App of the Week – Lightbot Jr.

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Name: Lightbot Jr.

Price: $3.99

Size: 51.8 MB

Version: 1.6.7

Age: 6-8

Although I am not in the age group suggested for this coding app, I must admit I did enjoy it.  I am also not a gamer but a technology user for education, work and social purposes.  I never thought I really needed to know how to code and I’m not sure Lightbot Jr. will get me coding in any real sense but it does have value.

It is a very highly recommended app for introducing early grade levels to the logic of coding.  It took me a little more than an hour to work through the first of 5 levels of lighting up various squares with increasing complexity and I will admit that my only coding experience is with Daisy the Dinosaur. Lightbot Jr. seemed to be easier. Not as much reading was necessary and trial and error was the name of the game.

In a classroom, this app would be a great addition for all students but I can see it especially attracting the student who is very logical and can whip through each stage successfully.  The kind of student (more like me) that is not all about linear thinking and logic would also enjoy this game. There are no wrong answers just chances to try again.  And the logic of coding is built into the fun.

Download and try it on your own and share it with your class.  Make it a Friday afternoon option for some of your students to work in groups.  It would be a fun activity and it will build the capacity for the logical thinking so critical in coding.

Also included in a more expensive app package is Lightbot.  I’ll let you know how I do…

 

Making in High School

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Yesterday, I attended a webinar hosted by Michele Luhtala, Head Librarian at New Canaan High School, Connecticut.  The webinar chronicled the first year of her maker space in the high school in which she works.  The many ways she used to introduce materials and kits into the space was interesting and how she used the space over time may just give you the encouragement to start one in your own classroom or to plan maker activities for your practicum.

A few of the highlights for me include the use of freezer paper on the tables to act as part doodle pad, part idea planner.  Introducing a few activities at a time seemed to work well for her instead of making it a materials free for all. Having students as “Texperts” worked well in that, although Ms. Luhtala could troubleshoot with most of the making, each student texpert leads the way with special technologies.  What a great leadership model for many students.

Also, keep in mind, this is a maker space on a very frugal budget.  Instead of spending on the furniture and decorating, the simple act of emptying out the space opened up many possibilities for making.  Notice the evolution of desk placement for her during the year.  This one migration of her personal space speaks volumes about her commitment and passion for the students and their independent and collaborative work.

This one maker space example shows the investment of staff and students in this one unique space in a school can change the whole tone within the school.  This is a space that accepts students unconditionally where they are at (notice the blogger who talks about scouts against the unchanging green screen) and where students exceed expectations while finding knowledge.

I think this kind of learning could do called “doing knowledge” as students experience and “play” with materials to create and invent unique prototypes.  There is not enough of this type of unstructured, constructionist learning  in most schools.  Introducing space and time with materials can encourage great learning.

Michele Luhtala’s blog can also offer insight into her success and learning about this first year of making.

Money, Money, Money…

Investing in your maker space is a great first step in having a forum for students to nurture their curiosity and inventing skills.  Every maker program has a budget.  Some are more than others but all types of budgets can be used to supply an interactive, hands-on space.

The worst question I get is, “The principal gave me $1500 and I need to set up a maker space.  What should I spend it on?  I have 48 hours!”  I actually had that question last weekend.  Speed spending on a new program in a school, no matter how much money or how much space is a really bad idea.  It leads to tools and supplies that lie dormant for long periods of time in storage areas that are rarely visited while other items of interest languish on a waiting list until another amount of money is available.

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Having a budget and planning to purchase for your maker space takes some time, collaboration and sober second thought.  Ask teachers what projects they are interested in doing and what curriculum connections they are focused on.  This information may help in planning for circuits rather than low tech planet balls.

Planning for design outcomes or prototypes means that teachers should look ahead at possible materials necessary to make inventions inspired by the lesson connections.  Not all eventualities can be accounted for but many materials can be considered basics.

Save some of the money for “consumables.”  Things like batteries, copper wire and low tech making supplies get used up.  Since, generally, the current maker space plans are usually included in the Learning Commons or Library space, it may take a couple of conversations to ensure that consumables are budgeted for.

Technology is not forever.  Even when you purchase kits like littleBits or Hummingbird Robotics  kits, they are useful but also contain consumables and components that break. And, keep in mind, that educational technology kits are a growth industry and new kits are being produced every day.  Even the most thorough researcher may buy a kit that is a clunker.  I know. I’ve done it.  Robotics kits are a fine science. Matching the building skills to make the robot with the coding skills to make the robot work is a beautiful symphony when it is in tune and an expensive mistake when it is a mismatch.

Start small. Make a plan. Save a little aside for consumables. Add what you need.  Collaborate with other teachers and staff.  Rome wasn’t built in a day.