanding of what their personal technology situation looks like at home. Through this experience, I’ve quickly learned that every student’s situation looks significantly different. Some students have a laptop, others have a tablet, and some simply have their parent’s old phone. There are students that must share a laptop with 3 of their siblings, some share with their parents, and others have no technology whatsoever. The digital divide in my classroom of 26 students is significant enough to create major challenges when trying to learn online. In saying that, there are much greater challenges in many of our schools where kids come from poverty and low socio-economic status. As someone mentioned on Twitter (I can’t remember who said it…), this unequal access to technology is a societal issue that needs to be addressed to change the digital divide. I think this issue goes far beyond the walls of elementary school and applies to people in all walks of life.

http://www.cbc.ca

Another ethical issue I connected with during our class was the issues that come with copyright in the classroom. As Laurie said in her video, “With this instant access, students can easily copy and past without putting any thought into what is free and what is copyrighted.” I will be the first person to admit that I’ve definitely been guilty of this bad practice in the past. As I have become more aware of this issue, I’ve been trying to teach my students the proper ways to get information and images online. This year, I’ve really focused on pushing my students towards Pixabay and Creative Commons when they need images from the internet. From my experience, most students in grade 5/6 often have no idea that grabbing images from Google and putting them into their Adobe Spark videos is considered illegal.

Pixabay

I have always taught at schools with a large number of EAL learners so I really enjoyed reading Melinda’s blog post about plagiarism with EAL students. As Melinda said, “I also think we often misjudge our students’ level of language proficiency and just because someone sounds fluent we assume their academic language as well. Sometimes the very high expectations do force students to fall into the trap of plagiarizing to prove themselves to our society.” I know that I’ve been guilty of this in my own classroom, with EAL students try to prove themselves to me. This post was a great reminder to me about the challenges that EAL learners face when they come into our classrooms. Before we assume any bad intentions, we need to put ourselves in their shoes and understand the challenge they are facing in our classroom.

Lastly, the conversation around Fair Dealing in the classroom was very beneficial. As Curtis mentioned, the Fair Dealing Decision Tool is a very valuable resource for teachers to use when considering materials in the classroom. Earlier in the day before our class started, I was brainstorming some ideas for language arts for supplemental learning. The book I was hoping to use was completely recorded on YouTube. Now that I’m more aware of these things, I definitely understood that this book is not supposed to be recorded on YouTube in this manner. Although this series of videos would have been very convenient to developing my resource, I decided against using it as I know this is in clear copyright violation. During times like this, where teachers are expected to create quality digital resources, I think it’s a great challenge for teachers to follow copyright law and execute their plans or goals in the digital space. I am curious as to how teachers are dealing with copyright law and issues!

Connecting Coding to Saskatchewan Curriculum – Grade 6

When I began this project, I had many different goals that I hoped to achieve by the end of the term. I identified one of my goals as being far more important than the others. That was my goal of finding authentic and meaningful connections to Saskatchewan curriculum when coding in the classroom. I’ve been struggling with this question for a few years now, which has caused a lot of hesitation and uncertainty when it comes to coding. As coding in a grade 5/6 classroom can be very time consuming, I need to justify using this additional time on this skill. For this part of the project, I analyzed the Saskatchewan grade 6 curriculum to find meaningful and authentic connections. Through my research and connecting with a few people on Twitter, I was able to discover some authentic and meaningful ways to incorporate coding into a grade 6 classroom.

Arts Ed:

CP6.11: Investigate and use various visual art forms, images, and art-making processes to express ideas about identity.

  • As evidenced by Santa Barbara High School in San Diego, coding in the classroom can be used to teach many of the same skills traditionally taught on paper. Whether that be colour, light, or perspective, coding software can be used to teach these same curriculum outcomes. In my personal opinion, I think could be a beneficial alternative for many students, as many of them lack the traditional visual art skills. In my personal experience in a visual arts classroom, I would’ve found a lot more success had this been an option when I was in school.

