I like Sphero and am impressed by their ability to execute as a company. Their customer service is terrific and their ability to attract the Star Wars license, publicity, and this recent New Yorker profile are unprecedented.
Sphero makes terrific toys. However, companies and reporters would be well-served by speaking with educators who understand learning and have paid some dues before making grand pronouncements about education. Simply comprehending the differences between teaching and learning would be a welcome first step.
 
The article’s ad-hominem attacks on Logo in favor of C for god’s sake shows just how profoundly misguided the “Coding” newbies happen to be. History does not begin with them. Every thought they have, no matter how unimaginative or unoriginal is not automatically superior to the work done by those of us who have taught kids and teachers to program for decades. David Ahl told me that Creative Computing Magazine had 400,000 subscribers in 1984. Thirty years ago, my friend and Constructing Modern Knowledge faculty member, Dr. Dan Watt, sold more than 100,000 books of Learning with Logo. Tens of thousands of educators taught children to program in the 1980s and then again after laptops were introduced in the 1990s. This was not for an hour, but over sufficient time to develop fluency.
 
It takes real balls for every other startup company, politician, and Silicon Valley dilettante to advocate for “coding” with a macho certainty suggesting that learning to program is a novel idea or accomplished in an hour.

Sphero is hardly the first programmable robot. My friend Steve Ocko developed Big Trak for Milton Bradley in the late 1970s. Papert, Resnick, Ocko, Silverman, et al developed LEGO TC Logo, the first programmable LEGO building system in 1987. (Watch Seymour Papert explain the educational benefits in 1987)

Apologies to The New Yorker, but balls don’t teach kids to code. Kids learn to code by teaching balls. Find yourself a copy of Mindstorms, 35 years-old this year, and you’ll understand.
 

Sphero

Sphero is a fun toy that may be programmed IN Logo – the best of both worlds. Tickle for iOS is a version of Scratch (and Scratch is Logo) whose secret sauce is its ability to program lots of toys, several made by Sphero.

 
Logo turns 50 years-old next year. Let’s see what Silicon Valley creates that children learn with for more than 50 days.

Tickle (Scratch/Logo) for iOS and Bluetooth devices

Related articles:

Professional learning opportunities for educators:

Constructing Modern Knowledge offers world-class hands-on workshops across the globe, at schools, conferences, and museums. During these workshops, teachers learn to learn and teach via making, tinkering, and engineering. Computer programming (coding) and learning-by-making with a variety of materials, including Sphero and Tickle. For more information, click here.

I started teaching Logo to kids in 1982 and adults in 1983. I was an editor of ISTE’s Logo Exchange journal and wrote the project books accompanying the MicroWorlds Pro and MicroWorlds EX software environments. I also wrote programming activities for LEGO TC Logo and Control Lab, in addition to long forgotten but wonderful Logo environments, LogoExpress and Logo Ensemble.

Now that I’m working in a school regularly, I have been working to develop greater programming fluency among students and their teachers. We started a Programming with Some BBQ “learning lunch” series and I’ve been leading model lessons in classrooms. While I wish that teachers could/would find the time to develop their own curricular materials for supporting and extending these activities, I’m finding that I may just need to do so despite my contempt for curriculum.

One of the great things about the Logo programming language, upon which Scratch and MicroWorlds are built, is that there are countless entry points. While turtle graphics tends to be the focus of what schools use Logo for, I’m taking a decidedly more text-based approach. Along the way, important computer science concepts are being developed and middle school language arts teachers who have never seen value in (for lack of a better term) S.T.E.M. activities, have become intrigued by using computer science to explore grammar, poetry, and linguistics. The silly activity introduced in the link below is timeless, dating back to the 1960s, and is well documented in E. Paul Goldenberg and Wally Feurzig’s fantastic (out-of-print) book, “Exploring Language with Logo.”

I only take credit for the pedagogical approach and design of this document for teachers. As I create more, I’ll probably share it.

