RobotsLAB Blog


State by state look EdTech planning

Posted by Mike Nardine

Oct 21, 2014 4:14:00 PM

 In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable. 

Dwight D. Eisenhower

Chelsea Wilhelm,  a Leadership for Educational Equity (LEE) Fellow with the Education Policy Program at the New America Foundation, an American non-profit, nonpartisan public policy think tank located in Washington D.C., recently  took a close look at individual state planning programs--or the lack thereof--for education technology.  

Using an Education Week report from 1989 that stated that “technology planning is clearly a weak area of endeavor” as a baseline, she analyzed state plans for what she considered likely key components in any edtech development plan, student learning objectives, professional development goals for teachers and adequacy of staff support. What she discovered must give us pause: As I have found, that lack of thoughtful planning in the 1980s still exists in the present day. While the problems schools and educators face have evolved, the planning done by each state has not.

Ms. Wilhem’s report comes with a map of these United States that shows that a clear majority of states have no updated plans currently available. Check out the color scheme on the map below! In fact only 19 states have plans that extend beyond 2012. That’s two years ago, folks! Some states like Virginia, Ohio and Maryland come in for praise. Others, including Iowa, Montana and Missouri admit they have no intention to plan past 2012.

 

Screen Shot 2014 10 15 at 11.08.54 AM 871x609 1980’s Planning in 2014: A State by State Look at Ed Tech Planning

 Why is this happening?   Ms. Wilhem gives us two reasons she thinks most states seem uninterested in planning ahead. Reason number one is the decision in 2011 by the US Department of Education to eliminate the Enhancing Education through Technology (EETT) program, the largest federal incentive for state-level planning. Reason number two is pretty much the same as reason number one, except the funding authority is the Federal Communications Commission. The FCC is still funding with its E-Rate program, but not requiring proof of planning.

Keep in mind this doesn’t mean these laggard states are necessarily forgetting about funding for educational technology while they ignore planning for it. I believe it would be safe to say that all of them intend to keep their schools competitive in the new edtech paradigm.  What is does mean, however, is that they are no longer approaching financing edtech in a systematic way. I mean, it’s hard to imagine that the entire West Coast, awash as it is in technology firms, won’t continue to update their classrooms.  What will probably happen, however, sans prior planning, is a lot of wasted money on poorly thought-out programs.  

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3d printing in K-12 grows average contract $39,000

Posted by Mike Nardine

Oct 20, 2014 1:57:00 PM

 

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3D printing is on a roll. Big businesses have had the technology available to them for the last twenty years or more. Recently however, 3D printing became available for the rest of us: for example, UPS opened 3D printing services in 100 stores nationwide last September. The monster transporter claims thatSmall business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs will have the opportunity to print prototypes as part of the new product development process…. The UPS Store locations will be equipped to produce items like engineering parts, functional prototypes, acting props, architectural models, fixtures for cameras, lights and cables.” And that’s just the latest word from the private sector.

ONVIA dot Com, a website that describes itself as intelligence for winning more government business says the public sector is booming also. Take for instance these three exciting developments at the federal level. First of all, the army is working on developing guns using 3D technology. This particular example of a technology going to the dark side might not thrill some of us, but Pandora’s box is open. Private individuals have already uploaded files capable of printing a working--if rudimentary--gun on 3D printers found in many homes.

Another example of an important federal use of 3D technology that many will consider more positive than the first is NASA’s testing of a 3D printer in zero gravity. The hope is to bring the costs of spaceflight down by manufacturing tools and replacement parts in orbit rather than blasting them up there at $2000 or $3000 per lb (the Space Shuttle once ferried a pound into orbit for about $10,000; the lower figure is an estimate by Elon Musk of what he thinks his Space X can do). The third exciting development at the federal level is the National Institute of Health’s (NIH) launching of its NIH 3D Print Exchange. This website is all about downloading and editing 3D files related to health and science. No doubt we soon can print off a perfect replica of an Ebola virus….

While the federal government spends big bucks on developing 3D printers for spaceflight and guns, state and local governments have increased spending for 3D technology in schools. Oniva says the average 3D printing contract value for K-12 was $38,981. Again according to Oniva, contracts awarded for 3D printing in schools (K-12 and above) grew from 18 in 2012 to 27 in 2013. The figures for 2014 look to double as 24 awards were issued in the first six months of the year.

All of this is good news for the progress of additive manufacturing in this country. Many people, including President Obama, consider this new form as the next industrial revolution. It is great to see that the schools are getting involved, as that is where the future creators of the new technology and its future workers are now found. In partnership with Makerbot, developer of the under-$2000 3D printer for the masses, RobotsLAB has created lesson plans to help make a teacher’s job easier when it comes to teaching about  this new manufacturing process.

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Why Do Americans Stink at Math?

Posted by Mike Nardine

Oct 17, 2014 1:09:00 PM

American_Stink_at_Math

A 2012 study of adults in 20 countries found that Americans ranked near the bottom in numeracy. Numeracy being defined simply as the ability to work with and understand numbers. What’s worse is that other studies showed that even the most educated among us displayed a deplorable inability to work with numbers: almost twenty percent of medical prescription  showed math mistakes on the part of doctors and pharmacists. How can this be?

Why Do Americans Stink At Math is the title of an article written by Elizabeth Green for the New York Times Magazine on Sunday, July 23, 2014. The thesis is that the deplorable state of math education in the USA is the result of poor carry through on the part of our most highly placed educators.  In spite of attempts to change the teaching of math by engaging students in actually studying math rather than memorizing it, the change is not happening. As evidence of this failure Ms Green relates the story of a Japanese educator who used math-teaching theory and methods developed in the USA to improve Japanese schools by engaging students but found these same theories and methods either ignored or misunderstood and misused in American schools. That Japanese educator  thinks “Americans might have invented the world’s best methods for teaching math to children, but it was difficult to find anyone actually using them.”  Again, why?