Career Education:

CC6.1: Investigate various aspects of careers and their requirements.

  • Coding is a natural way to get students thinking about computer science and the various careers one could pursue with a computer science degree. I think that coding is a natural fit within computer science, as students are able to explore some aspects of the career through use of coding in then classroom.

English Language Arts:

CC6.7: Write to describe a place; to narrate an incident from own experience in a multi-paragraph composition and in a friendly letter; to explain and inform in multi-step directions and a short report explaining a problem and providing a solution; and, to persuade to support a viewpoint or stand.

  • As shown in Google’s coding curriculum, coding activities can connected with the elements of narrative writing. The grade 6 ELA curriculum calls for students to create narratives that include plot, setting, and character detail. Not only are students able to work on curricular outcomes, this allows students to use their creativity and critical thinking skills in a unique way.
  • For those looking to take it even further, CoSpaceEDU can be used to retell stories and further develop stories.
Eric McCalmon Grade 5/6 Classroom

Math:

SS6.4: Demonstrate understanding of the first quadrant of the Cartesian plane and ordered pairs with whole number coordinates.

  • As suggest by Tina Noel, there are many Scratch lessons that can be directly connected with mathematics. In the Saskatchewan grade 6 math curriculum, students are required to learn about coordinate grids. Students could use their coding skills to move across the grid and learn more about axis, ordered pairs, and plotting points on a grid.

Social Studies:

RW6.2: Contribute to initiating and guiding change in local and global communities regarding environmental, social, and economic sustainability.

  • As suggested by Jenn Stewart-Mitchell, students can participate in a project where they tackle climate change issues and use micro:bit’s to create tangible solutions to real world problems. At the same time, students are able to dive deeper and learn more about the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
Climate Change Action Kit

Science:

EL6.2: Investigate the characteristics and applications of static electric charges, conductors, insulators, switches, and electromagnetism.

  • Through the use of a micro:bit, students can further their understanding of how conductors and and switches work. Micro:bit provides an excellent lesson plan on how to achieve this in your science classroom.

After doing some research, it’s clear to me that there are many meaningful ways to incorporate coding into a grade 6 classroom. In addition to the direct curriculum links, students also learn many other valuable skills such as critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, problem solving, and perseverance. If we want to truly develop these skills in our students, coding appears to be one of the many tools we can use to develop these important skills in our students.

Please let me know if you have any other project/assignment ideas that you think would be beneficial in the middle years classroom!

Coding With Micro:bit

When I choose my major project back in January, I decided that I wanted to further my understanding of Micro:bit. I have attended a few PD sessions over the past year that included Micro:bit’s as part of their coding presentation. I was at a PD earlier this year and received a Micro:bit to use in my classroom. Up until this point, it has sat in my desk drawer and I haven’t given it enough attention. So here I am ready to explore and learn more about Micro:bit’s!

Micro:bit 101: The Basics

“The micro:bit is a tiny computer that makes coding tangible and promotes digital creativity”

Micro:bit Box
Computer, USB, & Battery

What’s the cost?

Unfortunately, there is a cost associated with using micro:bit, as you need to buy the tiny computer. There are a variety of companies that sell the Micro:bit in Canada. For the kit pictured above, it looks like the price starts around $27 according to Elmwood Electronics. Once the micro:bit bundle has been purchased, the coding software is completely free. I see the cost of purchasing the micro:bit the biggest challenge when implementing this coding program in the classroom. I don’t think you would need a micro:bit for every student in your class, as they can use the simulator prior to downloading their coding to the micro:bit.

Coding Experience

As I did when experimenting with Scratch, I wanted to simply explore the program without using tutorials or support videos. I used this approach again because I like to put myself in the positions of an inexperienced teacher who’s tight on time or a student exploring coding for the first time. In saying, it looks like Micro:bit as many different tutorials for a user to go through and code. I will take you through my my experience of coding using micro:bit.

