Bringing Robotics to the Curriculum

A lot has been going on since my arrival at Yokohama International School in August. As the newly appointed Head of Department for MYP Technology (soon to be Design) I’ve been, naturally, thinking a lot about how to grow the department in ways that can take advantage of the current trends in education and in technology. The three most obvious areas are 3D printing, coding and robotics.

I’m currently running units with my Grade 9 and Grade 10 classes focus on the first two areas. (More details to come, I promise!) We also were lucky enough to have the budget to purchase to Lego Mindstorms EV3 kits (starter and expansion kits) and I have been helping to run an after-school activity for middle school students focused on exploring the possibilities. It currently consists of 7 Grade 6 boys and 2 Grade 9 boys who are acting as student leaders and mentors (since they have the most robotics experience on campus I think!). We’re hoping to enter at least one YIS team in the local Robosumo Friendly taking place in the spring!

This past weekend I was able to attend an EARCOS Weekend Workshop at Taipei American School focused on robotics in the curriculum. For those who don’t know, TAS has an amazing robotics program throughout their K12 curriculum that they have been building over the past 7 years or so. Leanne Rainbow, who was a Learning2Leader in October focused on robotics, and Andrew Vicars did a great job of explaining the history of their program and sharing some strategies when thinking about how to start a robotics program in your school. They also gave us big chunk of play time where I got to go hands-on with the older NXTs and some of the more advanced/engineering-heavy VEX machines. While we didn’t get to spend too much time building, we did get an introduction to RobotC (of course, it’s only available on Windows and we are a Mac school; apparently PROS can be used to program VEX in a Mac environment.) and the process that students go through in order to prepare for an in-class tournament.

I’m really excited to think about how we could be bringing robotics into our curriculum. There are a lot of questions that need to be answered though.For example:

  • How many kits will I need in order to run this successfully in one grade next year? Does each student need their own kit?  Can they work in pairs to design and build, and then write the program individually? How will this fit in with the MYP Design curriculum?
  • How do we bring this into the curriculum and keep the activity going strong?
  • We’re focused on the EV3 for now. How long until we start moving into the VEX kits for the older students?
  • How do we bring this down into the elementary school? What can we do to provide some sort of continuity in the program? How far down can we go? (For example, I know some KG teachers are using Beebots already but is anybody else?) Who is going to support robotics in the ES and how does it fit into PYP Units of Inquiry?
  • Where are we going to find the physical space to do all/any of this???

None of these questions are deal breakers, of course, and I’m really excited to see where this journey takes our students and our school. Have you implemented a robotic program in your school, either as part of the curriculum or as an activity? Any suggestions?

Image credit: All images by me. Feel free to use these and more under a CC license.

A Summer in Madrid – It’s Not What You Think

As my time at UNIS Hanoi comes to a close, I’m already looking ahead to my summer plans. I will be spending the month of July in Madrid while the rest of the family goes back to Australia. I can hear you wondering, “How did you manage THAT?!?”

Four weeks living the bachelor lifestyle in Madrid sounds fabulous… but that’s not going to be me! It won’t be all tapas and cava…

I’m embarking on a 13 month MEd. in International Education Administration from Endicott College. This summer will consist of four courses in four weeks, then four online courses over the course of the school year, and then four more weeks and four more courses in Madrid in July 2014 (this time with the family)!

For the next five weeks or so this blog stands the chance of seeing an inordinate number of posts focused on what I’m reading, thinking, discussing or presenting as it relates to my classes. And so it begins…

In “A Diploma Worth Having” Grant Wiggins argues that the current (American) high school diploma doesn’t actually prepare students for adult life.

We are on the verge of requiring every student in the United States to learn two years of algebra that they will likely never use, but no one is required to learn wellness or parenting.

And later:

In sum, it seems to me that we still do not have a clue about how to make education modern: forward-­looking, client-­centered, and flexible; adapted to an era where the future, not the past, determines the curriculum.

Since I’ll be back in the math classroom next year (only teaching one class), I’m really interested in this critique of the draft Common Core Standards by the Partnership for 21c. Skills (my emphasis):

the standards should include more emphasis on practical mathematical application (for example, analyzing financial data); include statistics and probability in the elementary grades and emphasize these areas more in the secondary grades; and focus less on factual content mastery in favor of better integrating higher-order thinking skills throughout the curriculum

I’ve come to believe this more in the four years that I’ve been out of the math game. I mean, who needs to memorize the Pythagorean Theorem these days? I used to teach a whole unit on this! Surely it’s better to focus on finding and investigating authentic problems that requires students to think like mathematicians rather than regurgitate a formula.

Wiggins also introduces me to the Quantitative Literacy Manifesto (2001) (retrieved here) which calls for developing in students:

a predisposition to look at the world through mathematical eyes, to see the benefits (and risks) of thinking quantitatively about commonplace issues, and to approach complex problems with confidence in the value of careful reasoning. (p. 22)

I think I’m going to need to find the time to read this more fully…

What does a 1:1 curriculum look like?

Our new curriculum coordinator is really earning her paycheck. As she is in the process of researching and designing a new curriculum review cycle for our school, it got me to thinking: how should our move to a 1:1 environment affect our school curriculum? Should it even have an effect? Should we keep one eye on the future of learning – taking into account game-based learning, global collaboration, authentic audiences, etc. – as we are crafting this document?

If you are at a 1:1 school or a school with significant access to technology, has your curriculum changed because of it?

(This might be a good time to mention that I am in no way, shape or form even remotely close to an authority on curriculum development. Please feel free to set me straight in the comments!)