Helping teachers integrate computational thinking and computer science (CS) into their Project Based Learning (PBL) units is a BIG part of my coaching work with schools and districts throughout the US. So, whether my sessions cover coding, STEM learning at home, or reinforcing math skills with robots, I require reliable tools for helping teachers build their content knowledge and CS practice in useful and systematic ways.
In my sessions, I like to keep things simple and focus on getting my participants grounded in CS basics and fundamentals by engaging them in well-designed activities.
Effective educational technology (edtech) is vital to augment my lessons, which is why Sphero tools are part of the STEM ecosystem in my coaching toolkit.
If you are new to CS and want to begin your journey, here are two simple ways that using Sphero can help you level up rather quickly.
1. Teach Coding and Programming with Educational Robots
In classrooms, educational robotics is an excellent tool for helping kids understand how robots are built and programmed to accomplish a wide range of tasks. What deters some content area teachers from getting involved is the building part, mainly due to the amount of time it requires in tandem with the cleanup. Undoubtedly, instructional time is lost for students and may do very little to reinforce academic standards in their classes. This is a no-no when integrating STEM and CS across the curriculum.
For its no assembly required feature, the Sphero BOLT robot is my tool of choice for helping educators learn to facilitate lessons that provide their learners coding and programming skills in a real-world context and reinforce computational thinking skills.
Here are some activities I use for getting educators grounded in CS basics:
- Unboxing the Sphero BOLT and Introduction to the Sphero Edu app for focusing on connecting, aiming, and driving the robot.
- Draw: Shapes for learning to draw shapes on the 'draw' canvas representing blocks of code and executing it to control the robot.
- Conditional Statements (If/Then, Else) for coding an action to take place when certain conditions are met.
- Looping for repeating a sequence of instructions in code until a specific condition is met.
2. Adapt a Lesson or Project, but Make it Your Own
There’s no shortage of CS curriculum for teachers to utilize in their classrooms, but in this instance, knowledge is power. Once teachers have a better understanding of how to bridge some of the CS concepts to practices mentioned in the section above, they will become better informed about the CS learning goals they want students to master. Adapting CS lessons and projects then becomes an achievable task—not mission impossible.
As many teachers already know, adapting curriculum, activities, and resources does not mean that we follow each step line-by-line. We don't need to reinvent the wheel, but we need to personalize items to fit our context, align to standards, and meet our students' needs. Adapting CS lessons and projects is no different, but there are items to consider for doing it right.
To complement the use of the Sphero BOLT robot, the Computer Science Foundations (CSF) curriculum has a plethora of activities that can be integrated into PBL projects, which I recommend teachers consider using when adapting curriculum, activities, or resources.
For example, after navigating several of the lessons in the CSF and correlations in the standards alignment, I pulled out activities that reinforce skills I think are essential to students learning to code. I used the PBLWorks student learning guide template to organize how I wanted to teach it to adapt these lessons. I began with my intended student outcome by identifying the student product in the first column: a Sphero BOLT robot program. I then developed learning targets and inserted them in the second column to represent students' learning goals/objectives. I identified formative assessments to ensure students are capturing and retaining learning in the third column. Lastly, I noted in the fourth column lessons, instructional strategies, and scaffolds to help students learn the content and skills.
This is an adaptation of the ‘Student Learning Guide’ by PBLWorks.
I find that when teachers adapt lessons/projects, but make them their own in a similar manner, they have a clearer vision of where to scaffold, remediate, differentiate, and assess student learning (among other pertinent items).
Coding is a skill that we never stop learning to improve. Therefore, a principle that I really admire in Code.org's 'Curriculum Values' is that the teacher is always the lead learner in his/her classroom. The organization explains, "As the lead learner, the role of the teacher shifts from being the source of knowledge to being a leader in seeking knowledge."
About the Author
Jorge Valenzuela is an education coach, author, and advocate. He has years of experience as a classroom and online teacher, a curriculum specialist, and a consultant. His work focuses on improving teacher preparation in project-based learning, computational thinking and computer science integration, STEM education, and equity and SEL integration. Jorge is an adjunct professor at Old Dominion University and the lead coach at Lifelong Learning Defined. His book Rev Up Robotics: Real-World Computational Thinking in the K–8 Classroom is available from ISTE.
Opinions expressed by Sphero.com contributors are their own.