Initial Coding Screen
  • When you start a new project, you are led to the screen above. On the left hand side, there is a simulator where you can test your coding. I like this feature as it allows you to preview your coding prior to downloading it on to the micro:bit. As you are unlikely to have a micro:bit for every student in your class, this allows everyone to see the product of their coding. Students could potentially share a micro:bit and take turns downloading their coding onto the tiny computer.
  • The block section in the middle of the screen is very clear and concise. The blocks are easy to find and can be dragged into the coding area.
  • It has “On Start” and “Forever” blocks to make the start a simple process. You can easily remove those blocks if you are not going to use them.

Coding Sample
  • As you can see above, I was able to code a variety of things fairly easily. I was able to code the message “ECI832” when your press A on the micro:bit. The leds will light up and show the message.
  • When you press B, there would be a string message that says, “I Love Coding.”
  • Lastly, when you shake the micro:bit, a smiley face appear.
  • Overall, this coding software is very user friendly. I see this being a major positive when using this in the classroom, as it can be quite the task to have 25-30 students learning how to code.
Simulator

Downloading code to the micro:bit

First thing you will need to do is connect your micro:bit to your computer using the USB. Once you have done this, you click the download button located underneath the simulator on the bottom left of the screen. This will create a “.hex” file in your download folder. Once the file has downloaded, you can put the code on the micro:bit in two different ways:

  1. Right click the file and select “Send to.” You then select “MICROBIT (D:)”
  2. Simply drag and drop the file to the MICROBIT (D:)

Once the file has been downloaded on to the micro:bit, you are free to disconnect the micro:bit from the computer and plug in the battery pack. It will also perform the same tasks while still connected to your laptop. The video below will show you the end results of this coding experience. Enjoy!

Miro:bit Coding Example

Literacy in the 21st Century

As I think about the term literacy, I can’t help but think about the traditional forms of literacy that have dominated the school landscape for so many years. When I think about my years as as student, this is how I often think about literacy. Traditionally, literacy has been popularly known as, “An ability to read, write, and use numeracy in at least one method of writing.” Although these skills are still part of the core skills taught in school, I think it’s important to expand our definition of literacy. As technology has evolved and become a major part of our lives, we need to consider and understand the importance of digital literacy. According to the American Library Association, digital literacy can defined as, “The ability to use information and communication technologies to find, evaluate, create, and communicate information, requiring both cognitive and technical skills.” For a person to be “fully literate”, I believe that a person must possess digital literacy, in addition to the traditional forms of literacy. Not only do students require digital literacy skills, physical literacy plays an important role in this complex conversation.

Digital Literacy

https://medium.com/literate-schools/redefining-literacy-in-the-21st-century-139894b14fd4

It’s difficult to say exactly what digital literacy is because it’s constantly evolving and changing. When I think about this concept in my role as a teacher, it becomes more clear of the skills and activities to help students become digitally literate. According to Common Sense Media, some important skills for students to learn include:

  • Searching effectively: We need to be teaching our students how to evaluate quality, credibility, and validity of the resources they are using. In addition, students need to know how to give proper credit when using digital sources. An example could include using Pixabay opposed to Google Images when using images in presentations. I also came across Canada’s “Notice and Notice” regime regarding copyright law.
  • Protecting their information online: Students should learn basic internet safety skills, such as creating strong passwords, using privacy settings, and respecting other’s privacy. In a simple and practical sense, I think that students should have understanding about sharing other’s images. As Victoria shared this week, there is a difference between consent and assent.
Twitter –
  • Understanding digital footprints: Kids need to understand that all of their online interactions contribute to their digital footprint. They need to ensure they are doing their best to create a positive digital footprint.

Overall, those are just a few practical ways to teach students how to be digitally literate. More important than digital literacy, being literate in the 21st century requires a person to, “Be willing to constantly learn about and adapt to many different areas of life, subjects, and environments.”

