Middle Schoolers Review Oregon Trail…And…It…Is…Awesome!

Here is a great game review of the original Oregon Trail that many of us Gen-Xers played on the Apple II. It comes from a pair of students in the game design program at William Annin Middle School in Basking Ridge, NJ.

The reviewers take viewers through the interface, game controllers, and game play. For being just in middle school, credit goes to the reviewers for not spending any time on just ripping the game to shreds. In fact these guys are actually pretty complimentary.

“A big part of the game is that it is really realistic,” one of them states in the opening overview. “Everyone in your party could actually die.”

One great part comes when playing the game, the students are notified of a family member dying of typhoid. “We’ll just continue like we know what that is,” one remarks.

The part that does my heart the best though is the reviewers enthusiastically showing the audience how to hunt for food. It’s great to see that 35 years  and generations of players later, it’s still a favorite part of the game.

Great work guys! I really enjoyed it.

Connect Agriculture and STEM Through Coding

In our third grade STEM classes at Hamilton Community Schools we spend a lot of time investigating the science and technology of farming. Hamilton straddles Allegan and Ottawa Counties in Michigan, the two top ag producing counties in the state. All of our students are either involved in farming or know other families who are. In STEM we show them how being successful as farmers takes high levels of scientific knowledge, technical skills, and an increasing level of innovation. Even though we live right in the middle of the “farm belt”, every kid across America needs an understanding of how and where our food is produced. Whether you’re in Hamilton, Michigan or Brooklyn this unit can deepen understanding and open minds to all that is involved with feeding a nation.

Here is a progression of activities I do to build these skills with a heavy focus on engineering and computer science.

Open Their Eyes: Most of our kids have seen the big pieces of machinery out in the fields plowing and harvesting but only a few have actually had the chance to get up close. YouTube provides a bunch of great videos that take kids inside the machinery and highlight technical advances.

Farmers Reap the Benefit of Driverless Tractor Tech – CBS This Morning
John Deere: Improving Farm Efficiency with Technology
2016 John Deere Combine Features Video

These videos are great for showing kids what is already in use and can spark the innovative imagination as we move forward by asking them to design the farm equipment of the future.

For an overall look into the real lives of a variety of different types of farmers, nothing beats DiscoveringFarmland.com from the US Farmers and Ranchers Alliance. Lesson plans, digital interactive games, and clips from the documentary Farmland highlight what is available.

Practice: The American Farm Bureau offers a great set of farming-based games and their Equipment Engineer game fits perfectly into this unit. Learners travel around the world and are given agricultural scenarios where they pick the best equipment for the job. Through the game, they are gaining knowledge of the way different pieces can be used as well as how farm equipment solves a wide range of challenges.

Get Designing: This is also a great spot to introduce the Design Process and for kids the PBS series “Design Squad” provides lots of resources like cool graphics and the “Kid Engineer” videos are super helpful, especially the Bike Trailer one.  

For creating designs we use Apple’s Keynote on our iPads. There is a lot that can be done with the app besides making slideshows. Kids use their imagination to start designing what could be possible in futuristic farm equipment. This is a great activity for detailing designs and the really great Keynote users even are able to animate their designs. Video of our students designing.

Students use Keynote on the iPad to design farm equipment.

Building for Function: It is one thing to dream up the future but it is a big task to actually build something functional, even if it is a model made of Legos. This can be a difficult hurdle for kids to clear because for most of them all of their use of Legos has been  purely imaginary. We spend time building vehicles with Legos that must be powered by a robotic Sphero. Here is where young engineers get really good at analyzing flaws and making tweaks as part of the design process. We start off building vehicles that can move straight ahead as just accomplishing that can be a task. Eventually students get to where the vehicles can actually maneuver around the playground.

Students engineer a Lego vehicle powered by a Sphero.

