Sunday, April 30, 2006

Robo-Expo 2006

This weekend I took my afterschool robotics class to Robo-Expo 2006, at Nightingale-Bamford School. It was the first time my school has had a team participating in any robotics event, and we had a great time. While I did learn some lessons about putting a team together to create more cohesiveness among the members (make T-shirts!) we did get a good response from Robo Fido (pictured above), which uses reflecting sensors to sense when it is at the edge of the table so it can back up, wag its tail, and go another direction. And our line following robot (pictured below) managed to successfully navigate two of the three line following courses. All in all it was a great first robotics event experience.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

The Right Balance

Yesterday's 7th grade robotics lesson was one of the best I've had. The key was finding a balance between showing them how to do things and giving them choices. I've been frustrated in the past with my short class time (43 min.) and have felt forced into feeding them all the code they need and pre-building robots becasue it seems that they have just enough time to take that and make it work.

What was different yesterday was giving them the pieces they needed with photographs of a simple hoisting mechanism (a switch to press, motor to turn a spool with a string attached to a hook) and the most exciting part, three possible ways to use "waituntil" or "if" or "ifelse" to direct the switch to activate the hoist. While they all used the first option and didn't explore the differences in the commands, what worked really well was that every group came up with a different way to do it, some using two switches, one for up, one for down, and some wrote a procedure to make it go up, then downloaded another procedure to make it go back down. The latter is obviously less effective, but for a unique, student-created solution, it was very exciting to see.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Project-Based PD for New York Teachers

I just went to the Fordham University Regional Educational Technology Center (RETC)'s free conference for teachers, Tech to Go V. It offers short workshops on a variety of tech integration ideas that are meant to be low-cost and easy for teachers to implement. While I was familiar with everything I saw in the four workshops I attended, I was happy to pick up a few tips here and there (video making without a camera! just still images and narration, just never occurred to me) it was great to see that the focus of the conference is on project-based learning. They seem to have a fairly wide reach among New York public school teachers and the conference was well-attended (~500?) so it was good to see teachers being exposed to great software like Audacity. At the end of the keynote I took the mic (it was offered) and volunteered the resource Odeo, which people seemed very interested in.

Just one downside: one workshop presenter started his workshop with an idea lifted straight out of Tufte's “The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint: Pitching Out Corrupts Within” without giving Tufte credit. I share the same enthusiasm for this book as the presenter and think the example of converting President Lincoln's Gettysburg Address to a slide show is very funny and makes a good point, but it's just so basic to cite your sources, whether you're publishing or presenting. This is just bad modeling for his students, two of which were assisting him by showing their own tech integration projects, as well as for us workshop attendees.