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Visual Programming Tools To Engage Students

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A friend of mine had just finished doing “Hour of code” on Code.org with her STEM club.   She asked me to comment upon what you might be able to do next to extend their learning experiences from code.org.    The website does an amazing job of introducing the basic ideas of code(sequencing, loops, decision making, variables) to young makers.  In this post, I’ll share a few project ideas and products that will help keep your students engaged in coding.

Scratch - This visual programming environment from MIT Life Long Kindergarten has become a powerful tool to engage students to code creatively.   Students projects range from games, to mini-movies, musical instruments and art.  I recommend checking out some of the projects built by students here.  I love seeing people combine Scratch with Makey Makey.  It’s always fun!

MIT App Inventor – To help make Android App building more accessible to EVERYONE, researchers at MIT have released a wonderful tool to empower makers and students to quickly build apps using a puzzle metaphor of programming.  The MIT App Inventor enables you to test your apps in real-time using your Android device.   Additionally, you do not need to install special tools on your system since the development environment is browser based.  To learn more about this tool,  visit http://appinventor.mit.edu orAppInventor.org .  I’ve written some sample programs on this blog post here.

Learn To MOD - The open world game Minecraft has high engagement factor with middle school students.   I enjoy playing the game with my kids too.   The folks at LearnToMod.com have created a comprehensive set of video lessons combined with visual programming experiences to help students learn to write their own Minecraft extensions or mods.   The system uses ScriptCraftJS which I’ve reviewed in here.

Scratch with LEGO Wedo – The Lego WeDo kit enables students to program a distance sensor, tilt sensor, and a motor that interfaces with standard Lego’s .    The “offline” versions of Scratch interface with the official Lego WeDo hardware introducing new blocks to the friendly Scratch interface.   You can learn more about the specialized Lego Wedo blocks from this resource.   You can find lesson plan ideas here.

Scratch For Arduino (S4A)  –  The Arduino has become an inexpensive platform to introduce digital electronics programming to students young and old.   While Arduino is a simple learning platform, it can also do some amazing work like 3D printing or robotics.    S4A enables students to leverage their Scratch skills to program Arduino.   To get students started on projects, I typically encourage students to figure out how to blink an LED or control a servo.

http://lab.open-roberta.org/ – This tool enables you to use block programming to control your Lego Mindstorm EV3 robot.   The website also includes a small robot simulator just in case you don’t have a Lego Mindstorm robot.  I’m looking forward to testing this website on some actual EV3 hardware soon!

 

What are some of your favorite lesson plans for getting kids to code?

 

Photo credit : https://www.flickr.com/photos/curiouslee/9627322546

 

Learning To Code

 

 

 
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Adventures with TinkerCAD and Minecraft

My kids and I really enjoy playing Minecraft together. There’s something magical about designing a 3D structure and getting to see it in a game world. Using my favorite 3D modeling tool for students, TinkerCAD, we tried importing stuff from Thingiverse into Minecraft. Here’s some of the results from our experiments.

I’m thinking about using this idea to motivate a future workshop on TinkerCAD.

Keep watching InspiredToEducate.NET for more details!

Hope you have a great week!

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castle

xwing

tardis

triceratops

 

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Broken Toy to Wifi Controlled Robot #DIY #Arduino #RaspberryPi

Broken toy to Wifi controlled robot

A good friend of mine from our local makerspace enjoys teaching students about electronics by taking stuff a part.   He has a talent for finding free or inexpensive pieces that students enjoy deconstructing.   Through this experience, he has the opportunity to connect the theory of electronics/mechanics to real stuff.   Inspired by this teacher, I decided to try it myself.  My sons bought a broken RC car from Good Will for $2.00.   With the car in pieces, we started playing with the components to see if we could get anything working.   With bread board and batteries, we found that the motors of the RC car were function.   After an evening of hacking using an Arduino, a motor driver, a Raspberry Pi, and Wifi connector, we cobbled together a Raspberry Pi controlled robot.  (see below)  Not bad for $2.00 of source materials.