My goal is always to do as little talking or explaining as humanly possible without introducing metaphors or misconceptions that add future confusion or may need to remediated later. Teaching something properly from the start is the best way to go.

Commence the hilarity and let the programming begin! Becoming a programmer requires more than an hour of code.

Introduction to Logo Programming in MicroWorlds EX

Modifications may be made or bugs may fixed in the document linked above replaced as time goes by.

In addition to the popular minds-on/hands-on Invent to Learn workshops already offered by Constructing Modern Knowledge, I’m pleased to announce a brand new set of exciting, informative, and practical workshops for schools, districts, and conferences for 2015. Family workshops are a fantastic way to build support for learning by doing in your school.

For more information, email learning@inventtolearn.com. Please include type (workshop, keynote, consulting, etc.), approximate dates, location, and any additional details. We’ll get back to you ASAP!

New Workshops

PBL with littleBits™ new tiny dingbat

littleBits are incredibly powerful snap-together electronic elements that allow learners of all ages to create a wide array of interactive projects. Arts and crafts meet science and engineering when littleBits are available for pro typing or creating super cool new inventions. In addition to knowledge construction with littleBits, participants will explore the following topics.

  • What makes a good project?
  • Effective prompt setting
  • Project-based learning strategies for exploring powerful ideas
  • Less Us, More Them

Wearable Computing new tiny dingbat

An LED, battery, and conductive thread can bring principles of electronics and engineering to learners of all ages. Interactive jewelry, bookmarks, and stuffed toys become a vehicle for making powerful ideas accessible to a diverse population of learners. More experienced participants may combine computer science with these “soft circuits” or “e-Textiles” to make singing suffer animals, animated t-shirts, jackets with directional signals, or backpacks with burglar alarms with the addition of the Lilypad Arduino or Flora microcontroller. Design, STEM, arts, and crafts come to life in this fun and exciting workshop! 

Reycling and Robotics
new tiny dingbat

This workshop uses the incredible Hummingbird Robotics Kit to show how a powerful and easy-to-use microntroller designed for the classroom, common electronic parts (motors, lights, sensors) may be combined with recycled “found” materials and craft supplies to create unique interactive robots from Kindergarten thru high school.  Scratch and Snap! programming brings these creations to life. No experience is required to become a master robotics engineer! Cross-curricular project ideas will be shared.

Introduction to Microcontroller Projects and Arduino Programming
new tiny dingbat

The Arduino open-source microcontroller is used by kids, hobbyists, and professional alike. Arduino is at the heart of interactive electronics projects and is perfect for classroom settings, but can seem intimidating to the initiated. This workshop introduces the foundational electronics, cybernetics and computer science concepts critical to learning and making with Arduino. The Arduino IDE programming environment will be demystified and other environments better suited for children, including Ardublocks and Scratch, will be explored. Strategies for teaching with Arduino will be shared.



new tiny dingbatMaking and Learning in the Primary Years 

Young children are natural inventors, tinkerers, and makers. This workshop builds upon the natural inclinations of young children by adding new “technological colors” to their crayon box. littleBits, Scratch, Turtle Art, Makedo, Makey Makey, Hummingbird robotics kits, LEGO WeDo, soft circuits and more can all enrich the learning process. Timeless craft traditions and recycled junk combine with emerging technology to create a greater range, breadth, and depth of opportunities for learning by doing. Strategies for effective scaffolding, classroom organization, and the use of exciting new technologies in a developmentally appropriate fashion will be discussed. Participants in this workshop will learn how such modern knowledge construction projects are wholly consistent with the best early childhood traditions and support current standards. Dr. Stager is a certified preschool thru eighth grade teacher and an expert in the Reggio Emilia approach.

new tiny dingbatBuild and Program a Truly Personal Computer with the Raspberry Pi

The Raspberry Pi is a ultra low-cost Linux-based computer the size of a deck of playing cards that costs less than $40. It is capable of running open-source productivity software, like Open Office and Google Docs, plus programmed via Scratch, Turtle Art, or Python. You can even run Arduino microcontrollers, power a home-entertainment center, or run your own Minecraft server! Old USB keyboards. mice, TVs or monitors are recycled and repurposed to assemble your complete personal computer. Each participant in this workshop will setup, use, and program their Raspberry Pi in addition to discussing how it might be used across the curriculum. (materials fee applies)

“Young people have a remarkable capacity for intensity….”

