Help Needed: Robotics Triathlon Ideas

creative commons licensed ( BY-NC-SA ) flickr photo shared by Clint Hamada

I’ve been thinking for a while about how I’m going to structure my upcoming (and first ever) robotics unit here at YIS. The other night, as I was laying in bed around midnight, I had a spark of inspiration.

First, a little backstory…

Last year we purchased 10 EV3 kits and decided the best starting place was to introduce a middle school activity. The kids who participated really got into it and we did well at our local Robo Sumo Friendly, sweeping the the top 3 places! We’ve continued the middle school activity this year and have our sights set on the next round of Sumo!

Last year I also attended the EARCOS Weekend Workshop on Robotics at TAS and have been thinking long and hard how I can incorporate units of robotics into our MYP Design classes (rather than full-on robotics classes). We are limited by space and resources here at YIS and are trying to find ways to get our foot in the door of robotics.

I have just ordered another 14 core kits, which should give me enough robots to put Grade 9 students into of 3 or 4.

I’ve been looking for a way for students to be able to work both collaboratively and independently. My initial thought was to have each group build a simple base robot (such as the Riley Rover) and then get each member to write their own programs to complete a quest. I could never quite sort it all out in my head though.

Back to my idea…

creative commons licensed ( BY-NC-SA ) flickr photo shared by Clint Hamada

Last night I thought about creating a team challenge. (I’m still not 100% sure how I will assess it in the MYP flavor, so don’t ask me about that yet!). What if the students competed in a Robotics Triathlon? Here’s what I’m thinking:

  • The three events will be based on speed (a timed 10 meter drag race), strength (a mini sumo tournament), and intelligence (completing an unknown maze challenge).
    • The speed challenge will be focused on engineering and using gear ratios to improve performance.
    • The strength challenge will be focused on design, possible use of gears to improve torque, and simple programming to stay on the board and to seek out opponents.
    • The intelligence challenge will be focused on programming and using the sensors in combination.
  • Each team will work to design three variations of the base robot for each event.
  • Each team will work to code three programs for each event.
  • Each team will be given access to the full array of sensors (ultrasonic, touch, color, gyro) and motors (2 large, 1 medium) to use as the wish.
  • A scoring system will be devised to determine a class champion. Since I teach three sections, we can then have a Tournament of Champions at lunchtime once the class champions are determined.
  • For the final evaluation, teams will need to give a 5 – 10 minute presentation on their robot, their design and programming choices, and what they would do differently now that they are done.

It’s still not a fully fledged unit, so I need your help. Can you give me any suggestions or feedback on the events that I’ve chosen? Any ideas on how I could assess this, both as a group grade and as individual grades? Any links to resources that I might find useful, or that my students can use to help build and program their bots? I’ve still got a few weeks but your help is greatly appreciated!

Thanks to the conversations that I’ve already had on Twitter. Frank Hua has suggested some sort of robot soccer game (possibly controlled via the iPad EV3 app) and Geoff Derry has suggested a color block challenge. Jeff Layman is in on the maze idea and I’m interested to hear what he’s done in his MYP classes with the EV3s.

3D Printing is Here!

Grade 6s, watching it print

This is a blog post that I wrote for our school newsletter/blog at YIS.

Of all the new technologies that have become available recently, few have created as much buzz as 3D printing. We are reading about doctors creating implants with 3D printers and engineers creating houses with 3D printers. Last week, we unpacked our first such desktop device – a MakerBot Replicator 2 – at YIS and it is generating a huge buzz amongst students and teachers alike!

As these machines become more accessible, there are two huge changes that are occurring:

  1. Everybody is a designer. Using free tools like SketchUp or Tinkercad on your computer (and tools like 123D Creature on your iPad), we all have the ability to design objects and then print them out.
  2. From consumer to creator. Instead of buying what somebody else things we want or need, we now have the ability to create what we want or need. If our initial design doesn’t work the way we hoped, we can improve it and print it out again.

With online communities like Thingiverse, you can find just about anything you can imagine. From phone cases to dishwasher parts, bike light mounts to miniature dinosaurs, it’s all there. You can even take those designs and remix them to suit your own needs since all files are uploaded under a Creative Commons license. I’m currently printing out accessories for the new printer that I found on the site!

Plato’s five famous solids, printed from Thingiverse

In the second semester, Grade 10s will be designing objects and printing them out on the 3D printer to test if they work as imagined. We’re also exploring how middle school students can create buildings in a virtual Minecraft world and then print models of those buildings on the printer. There has been great discussions about printing objects and testing their strength in Science or creating a set of characters that can be used in a storytelling unit in the ES. The possibilities for authentic inquiry truly are endless!

Our goal is to make this technology accessible to everybody: from Kindergarten to Grade 12; in Tech class as well as English class. If you have any ideas about how you’d like to use the 3D printer, or if you are a parent who uses 3D printing at home or at work, we’d love to hear from you in the comments below!