Your Mission… Should you choice to accept it

So… I’d like to offer a challenge for this month.

1. Find something broken.

2. Take it apart, and figure out how to make something new from it.

3. We’d love to hear your stories of taking something broken and re-purposing it into something beautiful, fun or functional.

Post your entries to Twitter, Instagram, Google+, or Facebook using the hashtag #RepurposedCraft. 

The best entries will experience awesome social media fame and glory.   I’ll make sure to celebrate them on the blog too!  :)

Thanks for sharing your work!!!

 

 

 

Are you passionate about DIY, tinkering, and crafting?   We would enjoy hearing what you want to make in 2016.  Thanks for taking this quick survey.

Maker Workshop Survey 2016 

 

 
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Historic #SpaceX launch! Amazing Booster landing!

Published on December 22, 2015 by in technology
 
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Lessons learned from teaching Minecraft coding workshops

castle

In the past few months, I have had the opportunity to lead Minecraft coding workshops using ScriptCraft in our makerspace and a local museum.   Walter Higgins had done an amazing job of creating documentation and tools to help students learn JavaScript while playing with Minecraft.    I wanted to share some reflections on teaching this workshop to support others who might do similar coding dojo’s for young makers.

What went well?

  • Parents + Students = Win! In our most recent classes, we adjusted our space and class invite to welcome parents to learn along with their students.   I enjoyed seeing the parents getting engaged in the material just as much as the student.    For the students that were pair programming with their parents, it looked like they were having a fun time.
  • Adapting to broad age range: In executing this workshop, we served students middle, high school and adult students.   I believe we can do this kind of workshop because of our amazing mentors and the fantastic tools provided from code.org and Khan Academy.   If someone already has experience with block programming, we pushed them to learn hand crafted Javascript.   We also created a detailed class content outline and instructions.   If a student wants to move faster than the class, we empower them to move forward.   I also believe having great mentors in the workshop helps too.  We try to make sure we have a mentor for every 5 students.
  • The following workshop order worked well
    • 1 hour – Hour of code on code.org.  This helps the students obtain the core ideas of programming: loops, sequencing, variables, decision making.
    • 1 hour – During this hour, we allow the students to enter a common Scriptcraft server.  The students have the ability to upload javascript files into the server.   We scripted out instructions to help students install Notepad++, NppFTP, Text Mate, or Filezilla FTP.   In the world that we built, we distributed signs with sample ScriptCraft commands.   Some students enjoyed finding these signs and trying out the commands.
  • I really wanted the students to make a concept jump from block programming to JavaScript programming.   To that end, I’ve created a small tool that sketches out ScriptCraftJS mods based on a blockly program.   This seemed to work well.
  • Many student just enjoyed building a Minecraft server.   It was cool to see their excitement in learning that they could build and host a server for their own Minecraft building parties.   In building a Minecraft server, the students had to follow steps a network engineer might do like installing java, putting file in a particular location on the computer, and using the command line.

What can be improved?

  • Learning from server crashes: Sometimes the students think too big!  It’s really fun to see the students test the limits of software.   It’s very common for students to try to make very large blocks of mushrooms or TNT.   The server usually doesn’t handle this scale of work.  So… the students learn a lesson in making sure that their requests of the system are reasonable.
  • Clarity of support scripts: We’re going to continue to increase the clarity of the scripts and lab instructions we’ve created for the class.   For advanced students, they seemed to enjoy working ahead of the class using the instructions.
  • Reviewing sample programs: I think we could have generated more diversity of work if we created a tutorial where the students executed and inspected existing sample programs of a higher complexity.   I hope this would help spark more ideas.   It’s great that I have the sample programs built already!  In DroidScript or Arduino, you can make tons of interesting software by combining code and ideas from well crafted samples.

I do want to give a shout out to my friends who help co-teach this workshop with me.   I really appreciate their time in helping to inspire the next generation of game developers!