Those words, uttered by one of America’s leading public intellectuals, Dr. Leon Botstein, President of Bard College, has driven my work for the past six or seven years. It is incumbent on every educator, parent, and citizen to build upon each kid’s capacity for intensity otherwise it manifests itself as boredom, misbehavior, ennui, or perhaps worst of all, wasted potential.

Schools need to raise the intensity level of their classrooms!

However, intensity is NOT the same as chaos. Schools don’t need any help with chaos. That they’ve cornered the market on.

capacity500
Anyone who has seen me speak is familiar with this photograph (above). It was taken around 1992 or 1993 at Glamorgan (now Toorak) the primary school campus of Geolong Grammar school in Melbourne, Australia. The kids were using their laptops to program in LogoWriter, a predecessor to MicroWorlds or Scratch.

I love this photo because in the time that elapsed between hitting the space bar and awaiting the result to appear on the screen, every ounce of the kid’s being was mobilized in anticipation of the result. He was literally shaking,

Moments after that image was captured, something occurred that has been repeated innumerable times ever since. Almost without exception, when a kid I’m teaching demonstrates a magnificent fireball of intensity, a teacher takes me aside to whisper some variation of, “that kid isn’t really good at school.”

No kidding? Could that possibly be due to an intensity mismatch between the eager clever child and her classroom?

I enjoy the great privilege of working in classrooms PK-12 all over the world on a regular basis. This allows me observe patterns, identify trends, and form hypotheses like the one about a mismatch in intensity. The purpose of my work in classrooms is to model for teachers what’s possible. When they see through the eyes, hands, and sometimes screens of their students, they may gain fresh perspectives on how things need not be as they seem.

Over four days last month, I taught more than 500 kids I never met before to program in Turtle Art and MicroWorlds EX. I enter each classroom conveying a message of, “I’m Gary. We’ve got stuff to do.” I greet each kid with an open heart and belief in their competence, unencumbered by their cumulative file, IEP, social status, or popularity. In every single instance, kids became lost in their work often for several times longer than a standard class period, without direct instruction, or a single  disciplinary incident. No shushing, yelling, time-outs, threats, rewards, or other behavioral management are needed. I have long maintained that classroom management techniques are only necessary if you feel compelled to manage a classroom.

In nearly every class I work with – anywhere, teachers take me aside to remark about how at least one kid shone brilliantly despite being a difficult or at-risk student. This no longer surprises me.

In one particular class, a kid quickly caught my eye due to his enthusiasm for programming. The kid took my two minute introduction to the programming language and set himself a challenge instantly. I then suggested a more complex variation. He followed with another idea before commandeering the computer on the teacher’s desk and connected to the projector in order to give an impromptu tutorial for classmates struggling with an elusive concept he observed while working on his own project. He was a fine teacher.

Then the fifth grader sat back down at his desk to continue his work. A colleague suggested that he write a program to draw concentric circles. A nifty bit of geometric and algebraic thinking followed. When I kicked things up a notch by writing my own even more complex program on the projected computer and named it, “Gary Defeats Derrick.” The kid laughed and read my program in an attempt to understand my use of global variables, conditionals, and iteration. Later in the day, the same kid chased me down the hall to tell me about what he had discovered since I left his classroom that morning.

Oh yeah, I later learned that the very same terrific kid is being drummed out of school  for not being their type of student.

I learned long ago. If a school does not have bad children, it will make them.

 

An old friend of mine, Dr. Barry Newell, is an astrophysicist who was was the Administrator (in the NASA sense) of Mount Stromlo and Siding Spring Observatories of the Australian National University. He now works on the dynamics of social-ecological systems. In his spare time (back in 1988), he wrote two classic books on Logo programming and mathematics, Turtle Confusion and the accompanying book for educators, Turtles Speak Mathematics. Turtle Confusion features 40 challenging turtle geometry puzzles in a mystery format and Turtles Speak Mathematics helps educators understand the mathematics their students are learning.