Balance is important

As with anything in life, I believe that balance is important when thinking about literacy. Even though I’m a huge supporter of technology, I can also see how this increased technology use, both in our personal lives and education, is having a negative impact on our physical health. That’s why I believe that physical literacy must be part of the conversation if our goal is develop “fully literate” people. According to the International Physical Literacy Association, “Physical literacy is the motivation, confidence, physical competence, knowledge, and understanding to value and take responsibility for engagement in physical activities for life.” As a teacher, I can see how little importance is placed on physical literacy, as other areas such as digital, reading, and writing are constantly thriving. As teachers, we must see consider the overall benefits that physical literacy will have on our students.

Sport For Life

In the fall of 2019, I was lucky to take a course called, “Exploring Well Being Through Health, Outdoor, and Physical Education” with Dr. Nick Forsberg. For me personally, this class was extremely rewarding as it was a strong reminder to me about the importance of physical literacy and using the outdoors in education. Through this course, we learned about the idea of The Nature Principle, which is essentially using nature to improve our health and well-being. “Research describes the restorative power of nature – its impact on our senses and intelligence; on our physical, psychological, and spiritual health; and on the bonds of family, friendship, and the multi species community” (The Nature Principle, 2012). When applying these ideas to literacy, there are so many reasons to consider physical literacy and the outdoors when talking about literacy. An increased use of physical activity and the outdoors will likely improve the skills in other areas, such as reading and writing.

Outdoor Ed

Conclusion…?

I think the idea of creating a “fully literate” person is a very difficult task. As a society, we place a certain amount of importance on certain literacies (digital, writing, reading) as other’s are pushed to the backburner (physical, financial, artistic). Being a teacher, I think it’s important for me to find a balance among all of them and find ways to effectively develop these skills in our students. This is definitely not an easy task, as there is increaded pressure to develop certain literacies, such as standardized assessments in writing and math. Overall, I think a balanced approach to teaching literacy will create well-rounded, healthy students.

Digital Citizenship In School – A Teacher’s Perspective

As I reflect on the school’s role in teaching digital citizenship, it’s quite clear to me that we must continue developing these skills and understandings in our students. For last week’s class, Matt and I created a video that focused on the school’s role in teaching digital citizenship. We are both big time supporters of digital citizenship in the classroom, as we have experienced the positive and negatives that come with an increased use of technology in our students.

Mike Ribble – Digital Citizenship

What role should schools play in teaching digital citizenship?

Why?

“In Canada, 99% of young people in grades 4 through 11 access the internet outside of school.” – Technology is very much a part of kid’s lives these days. Whether they are using it for educational or entertainment purposes, it’s in every aspect of their life. That alone is a good enough reason to teach digital citizenship, as they need the skills to use this technology effectively. Technology is not going away anytime soon…or ever. So I think we must embrace it and further develop the skills in our young people.

“Students are generally proficient at basic use of technology, but are not necessarily critical users and lack the skills to be safe and responsible online.” – I’m sure at some point you’ve heard, “These kids are so good with technology these days.” While that statement is true 99% of the time, a student’s skill set must go beyond simple being able to use it. Students must be taught to critically analyze images, stories, tweets, and the news. They also need to be taught about privacy and digital law, such as using creative commons to legally use pictures in their presentations. They also need to be taught how their information is used by big corporations to target advertisements towards them. That’s a small sample of all the things they need to be taught to be good digital citizens.

“Active Digital Citizenship & Participation” – One of the most important jobs as a teacher is to create caring kids who stand up for one another, participate in their community, and become positive members of society. How does this look in the digital world? Students must be taught that the digital world is actually the real world, there is no difference. Therefore, their actions, behaviours, and words online should resemble the person they are when not using technology.

How?