Bring in the Computational Thinking:  The great thing about Spheros is that their movement can be controlled down to a fraction of a second by the Tickle app. By using a block programming, kids sort and build out a list of commands for the Sphero to perform. When we first start with the Lego vehicles, we simply tell the device to go as fast as it can in one direction. We ramp the coding up greatly when we start to simulate jobs machinery would perform on the farm.

Students are given a small plot of ground on the playground (or in the gym depending on weather) and have to program the Sphero to “plow” or “harvest” the field. Below is some sample starter code that students might assemble for their Sphero.

Block coding in the Tickle app used to control robotic Spheros

Not only are there tremendous calculations our third graders are making like angles, velocity, and time, but there is a deeper benefit in the way they must think logically to make something real actually happen. They create loops of commands and must algebraically figure a number of variables.

Last year was my first year as a STEM teacher after having taught 16 years in a technology-only classroom. By far the greatest reward was seeing students grab a sense of power over their world when they were able to program an app to make something real happen. It is one thing to program something on a screen, but when they can send a robotic sphere all of the way to the office from their classroom, they become real “do-ers” full of confidence to tackle real tasks.

Putting it All Together: This unit starts with gaining understanding and then progresses to imagining and eventually building and controlling. It takes time and patience and not all kids will progress at the same rate and some may not even finish it…and that is okay. Those who progress really quickly can be given extra challenges. I am planning on giving my “high flyers” a kite, a 3D printing pen and a GoPro and ask them to create a tool a farmer could use to survey crops. We will spend six weeks (meeting once a week for an hour) on this project this year but no matter where individuals are on our last session, we will dedicate a major chunk of time to discussing how the innovation we simulated helps preserve resources and promotes sustainability.

Evaluations and Reflections: Our STEM classes focus heavily on the Next Gen Science Engineering Standards. We are constantly monitoring how individuals are progressing through:

Define a simple design problem reflecting a need or a want that includes specified criteria for success and constraints on materials, time, or cost.

Generate and compare multiple possible solutions to a problem based on how well each is likely to meet the criteria and constraints of the problem.

Plan and carry out fair tests in which variables are controlled and failure points are considered to identify aspects of a model or prototype that can be improved.

We also write, sketch, and reflect daily in STEM journals that students use from kindergarten through fourth grade. We talk about how STEM time is different than any other time at school. We are not just doing school, we are together designers, engineers, and scientists and journals and sketchbooks are tools these people use to do their jobs.

As we continue to develop our STEM classes we are discovering the power in tying STEM concepts like design and coding with real-life challenges rooted in our community. Someday we hope that our current students will not only graduate and do great things…but will do those great things right here in Hamilton.

Follow our Hamilton STEM adventures at TinyUrl.com/HawkSTEM
Catch us on Twitter and Instagram as @htownstem

#AppleTeacher iBooks Collection – Teaching with Mac OS Sierra

Whether you’ve set it as a professional goal to earn Apple Teacher certification or just want to sharpen your abilities to teach with a Mac, this iBooks collection from Apple Education has everything you need to up your
game. All books are free and feature realistic teaching scenarios. The Teaching with iPad collection is also available in iTunesU and the iBooks store.

Mac OS Starter Guide iBook
Enhancing Productivity with Mac iBook
Fostering Creativity with Mac iBook
Pages for Mac iBook
Keynote for Mac iBook
Numbers for Mac iBook
iMovie for Mac iBook
GarageBand for Mac iBook

Learning with Mr. Losik: Student Friendly Research Links

At my classrom site MrLosik.blogspot.com I just added a list of updated elementary level links for research. After doing some routine maintenance on the site, I discovered that many of my go-to links for years had bitten the cyber-dust or have been essentially left for dead. Here is a link to the updated list.