I was reminded of the books when Sugar Labs, the folks behind the operating system for the One Laptop Per Child XO laptop, featured the challenges as an activity to accompany TurtleArt software on the XO.

Screenshot of the XO Turtle Confusion Activity

The books’ author, Dr. Barry Newell, gave me permission to share digital copies of the book for personal, educational and non-commercial use. Click here to go to the download page.

These books are best used with versions of Logo such as MicroWorlds EX or Berkeley Logo. Some of the puzzles are very difficult or impossible to solve in Scratch, but it’s worth trying if that is all you have. SNAP! is another potential option. TurtleArt is another possibility. Although, mathematical programming is often easiest and best achieved through the use of textual language (IMHO). A bit of dialect translation might be necessary. For example, CS is often CG (in MicroWorlds EX).

These video tutorials should help you get started learning with MicroWorlds EX or MicroWorlds EX Robotics! You may download them and watch them as often as you wish.

These screencasts (video clips) were created to walk you through basic techniques you will need to create an original “Snac Man Jr.” game (it’s like Pac Man without lawyers).

The MicroWorlds EX Project book has a tutorial in creating a similar game, but I find that it is unnecessarily complex, despite having written it myself.

I can now teach beginners to design their very own video game with very little instruction.

Continue practicing using the MicroWorlds EX tools and turtle animation techniques before moving on to the main event.

Snac Man Jr!

Now you will learn how to begin designing your very own Snac Man Jr. video game!

Stop the video as necessary and try to imitate the actions described.

The learning adventure continues…

Extension activities

What would you like to add to your game? How might you improve it?

Here are some suggestions:

  • Different prizes
  • Predators
  • Power pellets
  • Additional levels
  • Acceleration
  • Temporary invisibility (makes it hard for ghosts to eat you)
  • Better graphics
  • More sound effects

Additional Resources

As you are probably aware, I have been working in schools with a laptop per child since I led professional development at the world’s first laptop schools back in 1990. Recently, I helped an international school launch 1:1 computing from first through eighth grade.

I believe that less is more, but since software was purchased at once, I recommended the following assortment of constructive creative software for student use across the curriculum.

mwex

MicroWorlds EX Robotics

Curriculum areas: Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics (S.T.E.M.), Language Arts, Social Studies, Computer Science, Art

MicroWorlds EX is a multimedia version of the Logo programming language. It is designed to have “no threshold and no ceiling” and to be used to create personally meaningful projects and solve problems. MicroWorlds may be used across the curriculum to bring stories to life through art, text, sound and animation; concretize formal mathematical thinking; and creative interactive programs, including video games. MicroWorlds does not publish as nicely on the Web as Scratch, but it holds much more power and functionality as a programming language.

MicroWorlds is a general purpose programming environment that grows with the learner and offers a level of challenge regardless of expertise. Computational thinking and problem solving skills are developed while expressing even artistic ideas with mathematical language.

MicroWorlds EX is based on the work of Seymour Papert, the “father of educational computing,” and colleague of Jean Piaget. In the mid-1960s, Papert began writing about every child having a personal computer. MicroWorlds EX is a software embodiment of his theory of “constructionism.”

MicroWorlds EX contains built-in Help, Vocabulary Reference, Tutorials, Annotated Samples & Techniques.

Recommended Reading

pixie

Pixie

Curriculum areas: Language Arts, Social Studies, Art

Pixie is a graphics and image manipulation program designed for young children. It contains lots of templates and tools to inspire storytelling and visual creativity. Photos and other graphic files may be imported into Pixie for all sorts of manipulation.