For digital citizenship to be effective in school, I believe there needs to be a strong effort to embed these topics and concepts into all curricular areas. If I critically analyze my current practice, this is an area that needs some improvement. At the start of every school year, I often take my students through a series of lessons and activities focused on digital citizenship. Although these resources and activities are exceptional and have been developed by strong education technology leaders, I need to continue working on incorporating these concepts in all subject areas. As shown in Finland, these strategies can be extremely valuable in developing strong critical thinkers when using technology. Some basic examples include:

Regina Catholic Schools Approach to Digital Citizenship – Dean Vendramin & Jennifer Stewart-Mitchell

Overall, there’s an incredible amount of information to support digital citizenship in the classroom. As the world deals with fake news, disease, political turmoil, and many other issues, we need to properly prepare our students to live and participate in this world. If we fail to properly educate our students, what does that mean for the future of our students? More importantly, how can we develop strong leaders that leverage technology to maximize their positive contributions to society?

Starting Simple on Scratch

Where to begin! Over the past few years as a middle years teacher, I’ve briefly dabbled with Scratch here and there. Nothing major and I have definitely not been using the program to it’s fullest capability. Lucky for me, I get to focus my major project on a few coding programs that can be used in the classroom. Even though I’ve used a little bit of coding, I still consider myself to be a beginner with a lot to learn about coding. Not only do I have a lot to learn about the actual process of coding, I have a lot to learn about curriculum connections and the pedagogical thinking behind coding.

For my “first” experience using Scratch, I wanted to simply explore the program and see what I would notice. I choose not to read any articles or watch any videos, as I figured this would be an authentic way to experience the program. Would anything stand out to me? Would I have any major challenges? Would I be able to create anything interesting? Here’s how it went!

As I have used a little bit of Scratch in the classroom, this screen wasn’t a total surprise to me. I’ve been on this screen a few times and yet, I’m still confused as to what I should be doing at this point. Is there truly a “starting point?” I don’t really think there is a specific place to start. To get my bearings, I played around with some of the functions and tools on this page. As I have done a little bit of coding, it didn’t take me long to figure out a few features on this page. For a beginner, I foresee this page being very intimidating and challenging for someone logging on to Scratch for the first time. There are many different functions and buttons that I think would be very confusing at the beginning. A few questions I could see include:

  • Where do I put the code? – In the big box, in any order… I think
  • What is a sprite?The character that you can move
  • How do I get this sprite to move?I put in random blocks hoping something would eventually work. Start with an event and then motion block.

The first thing I changed was the background, as the white one wasn’t doing much for the setting of my story. I changed this background by clicking the backdrop option in the bottom right corner. You have the option of using a stock background or upload one of your liking. I used the boardwalk option, as I figured my sprite would enjoy a walk across the boardwalk on a nice summer day. Also, I’m getting sick of winter so this was made me feel better!

Changing the backdrop

Moving the sprite (character) is very simple as you can drag and drop wherever you would like it to start. You also have the option to input x and y coordinates to change the location of the sprite. These coordinates will be beneficial later in the coding process, as you can return your sprite to the original location or somewhere else.

X & Y Coordinates for Sprite

So now that I’ve established a setting and character, I decided that I wanted my sprite to walk across the boardwalk. During his walk across the board, he got very excited and leaped into the air. After his leap, he said that he wanted ice cream and then continued to walk across the boardwalk.

Basic Coding Sequence

Some things I learned in this section include:

  • Make sure you start your sequence of code with an event. I wasted time putting in motion code blocks assuming it would just magically work. In my example, the movement begins when I click the little green flag above the work area.
  • I created a second event that would return my sprite to the original location. This was very helpful as I was developing the sequence. You can use the original X and Y coordinates to return your sprite to the original location.
  • The glide block makes for better transitions than the move block. You have control over the speed and the precise location you want the sprite to travel. The move block is very abrupt and you have less control over where you would like the sprite to move.
Scratch – Project #1

In the end, I was able to successfully create a very short sequence of coding. I know it’s nothing spectacular, but it’s definitely a good starting point in terms of my understanding of the coding process. Going forward, I hope to create a more complex coding sequence with multiple backgrounds and sprites.

Stay tuned for more!