By Jennifer Jensen
As a Sphero Hero I was given the exciting opportunity to collaborate on a “high-tech meets low-tech” collaboration with Sphero robots and Makedo Invent kit. As well as introducing a variety of challenges, this was also a great way to reinforce and review the skills my K-6 students had learned earlier in the school year. We had a fun time designing, building, and creating new inventions and environments for our Sphero robots in the process. Here is how it all went down!
Before beginning our work, I needed to think through a few logistics. For me personally, storage was at the top of the list. Two main factors contributing to this was the fact I don’t have a lot of “small item” storage and due to the fact I see students for one week, creating the need for storage.
The one advantage I did have was after each week, I’m able to disassemble and start over. I didn’t have to find long-term storage for projects and the amount of materials I would be needing to collect and use would be less.
I sent an email to staff and connected with our building engineer to gather cardboard. Prior to having our Makedo kit, I had typically focused on gathering thinner cardboard. This was a new and exciting adventure to be collecting ANY type of cardboard.
Consider how your materials will be stored throughout the challenge. I have a permanent “cardboard corner” in my classroom, but for this challenge I decided to make some changes and keep it “off limits.” Prior to getting things underway, I did a quick clean and sort of my cardboard. I was getting to toss out some of the more “used” pieces, but instead decided to turn two of the larger cardboard boxes into storage for just these types of pieces. You know…the ones with shapes cut right from the center? Or the ones that have been used multiple times and only have weird and random shapes left.
Photo of initial cardboard resources. It definitely grew over the weeks.
The topics of focus for building provided by Makedo were great and met a wide range of student interests. In order to allow for more voice & choice and independence with this challenge, but within a focused structure, I created a general “challenge” statement and then went deeper within each subject to create more specific/focused questions. These subject-specific questions all followed a very similar structure that allowed students to activate prior knowledge, share what they know, examine potential problems, and suggest potential solutions.
STRUCTURE OF LESSONS
I introduced this challenge to my older students in the following way:
- Shared the fact that we had some amazing new tools to try out and that we are going to have the opportunity to share our work with Sphero and Makedo.
- Introduced the new tools to the students by showing them the actual tools and highlighting various slides from the PPoint from Makedo and giving them a quick demonstration of each tool.
Slides Highlighted: #3 - overview of tools, #4 - cut, #5 - fold, #6 - connect, and #7 - level up
- We moved onto the “meat” of the challenge by discussing our focus: “Making for the Future.” Within the structure of the Engineering Design Process, I asked students how they might utilize cardboard & other recycled materials, Sphero products, & Makedo tools to design and create within one of the following topics:
- Creatures & Characters
- Costumes, Props & Sets
- Worlds & Habitats
- Games & Toys
During this time I also reviewed the Sphero products that students had access to in our classroom: BOLT, RVR, indi, and littleBits.
Once students had selected their group for the week, I provided them with guiding questions within each of the topics to make your decision and begin your planning. Here are those guiding questions.(I did create individual pages for each of these here.)
CREATURES & CHARACTERS:
- Who are some of your favorite creatures and characters and why?
- Why do you think people make such a strong connection to creatures and characters?
- How would your favorite creature or character manage in a different story or environment?
- Looking into the future, how might you see this creature or character changing? Will they dress the same? Look the same? Act the same? Live in the same place?
COSTUMES, PROPS & SETS:
- What makes a great, or not so great, costume, prop or setting?
- How do costumes and props represent peoples’ beliefs, costumes, and way of life?
- What are some of your favorite costumes, props or settings that you may use during holidays and play time?
- How have the costumes, props and settings changed over time? Do you think these changes are for the worse or the better?
- Take one of your favorites and re-imagine them in the future.
- What are some structures that you are familiar with?
- What elements & features do these structures have in common?
- How are structures helpful?
- Do you feel there are any problems with today’s structures?
- Do you feel that structures of today cause any problems?
- How might our needs surrounding structures change in the future?
WORLDS & HABITATS:
- What types of habitats do you have in your immediate area? In areas that you have traveled? In other areas around the world?
- What factors affect or have an influence on these different habitats?
- How do you think these habitats will change over time?
- Think about some of your favorite books, movies, tv shows, video games, etc. What types of worlds from these various genres interest you the most?
- What things do you feel influenced the “creation” of these worlds?
- How do you see these worlds changing in the future? Will they focus on subjects of the past? The future on Earth? Or maybe the future on other planets?
GAMES & TOYS:
- What are some games or toys that you are familiar with?
- What elements & features, etc do these games have in common?
- What is the value of having games and toys?
- How have games and toys changed over time?
- Do you feel the games and toys of the future will resemble the ones we have now?
- What are some vehicles that you are familiar with?
- What pieces, parts, features, etc do these vehicles have in common?
- How do vehicles help us?
- Do you feel there are any problems with today’s vehicles?
- Do you feel that vehicles of today cause any problems?
- How might our needs surrounding vehicles change in the future?
During the planning portion of this challenge, every student was expected to brainstorm their thinking on their own paper, share that with their team and then work together to determine what their group would design and build. During this time, students made trips to the cardboard table for inspiration. Getting to look through the materials allowed them to better visualize their final design.
The majority of groups were able to complete their initial planning and were ready to start building after this first day. Any necessary finishing touches were added during day two and the building commenced! Students used the following three days to continue building and testing their designs. I noticed that the majority of groups stayed with their initial designs. There were some who had to regroup and make some major modifications. During their work time, I was able to meet with individual groups and discuss the various ways they could connect their pieces of cardboard. Using a cardboard tab or hinge-like piece was new for them and it opened up new building opportunities. As students began wrapping up their work on the fourth day, several groups discovered that they didn’t test with the Sphero product soon enough in the building process. They had designed and built amazing projects, but were either too heavy, too small or too large for the robot/electronics. This was a great lesson for them in the fact that measurement is critical.