The products of Pixie may be exported in a variety of formats for insertion into other programs, including MicroWorlds, ImageBlender, Animation-ish, Pages, Keynote and Comic Life. It is also integrated with the safe and free image library by and for children, Pics4Learning. Pixie is intended for K-2 students at the school.

imageblender icon

ImageBlender

Curriculum areas: Language Arts, Social Studies, Art

ImageBlender is a more grown-up graphics and image manipulation program than Pixie, but carefully designed for children (and their teachers). You might think of it as PhotoShop for kids. ImageBlender contains lots of templates and tools to inspire storytelling and visual creativity. Photos and other graphic files may be imported into ImageBlender for all sorts of manipulation.

The products of ImageBlender may be exported in a variety of formats for insertion into other programs, including MicroWorlds, ImageBlender, Animation-ish, Pages, Keynote and Comic Life. It is also integrated with the safe and free image library by and for children, Pics4Learning. Pixie should be used by students from grades 3 and up.

ImageBlender 3 Users Guide

Tech4Learning’s Online Teacher Community – Connect (You should join!)

The Creative Educator Magazine (free)

Pics4Learning free photo library for education

atomiclearning

imaginationish

Animation-ish

Curriculum areas: Language Arts, Social Studies, Art, Mathematics, Science

Animation-ish is a three-level tutorial based animation program that is deceptively easy to use and incredibly powerful. It was created by best-selling children’s author and illustrator, Peter Reynolds (The Dot, Ish, The North Star, Judy Moody, Stink…).

Be sure to take advantage of the online tutorials and built-in video inspiration!

Complex ideas from across the curriculum and engaging stories may be created with a remarkbale clarity and level of sophistication. Animation-ish, like Pixie and ImageBlender work great with the Wacom drawing tablets.

Animation-ish exports its animations in Flash, QuickTime and other formats that may be published on the web or imported into most of the authoring programs being used by teachers and students.

comic life icon

Comic Life

Curriculum areas: Language Arts & Social Studies

Comic Life allows you to design and print stories and newsletters in the form of comic books or graphic novels. Photos and other static graphics may be imported. This is a great vehicle for supporting the writing process.

atomiclearning

inspiredata

InspireData

Curriculum areas: Social Studies, Mathematics

InspireData is a tool for visualizing data. It’s a hybrid spreadsheet, database and survey tool that allows learners to interrogate data and test hypotheses. It may be used to conduct surveys on one computer or online. Students can then download that data or any tab/comma-delimited file found on the Web for use within InspireData.

InspireData allows for multiple visual representations of data – Venn diagrams, histograms, pie charts, scatter plots and more. Most importantly, its flexibility and ease-of-use allows students to make sense of when one representation would be more suitable than another. InspireData contains mathematical tools for performing calculations and the ability to assemble views of the data for a visual presentation.

The program comes with a large collection of interdisciplinary activities which may stand alone or inspire other inquiry.

  • InspireData Teacher’s Guide, lesson plans & sample databases
  • InspireData web site

atomiclearning

picocrickets

PicoBlocks

Curriculum areas: S.T.E.M.

PicoBlocks is a visual form of the Logo programming language, created by the same person responsible for MicroWorlds EX Robotics, but limited to the control of the Pico Cricket robotics system. The block programming screen metaphor is similar to the way in which LEGO and the Cricket elements are assembled. This is intended for grades 3 and up at the school and may be used to bring a variety of curricular topics to life.

Further Reading

PicoCrickets are based on research from the Lifelong Kindergarten group at the MIT Media Lab. Here are some resources for learning more about the ideas underlying PicoCrickets.

  1. New Pathways into Robotics discusses strategies for educators to broaden participation in robotics activities.
  2. Computer as Paintbrush discusses how new technologies, such as PicoCrickets, can support the development of creative thinking.
microworlds jr. icon

MicroWorlds Jr.

Curriculum areas: Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics (S.T.E.M.), Language Arts, Social Studies, Computer Science, Art

MicroWorlds Jr. is a version of MicroWorlds EX, with fully-compatible syntax, but designed for younger children with lower literacy levels than required by MicroWorlds EX.