 

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tudent learning about loops and variables

 

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Sample programs from our ScriptCraft server

 

stairs

 

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10 Resources for Building Makerspaces in Schools

Real Impact 3d printing
Girls from Real Impact Center learning about 3D printing at SparkMacon Makerspace
During a teacher meetup through we held last night, we mentioned ways that makerspaces and project based learning directed by student interest can inspire student curiosity, creativity, and personalized learning.     We organized this meetup to listen for ways we can support teachers and students in our area.   I really appreciate the time my wife and our teacher friends spent sharing their experiences in their class rooms across school boundaries.   Teachers are always busy this time of year.  So, we really appreciate their influence and time.  I also want to say thanks to Geneva from Real Impact Center in Macon.  As always.. we appreciate your leadership and time.
During the conversation, we shared the ideas and tools we’re using to design learning experiences in SparkMacon Makerspace.   It was awesome time!  It felt like we had a small “unconference” over coffee.  I put together this post to aggregate some helpful ebooks, guides, and tools for bringing maker education into your class room.  We hope you find these tools helpful in engaging your students.
You also might enjoy the following infographic from http://margaret-powers.com/.   Margaret has awesome ideas and coaching on her blog serving educators. I enjoy following her posts on Twitter.  Make sure to follow her content.
Why MakerEd
 
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How to build Paper Stomp Rockets

Stomp Rocket Launcher

Building paper stomp rockets can be a fun way to engage students and your kids in learning about experimentation, designing by iteration, and aerodynamics.  Let me put extra emphasis on fun!!  My kids have really loved this build.    In anticipation for a local arts, technology, and maker festival in Macon, GA, I wanted prepare a small project that would help engage my kids and other young makers.   We first discovered building paper stomp rockets at the Atlanta Mini Maker Faire.   We were instantly hooked!!  As an added benefit, it’s pretty inexpensive and easy to build.

Here’s the instructions we followed to construct our platform.  We made a few modifications since we had extra parts in our garage.
http://www.instructables.com/id/Paper-Stomp-Rockets-Easy-and-Fun/

Here’s a few more designs for your reference:
http://www.instructables.com/howto/stomp+rockets/

Here’s another design from StockedAboutScience.com .

We can’t wait to share this project with our friends .  If you’re in the Macon, GA area, make sure to join us at the Make End festival.

Middle Georgia Makers and Georgia makerspaces will be exhibiting their projects, art, and crafts on November 14th to 15th at Tattnall Square Park in Macon, GA.   The festival seeks to inspire the next generation of creative tech professionals, creative artists and showcase the economic strengths of the region.

Make end

 

Join the Spark Macon Maker Space Community on Facebook

 

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5 Fun Ways to Learn Python

python

www.codecademy.com:  This interactive tutorial provides a fun way to get started with python programming and many other languages.   People learn best when you see a new idea and immediately apply it.  Code academy was designed with this learning pattern in mind.  You are coached to immediately apply every new programming concept in an online code edit.  

http://learnpythonthehardway.org/book/:  This book provides a disciplined and thoughtful content for learning to code in python.   Check it out!

Invent with Python by Al Sweigart: The book provides a gentle introduction to programming and using Python for simple 2D games.   The book uses PyGame for the game framework.

http://www.diveintopython.net/ : This is another free book that I used when learning how to program in python.   It’s probably more appropriate for experienced programmers.

https://www.raspberrypi.org/magpi/issues/:  So… you’ve heard about this $35 computer called the Raspberry PI.  But what can you do with it?   Check out this magazine online for free from the Raspberry Pi Foundation.   It’s very well put together and shares tons of fun project ideas.  Makers young and old will find the content engaging and fun.

 

 

 

Join us at SparkMacon MakerSpace for
“Python Programming (Beginners to Experts)”

Are you curious about learning to code? Looking to get more out of your Raspberry Pi or create a game? The python programming language is one of the most productive, powerful, and fun languages you can learn. It can be used for web programming, robot control, and making games. It’s great for beginners and experienced programmers too. In this workshop, Tanya Do will teach you the basics you need to move forward with the python platform.