Check out: Learning with Mr. Losik: Student Friendly Research Links

Take a Virtual Field Trip to 3M with Discovery Education

Image result for 3m young scientist labDiscovery Education has done some great virtual field trips from all over the world but their most recent from 3M’s innovation labs might be one of their best ever. With one exciting revelation after another, classes can explore the science behind some of the things we use constantly like the screens on our smart phones and tablets. The video is available on demand and hosted by one of the hosts of Science Channel’s relaunch of Mythbusters.

Check out www.youngscientistlab.com/vft to watch now.

“Wide-Open Spaces” Want creative thinkers? Help kids create, says Mitch Resnick – MIT Spectrum

THE LIFELONG KINDERGARTEN GROUP AT THE MIT MEDIA LAB, led by Mitchel Resnick SM ’88, PhD ’92, is known for its educational innovations: the Computer Clubhouse Network, an after-school environment where kids from underserved communities learn to express themselves creatively with new technologies; a 30-year collaboration with the LEGO company begun by Resnick’s mentor, the late MIT professor Seymour Papert, which yielded the robotics kits branded as LEGO Mindstorms; and Scratch, a visual programming language

Read an Interview with Mitchel Resnick on the idea of letting kids create: Wide-Open Spaces – MIT Spectrum

Opportunities Abound in Relationships with Educational Vendors | MACUL Community

One late summer evening I was enjoying the company of several other educators who were all presenters at the next day’s large edtech conference. Somehow a little friendly razzing found its way in my direction. The other teachers in the group were giving me a hard time about all of the “corporate” ties I have.

Check out the whole article at the new MACUL Community: Opportunities Abound in Relationships with Educational Vendors | MACUL Community

Embrace The Learning Curve This Christmas Morning

The more I talk to kids about what they are dreaming about showing up under the Christmas tree, the more I hear about really cool, high tech gadgets like virtual reality headsets, 3D printers, robots like Spheros or Ozobots, and drones.

Here is a newsflash. All of those items are amazing and all of those items can be really hard to use at the start. I am not trying to play The Grinch here; I am telling you now so you can be ready for the learning curve.

When kids dream of drones, they don’t dream of a parent muttering words that could get them on the naughty list while trying to assemble it. They don’t dream of an endless series of 3 second flights either. They dream of that thing lifting off in the living room and capturing with its camera the majesty of a Christmas morning. Reality is that these toys can make many dreams come true but it will take time. Here are some tips.

1. Prepare yourself. Whether you receive the gift or give the gift, understand that the cool stuff you saw happening in the YouTube promotional video probably was highly edited and performed by the inventors of the device. Make that kind of high level use your goal….someday, not right out of the box.

2. Seek out help. Speaking of YouTube, most companies now post many product support videos online. When I bought my XYZ Mini Maker 3D printer I found their online support videos to be far more detailed and helpful than the printed instructions. You can also often find videos created by other users of the product that share their own tweaks and helpful hints. Use all of the knowledge that exists and that people are willing to share. It can make a big difference.

3. Make it about the journey. Instead of pouting that your first 3D printed phone case turned out more like something stuck to the pan at the bottom of great grandma’s egg casserole, have a laugh and know your skills will greatly improve. Try and figure out what went wrong so you can improve upon future designs. Keep that lumpy pile of goo so that when you are cranking out really cool stuff you can look back and see how far you have come. It has taken me months to produce anything really useful with my printer.

4. Remember 1 thing. Everything is awesome! We are so lucky to be living in the day and age we do….especially over the holidays. If you need a reminder, just listen to the old Christmas carol “Up on the Housetop.” Here is what those kids got from Dear Old Saint Nick:

“Next comes the stocking of little Will
Oh, just see what a glorious fill
Here is a hammer and lots of tacks
Also a ball and a whip that cracks”

No VR headset for little Will? Bummer. Poor Will probably had to go fix the roof and then drive the oxen to town that day once all of the wrapping paper was cleaned up. The point is…..if you get something amazing, be grateful, and when (not if) it doesn’t work perfectly right at the start, be happy about that. Don’t get mad. Getter better at it.