Electronic MYP Gradebooks

As I explain over on my ‘other’ blog, I’ve never been very happy with how electronic gradebooks deal with criterion-based assessment, particularly as it relates to the MYP. So over the years I gradually developed my own for my math classroom using Excel and a few macros. Since then I’ve created versions for most if not all of the MYP subject groups. (Downloads below as .xlsm files (Excel 2007/2010 macro enabled))

Each gradebook should use the correct criteria and attainment levels for your subject so make sure you download the right one. If there is a mistake, or if there isn’t one for your subject, let me know and I’ll try and fix it ASAP.

I’ve also created a few short screencasts using Screenr on how I envision the gradebooks being used. (If you click on the full screen icon, it’s much easier to see!) Because I believe sharing makes things better, feel free to hack away at these and adjust them for your own use. Because I see these as being covered by a Creative Commons license (Attribution, Non-Commercial, Share-Alike) all I ask for in return is that you attribute me, you don’t make any money off of them and you share what you create as well!

Adding Assessments to the Gradebook

Determining Quarter Scores

Collecting Formative and ATL Data

Gradebook Downloads

MYP Arts

MYP English

MYP Language A

MYP Language B

MYP Mathematics

MYP Humanities

MYP Science



MYP Technology

The New and Improved Personal Project

I’m just finishing my 9th year in an MYP school. In that time I have supervised my fair share of personal projects. A few have been fantastic, a few have been shocking, but the vast majority have been average at best. With the release of new guidelines for the personal project comes a chance for us to reinvent how we introduce and, ultimately, get the students to think about the personal project.

When Andrea Law, our MYP Coordinator, and I started talking about this, we decided we needed to find a way to get the students to invest themselves in this year-long project and truly make it personal. Too often in the past students chose topics that they thought would be easy or help them get a good grade rather than one that they truly cared about.

Instead of starting with an Area of Interaction (AoI, which, to be honest, they don’t always truly understand), we asked the students to identify problems that they see in their world around them. They could be huge global problems like poverty; they could be problems based on their community like friends not truly understanding the importance of the Tet holiday; they could be individual problems like not having enough space in your room for your stereo and computer.

Once they identified a few problems, students were asked to write down their personal connection to each of those problems. Why did they matter? Possible links to AoIs were established here as well.

Once personal connections were identified, students began thinking about a solution: what could they make or do in order to address the problem. After conferencing with their peers, students then came up with the topic for their personal project.

All of the information about how they came up with their topic (problem, connection, AOI, and solution) was submitted by survey by each of the students. Teachers then read each description (without student names) and signed up to be supervisors based on their own interests as well.

Andrea, Joyce the librarian, and I just spent the morning rotating between the three homerooms talking about important aspects of the personal project students need to address over the summer: organizational details and meeting with supervisors; information literacy and evaluating sources; and the process journal and blogs.

I’m really excited by the quality of the topics that were decided upon by the students. I could immediately tell that the problem solving  approach has made the whole concept of the personal project much more accessible. I think we’ve also helped the students choose topics that they are really interested in. This will have such huge impact on how the view this year-long process!

Devojka mala AttributionNoncommercial by Sebastian Adanko

Planning for Passion

As so often happens, it started with a tweet:

My response:

For fear of turning into its biggest fanboy, this is one of the things that I love about the MYP. The focus is more on unit planning rather than lesson planning. The focus is not on presenting your content in a specific order; it’s on engaging and connecting with the students.

Everybody (I hope) has a curriculum document that states the content standards that need to be covered. But is there any reason why that needs to be the focus of your unit, with intermittent and ancillary connections made to things that matter to your or your students? Why not start with the things that matter to the students? Ask questions, provoke discussion and debate, get the students invested into the class, all the while knowing where you as a teacher want to end up. That’s what I mean by planning for passion.

Trans v. Inter Disciplinary – A Visual Guide

I’ve been busy preparing for my upcoming MYP workshop in Mathematics and I’ve been getting all ‘Presentation Zen‘ on the slides. Yes, it adds to the amount of preparation (I could just use some ‘canned slides’ for all workshop leaders) but this way

  • gives me ownership of the content
  • makes me really think about what I’m presenting
  • allows me to make something that I’m proud of
  • will be more helpful to my participants (I hope).

One of the ideas that I was really struggling to present was the difference between transdisciplinary and interdisciplinary teaching and learning. I realized it was because I didn’t fully understand the nuances of them myself!

So, with the help of Twitter (@klbeasley, @amichetti, @stangey especially) and our Curriculum Coordinator, I came up with the following visual metaphors for monodisciplinary, multidisciplinary, interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary teaching and learning. I wanted something that people could recall in their head to help explain the differences between these terms.