This session is scheduled for
11/21 from 9:30am to 11:30am.

Cost is $15.

Please register here: http://www.sparkmacon.com/product/python-programming-beginners-to-experts/


Tanya is a good a friend.  I know you’ll have a fun time learning with her!

 

Photo credit: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Python3-powered_hello-world.svg

 

 
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Reflecting on NASA Coding for Teachers workshop

Joey Allen breaking down a Scratch game from Mercer Creative Camps

Joey Allen breaking down a Scratch game from Mercer Creative Camps

Over the weekend, we had the opportunity to present a coding for teachers workshop at the NASA Regional Educator Resource Center (RERC) at the Museum of Aviation in Warner Robins, GA and had a blast!  Our team had a wonderful time coaching teachers on using code.org, Scratch, and maker tools in the classroom.  To the Museum of Aviation, thank you for giving me the opportunity to share this workshop with this passionate and fun community of teachers.

In designing this workshop, I wanted the teachers to have fun and play, learn the basic ideas of puzzle based programming and make connections between common core standards and code.   To help celebrate some of the benefits of making and tinkering in the classroom, I included a few elements of physical computing and digital fabrication.

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Interested in attending this “Coding for Teachers/Parents” workshop?   We’re offering this workshop again!

Topic: Coding for Teachers and Parents
Where: SparkMacon MakerSpace in Macon, GA
When: Feb 20th from 1pm to 5pm
Cost of the class is $25.
Be sure to register today as seats are limited:
http://www.sparkmacon.com/product/coding-for-teachers/

 

During the workshop retrospective, the teachers shared the following positive elements of the workshop.

  • The teachers enjoyed getting to play games and tinker. In the second half of the workshop, we did some detailed tutorials on scratch.mit.edu.   The teachers enjoyed getting to see Scratch basics, how to use loudness as a code trigger, and how to use the web cam to interact with sprites.   Inspired by Sylvia Libow Martinez and Gary Stager from InventToLearn.com, teachers had the opportunity to play with Scratch, Makey Makey, Arduino, Servo’s, Lego Wedo, and Khan Academy.   The workshop turned into a big party once we broke out Scratch and the Makey Makey’s .   We had lots of laughs and silly cat sounds!
  • The teachers appreciated having the space to play with the technology. I tried to design the workshop so that most of the learning occurred through hands on experiences.  Some teachers wished they had more time during their normal teaching week to do this kind of tinkering.
  • To our mentors/coaches for the weekend, please know that you have my thanks! I couldn’t have done it without you!  I just want to give shout outs to my friends Monica Kearse who teaches CS at Veterans High School, Garrett Armstrong from SparkMacon MakerSpace, Joey Allen from Mercer University and Mercer Creative Computer Camps, and my brother Francis.  The teachers appreciated all of your mindfulness and support.
  • I appreciate that Joey Allen shared some games that his students created during the Mercer Creative Camps. I think all of us were impressed by the complexity and fun factor of the games.    Allen also showcased the power of open source software.   We took some time to review the code for one of the games.   He did a great job helping the teachers draw insights from the code the students had created and breaking it down.
  • I found it interesting to hear the connections teachers created from this coding experience to common core standards: problem solving, critical thinking, coordinate systems, motion, cause and effect, simple machines, creative storytelling, and learning how to write to document solutions.   Here’s a related post from Edutopia.

Here’s some of the tools and resource links shared during the workshop.

Tools

Resources

Community and personal learning network opportunities

Georgia Makerspaces

I’m excited to learn how these powerful ideas will inspire and motivate students.  Feel free to share stories below in comments.

Make sure to join us at Make-End, Middle Georgia’s first Maker festival!  In addition to the augmented reality sandbox, we plan to provide opportunities to experience Scratch, Arduino and Makey, Makey at the SparkMacon booth.