On our fifth and final day, students were able to spend about 5-10 minutes putting on the finishing touches. Everyone in the class then had the opportunity to share what they had designed and who they had designed it for. There was a wide range when it came to the level of project completion. For some groups, their project turned out just as they had hoped. For others, they were frustrated due to it being incomplete or not functioning as they had hoped. I was happy that those in the second situation were able to share what they would do differently and still took a great deal of pride in their work.
Grades Kindergarten - 2nd:
My introduction to the project with my younger students was similar, but I first took time to allow for exploration of the tools and then jumped into the challenge. I also had them only using the Sphero indi. I let the students know that we were going to be doing an exciting building project this week with cardboard, indi and some fun, new tools. (I did show them indi since it had been a little while since we used him.)
I felt it was important for students to see the “inside” of a piece of cardboard, so our hands-on portion of the lesson began with me showing them the flutes that create the structure of cardboard. I then did a quick introduction/overview of how each of the Makedo tools is used and then let them explore for about 20 minutes. For this exploration time, I provided a tub for each of my table groups containing cardboard pieces and the tools. As they were exploring I was able to walk around and provide additional guidance on using the saw as a “saw” and not a knife. I also demonstrated strategies on how to construct some basic geometric shapes.
Students received some additional pieces of cardboard as they worked.
Once students were done experimenting and exploring the tools, we focused on the topic of “Structures.” Within their table teams, students took a couple of minutes to discuss all the different structures they knew of…in our area, in their lives, or ones they have only seen in pictures. As a class, we then created a large list of structures. This included everything from a school to a zoo to a slide. We then discussed how we would be “Make for the Future.” What that meant - solving problems, how things might look different, how our needs might be different, what types of new things might be invented. We also discussed what role indi might play in their design - a person, an animal, a vehicle, etc.
I had previously introduced the concept of SCAMPER to my students, so I used this challenge as another opportunity for them to practice. If you are not familiar with SCAMPER, it is a brainstorming technique that helps people of any age think outside of the box.
S - Substitute: Replace one piece with something new.
C - Combine: Join some pieces from two ideas.
A - Adapt: Give a piece a new job.
M - Minimize/Maximize: Make a piece much smaller/larger or less important/more important.
P - Put to other uses: Give the whole thing a new job.
E - Eliminate: Get rid of a piece.
R - Rearrange: Keep the pieces, but change their order.
Applying this strategy to the idea of a structure allowed students to expand their thinking.
Each student got their own piece of paper to begin brainstorming. They drew at least one idea of what type of structure they might want to construct. (If students were stuck, I just asked them to draw one of their favorite structures. We could then look at that and consider what types of modifications or improvements they would want to make.) As our work time came to a close this first day, I encouraged students to draw another idea or two on their paper.
The next day we revisited our overall challenge (cardboard, indi and making for the future) and then looked at our brainstorming from yesterday. As a table team, they discussed which of the structures they were most interested in building. During this time, students were able to visit our cardboard and supply tables, looking for ideas and inspiration. Once groups made their selection, they collaborated on one, final design, grabbed their materials and started building. Students then used the next few days to build their structures.
Just like the older students, on our fifth and final day, they made the last minute additions and adjustments to their project. We then used our front rug as the “border” for our future city so each group could find the perfect location for their structure. The entire class then worked together to code indi to move around the city and visit each structure. The students did a great job with making the necessary adjustments in both the code and placement of the structures during this time. They were also able to share some of the highlights and special features of their projects.
I honestly had to do a little back-tracking with some of my Kindergarten students. The initial overview and supply introduction was both overwhelming and incomplete. On our second day together I gave each group various sizes of cardboard and their tool kit. I challenged them to make a square, or some other shape. While they were working, I was able to visit each team and show them how to use one small piece of cardboard as a brace or tab with their larger pieces. This approach worked MUCH better. These little learners just needed a bit more support than I had anticipated.
This challenge offered a great opportunity for ending the school year. I was able to do some cleaning and purging of other recycled materials that hadn’t seen the light of day in years. I am a special at my school so I see my students for five days in a row, 45 minutes each day. Since this was their first time working with the Makedo tools, I felt that having those full five days was important.
Just one week into our building and I noticed that the Makedo tools themselves needed more monitoring and organization. To solve for this, I divided the tools between five pencil boxes. (I have five tables for students in my room.) I then took screenshots of the tools and created a photo guide as to what should be in the supply box. This allowed groups to check their box at the beginning and end of each working session. It absolutely helped with keeping the groups more accountable for their tools.
I included the Google Slide that I created and customized to the contents of each supply box.
I absolutely loved the collaborative work with Makedo. I’ve integrated low-tech (cardboard & recycled materials) with high-tech (robots), but I feel our “Designing for the Future” theme, along with the Makedo categories and tools, provided students with a much more open-ended and authentic design challenge. They had the opportunity to think bigger due to the fact they had the new Makedo tools. Instead of just “making” something with supplies and tape, they took it to the next level and could really “build” something. My favorite was a comment made multiple days by one of my first graders. She said, “Thank you so much for this challenge. I feel like a real engineer.” That made my teacher's heart smile! I also overheard some students commenting on how they felt they were at a real construction site as they were building. Both the students and myself are looking forward to utilizing the Makedo tools even more next year. As we reflected on this school year, the students overwhelmingly requested more cardboard building with the new tools.