All of the original images used were found on Flickr and licensed under Creative Commons. Please feel free to use or reuse them as you see fit!

I have included some brief explanations on the Flickr pages (each image links back to its Flickr page) for each image but have purposefully left them off here. I wonder if those images clarify, to you, the differences? If you go back and read the explanations, does that help?

Any comments or suggestions, either on the content or the presentation of the slides, are greatly appreciated!

MYP Workshop Debrief

I just received the feedback forms from my first MYP Mathematics workshop that I led in March.

It’s mostly encouraging, although the few responses in the “Strongly Disagree” column really jump of the page.

  • One person strongly disagreed with the statement “Information was presented in a clear and organized manner.”
  • One person strongly disagreed with the statement “I gained a deeper understanding of how to achieve horizontal and vertical articulation.” (This was probably, overall, my weakest point according to the results.)
  • Two people strongly disagreed with the statement “I can use what I learned in this workshop to collaborate effectively with other teachers in my department/school.”

In general, the feedback was quite positive. 78% rated the overall quality as “very good” or better. 88% were either “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with the workshop. Overall, I’m not too concerned if one or two people didn’t like my presentation style: I know it is impossible to please everybody. I also know that we (as a group) chose to focus on certain things, such as assessment, at the expense of others, such as interdisciplinary planning. It does concern me that two people walked away feeling that didn’t learn anything that would allow them to collaborate effectively with others, especially since the main thrust of many of my sessions were around using Zoho Docs to create and edit collaborative documents, particularly when it came to planning.

In the free response section, some of my strengths were listed as:

  • Very knowledgeable and enthusiastic. Listened to participants very well. Led discussion well and allowed time to cover topics participants needed to know about.
  • He obviously is an extremely organised teacher with very thorough methods of assessing his students. He was reactive to needs of the group, was able to answer (almost) any question that was set and clarified some of the less concrete MYP requirements (the unit question/significant concept debate)
  • He was very open to people’s ideas – and as result participants were very open to share and accept feedback. He did not allow arguments about assessment to go onto long.
  • Kept the group on task, listened to everyones point of view, accepted the times when someone disagreed with him and was always open to other people’s points of view.

Some of the suggestions for me:

  • Some people in the workshop kept having private conversions during the workshop which made it very distracting. I wish he had a creative way of addressing that situation.
  • differentiate the sharing session by grade levels
  • some of the participants were a little disgruntled that we started things and put them aside without unpacking them or wrapping them up (eg. the newspaper exercise). That said, the ability to share our work and ask numerous direct questions about our practise meant that something had to give…
  • Make a summary of what has transpired in a previous session before proceeding to the next session.
  • More time is needed sharing resources and actual units of work. More time spent on mathematics and less on general IB topics.
  • I thought the first day included too much introductory information about the MYP as this was a stage 2 course. (Not a big issue but this would be my only criticism of the course.)

Probably my biggest concern as the workshop leader was my midjudgement of time. As two of the suggestions point to, we didn’t have enough time to complete the task and then have a discussion about the task. I had hoped that a lot of that ‘unpacking’ would have happened in their own personal reflections on the session (I tried to incorporate a different Visible Thinking Routine for each session, both to model the use of VTRs and to give some variety in how participants were reflecting upon their learning).

Any ideas on how I can address those suggestions? My future workshop participants – next up: Kobe, Japan in October 2010; like one person said to me, I couldn’t have sucked that bad if they asked me to do another one! – will certainly appreciate it. So will I! =)

Google Earth in English, pt 2

A while back I wrote about Mr. Whatley using Google Earth as  a way for students to create their own ‘life maps’ in Grade 8. Here’s an example: Bloomability Life map (10MB .kmz file). This was also featured in our Speedgeeking session in February.

Now it looks like the Grade 8 Humanities class is going to use Google Earth to create a timeline (of sorts) of events worldwide that led to Vietnamese independence. I think it will be a great way to show the inter-dependence of events in France, the Soviet Union, China and Vietnam and how they collectively affected Vietnam.

Google Earth in English

Thanks to Tom Barrett for the inspiration!

After finding this blog entry, I quickly went to find one of our more open-minded English teachers (Mr. Whatley) and shared with him what I found. I was particularly interested in the unit on Travel Writing that he does and thought that Google Earth would be a perfect medium for giving his students – many of them EAL students – that extra bit of scaffolding needed to really create some extraordinary writing.

He did me one better and has decided to use Google Earth as the tool for creating life maps for the students. The ability to embed images and videos as well as add written text will really help these life maps come alive! Plus, with the ability to create a narrated tour, the students will also be focusing on the oral component of MYP English.

Mr. Whatley is also having the students create a map of the nomadic protagonist’s journey in Bloomability, a la Google Lit Trips. I can’t wait to see (and share!) the results.