If you’re interested in holding a coding for teachers workshop, feel free to drop me a line at Michael@InspiredToEducate.NET .   We would be excited to connect with you and serve your teaching community.

Scratch - Teaching kids to code

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Presenting the AR Sandtable at MakerFaire Atlanta

Published on October 10, 2015 by in technology

Using rice and computing to learn about topography

An augmented reality sandtable is a playful technology for introducing kids to concepts of topo maps and fluid dynamics.  It’s also ridiculously fun!  Thanks to the time and effort of makers from SparkMacon makerspace, our team built our own implementation of the AR sandtable and showcased it at Atlanta Makerfaire 2015.  We had an amazing time building it and sharing it with families across Atlanta.

So… what does it look like?  Here’s a few videos.

The original AR sandbox was created through collaborative research of the following organizations.

  • UC Davis’ W.M. Keck Center for Active Visualization in the Earth Sciences (KeckCAVES)
  • UC Davis Tahoe Environmental Research Center
  • Lawrence Hall of Science
  • ECHO Lake Aquarium and Science Center

In Sept of 2013, my family got to see a similar augmented reality exhibit at the Boston Science Museum.  My kids spent hours at this exhibit and loved the experience.  You can check out our post here about MIT’s Tangible Media lab work.   From a technology perspective, the sandbox is filled with rice or sand enabling the kids to build mountains, lakes, rivers, and castles.   A projector positioned above the sandbox renders a colorized map featuring topo map lines based on the height of the sand.   Next to the projector, a XBox 360 Kinect senses the height and depth of the sand or rice.   It has always been a dream to present at a MakerFaire and build this project.  It was great to see this dream come true with my friends from SparkMacon.  It was a wonderful community building experience for our members too.   

My son’s favorite feature of the sandbox is the water simulation.  By hovering your hand over a spot, the software executes a “rain” feature under your hand.   The simulated water obeys the laws of physics that you would expect as water flows down the side of a mountain.   The total experience feels like a dynamic piece of art.  The experience was well received at MakerFaire.   Our makers were awarded a “Maker of Merit” badge for our exhibit by MakerFaire.   I know that our team enjoyed answering questions on how we built the structure, how it works, playing in the sandbox, and talking about how we might extend the work.    

This experience would not be possible without our family of makers.  

  • Garrett Armstrong – We had a few challenges early in development getting Linux installed on our workstation.  I appreciate the hours of time Garrett spent debugging our hardware setup and getting the NVidia video card working.
  • Robert Betzel – Thank you for being our master carpenter on this build.   His table size enabled a good number of families to enjoy the sandbox at one time.   It was also modular so that it was easy to setup and teardown!  We also want to thank Infinity Network Solutions who funded this build.
  • Stephen Finney, Glen Stone, Robert Reese, Nadia Osman, Brent Lanford  – Thanks for all the support in setting up the software, helping to build the system, and volunteering to present it at Atlanta MakerFaire.
  • I also want to give a special shout out to Garrett Sisk from Marion Systems.  He did a great job telling the story of the impact of 3D printing and the ways it can help people.   We’re thankful for his time and support.   We love his product in our makerspace.  Interested in purchasing a quality 3D printer for your makerspace or educational institution?  Make sure to check out http://www.marionsystems.com/.   

From a software perspective, the AR sandbox is built with a few open source C++ frameworks on a modern Linux platform.

  • Vrui VR Toolkit (GNU license)
  • Kinect 3D video processing framework(GNU license)

UC Davis has posted very complete project instructions, open source tools and background at the following link:  http://idav.ucdavis.edu/~okreylos/ResDev/Vrui/index.html

All in all, we had an amazing time at Atlanta Makerfaire 2015.   I have posted some links, videos, and pictures below.   If you’re interested in seeing the AR sandbox and other amazing maker projects in Macon, GA, make sure to save the date for Make-End!!

Learn more Make-End.com .

 
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