The reading skills of this school’s students makes this less of an issue, but children without the the problem-solving abilities of their more advanced classmates might do well to have the option of working in MicroWorlds Jr. At younger ages the same projects may be adjusted for use of either environment.

  • MicroWorlds web site
  • MicroWorlds Jr. Teacher’s Guide (PDF)
  • See other MicroWorlds resources above
scratch icon

Scratch

Curriculum areas: Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics (S.T.E.M.), Language Arts, Social Studies, Computer Science, Art

Designed at the MIT Media Lab, Scratch is literally a cousin of MicroWorlds designed by many of the same people. It’s a graphical version of Logo intended for storytelling and video games developed for publication on the World Wide Web. The software is free and does several things brilliantly. However, it lacks the range of possibilities and power afforded by MicroWorlds EX.

The Scratch web site is a rich place for children to share their projects and collaborate with others. Scratch programs may be created in countless languages, yet worked on locally due to ingenius translation abilities within the software.

Scratch is used to program and control the WeDo robotics materials at the lower primary levels. When the WeDo interface is plugged into the laptop, extra programming blocks appear within Scratch.

  • Scratch web site for users – publish, learn and collaborate
  • ScratchED, the online community of Scratch-using educators – ideas, help, collaboration.
  • Add higher-level computer science funcionality to Scratch with Build Your Own Blocks extensions (free).atomiclearning
pages

Pages

Curriculum areas: All

Pages is Apple’s very fine word processing and desktop publishing program that should be the basis for all written work at the school. It can also export its files in Microsoft Word and PDF formats.

The best thing about Pages are the built-in templates that turn anyone into a polished graphic designer. The Web is full of free and low-cost additional templates if you wish to expand your output options.

keynote icon

Keynote

Curriculum areas: All

Keynote is Apple’s visual presentation program filled with more powerful features and simpler functionality than PowerPoint. Keynote includes presenter notes, the ability to record narrration timed to slides, animation, powerful graphic tools and the ability to export in PowerPoint, QuickTime and PDF formats for use in other programs.

You may search the Web for other Keynote templates – free and low-cost.

imovie icon

iMovie

Curriculum areas: All

Make and edit video for interdisciplinary projects and for sharing information in specific subjects. Exports for publsihing on the Web, CD, DVD and YouTube.

My (admittedly old) collection of podcasting or iMovie/multimedia resources are a place to start for technical and pedagogical information. Of course, you may also use “The Google.”

garageband

GarageBand

Curriculum areas: Language Arts, Music

GarageBand is an incredibly powerful tool for recording audio, dubbing audio tracks on movies and loop-based music composition. It may be used anytime audio helps tell a story or set the mood.

My (admittedly old) collection of podcasting or iMovie/multimedia resources are a place to start for technical and pedagogical information. Of course, you may also use “The Google.”

iphoto icon

iPhoto

Curriculum areas: All

iPhoto is the personal image library built into the Mac. It’s where teachers and students should store and touch-up their photographs. However, you’re not just limited to digital photographs. Any image file may be imported or dragged and dropped into iMovie for later retrieval. Garageband, iMovie, Keynote and Pages use this image library for dragging and dropping your images into other multimedia uathoring programs.

iPhoto may also be used to create photo books, picture books, calendars, greeting cards or order professional-quality prints.

For more than basic photo touch-ups, ImageBlender should be used.

numbers icon

Numbers

Curriculum areas: Mathematics, Social Studies

Numbers is Apple’s spreadsheet for performing calculations and making mathematical forecasts. Spreadsheets are an incredibly powerful tool across the curriculum.

Search the Web for classroom spreadsheet projects or activities. Anything written for Excel or Numbers will work fine. Excel is MicroSoft’s spreadsheet. Numbers exports in Excel format and opens Excel files with ease.

Additional Resources

Constructing Modern Knowledge 2011 (July 11-14, 2011) guest speaker and MIT Media Lab reception host, Dr. Mitchel Resnick, was recently interviewed for the Google Science Fair.

Watch the video below
Register today for the professional learning event of the year!