According to the article, American educators in the most important and influential teaching colleges don’t actually spend a whole lot of time teaching; they are into research and publishing. The result is great theory but poorly communicated methodology with the teachers actually teaching students. Common Core Standards provide us with a recent example of this disconnect.

Explains Ms Green, “With the Common Core, teachers are once more being asked to unlearn an old approach and learn an entirely new one, essentially on their own. Training is still weak and infrequent, and principals — who are no more skilled at math than their teachers — remain unprepared to offer support.  Magdalene Lampert, a professor of education at the University of Michigan notes “In the hands of unprepared teachers, alternative algorithms are worse than just teaching them standard algorithms.”  What results, of course, is confusion leaping from teacher to student to parent. A sequence Ms Green illustrated with this amusing anecdote:  The comedian Louis C.K. parodied his daughters’ homework in an appearance on “The Late Show With David Letterman”: “It’s like, Bill has three goldfish. He buys two more. How many dogs live in London?”

Textbooks haven’t really made the jump to Common Core either. They have  “have received only surface adjustments, despite the shiny Common Core labels that decorate their covers.”  On the textbook issue, no less a personage than Phil Daro, a senior member of America’s Choice and one of three principal writers of the math Common Core Standards agrees, “To have a vendor say their product is Common Core is close to meaningless…”


It is not necessary to agree with every point made in this article to agree with the overall conclusion so succinctly implied by the title, that Americans do indeed stink at math.  And there is no doubt that teaching methodology must be greatly improved if we in this country are to retain our technological superiority. Engagement, not rote learning must be encouraged.  Our goal here at RobotsLAB is to provide teachers with technological aids, our robots and included curricula, that will engage and encourage students to study rather than memorize.

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Topics: Math

Engaging students a creative teacher project

Posted by Mike Nardine

Oct 16, 2014 2:39:34 PM

Creatove_classrom_Robot

Teachers, need some new lesson plan ideas to meet the requirements of the new Common Core Standards? Well, BetterLesson.Com and your own Union, the National Education Association's Master Teacher Project heard your cry for the help that you weren't getting from your administrators and came up with a plan of their own: they searched out lesson plans from 95 or more of the best teachers in the country and paid them $15,000 each to put their plans online with BetterLesson.com.  All these plans and related materials that they paid for are now online free for your perusal. Besides affording teachers fresh ideas, Instructional philosophies and implementation tips will also be provided with the lesson plans.

Nor is the NEA alone in assisting teachers in working within the new paradigm. In 2012 the American Federation of Teachers worked out a similiar lesson-sharing plan with ShareMyLesson.Com. Unlike the NEA, the AFT has teachers post their own plans. Like the NEA, the AFT shares the plans for free. This plan too, appears successful as it has 250,000 registered members and has had almost two-and-half million lesson downloads during the 2012-2013 school year.

In many quarters, Common Core has not been met with positive reviews. The transition has not been smooth. The complaint that teachers were given insufficient training is common. While there is no substitute for that training, both of these websites, BetterLesson.Com and ShareMyLesson.Com might help teachers get by until they get the training they deserve.

RobotsLAB is also in the business of assisting teachers with meeting the requirements of the new Common Core standards. Our engaging robotic teaching aids and their included curricula have been designed with the standards in mind and will provide your classrooms with effective alternatives to boring texts.   

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Topics: Education, Student Engagement

3D printer in the classroom making and unstructured exploration

Posted by Mike Nardine

Oct 15, 2014 2:57:00 PM

MakerBot_in_Class

When I was a kid and enormous cars with long sharp tail fins ruled the road, it was said and believed by many, "If it's good for General Motors, it's good for America." Not so today with GM recently coming out of bankruptcy. But things haven't changed all that much, only the names of the mega corporations we worship. Yesteryear it was GM, today it's Google. And with good reason: GM came roaring out of the Second World War the largest, most productive business on the planet; they were doing something right! The same for Google in this era; their search engine and browser rules the Internet. Their cellphone operating system connects the globe.

With Google products dominating the new industrial age, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that Google workplace practices are garnering a lot of attention--and emulation--in business and education. Chief among these much emulated practices is 20% Time.

20% Time, as defined by the Google practice, is allowing their employees 20% of their work time to work on creative projects that are unrelated to the employee’s assigned projects. The result has been the creative surge that brought Google to the forefront of its industry.

In education, 20% Time allows kids a chance to take their attention off class content and get creative. Oh, sure, you say, untethering kids from classroom routine and letting them get creative sounds great, but without structure in the classroom you soon get chaos. Good point! The way to avoid chaos is to add a touch of chaos-preventing structure. The Maker Place is a great way to add that structure.  

The Maker Place isn’t simply a portion of the classroom where kids are turned loose to get into trouble. The idea is to provide a space where kids can loose their creativity with engaging projects suggested by teachers and other students . The Maker Place should also include the materials ( 3D printer ) necessary to complete the projects.

RobotsLAB’s STEM BOT 3D CLASS provides both the curriculum and the materials for a perfect Maker Place. The STEM BOT 3D CLASS teaches students how to 3D print a robot, assemble it, work on the electronics, use a 3D printer and finally program it using Scratch.Kids love robots. It doesn’t take much effort on the part of the teacher to get them interested in making one.

Educators, give some thought to freeing up time for your students creative urges--without losing control, of course. 20% Time works for Google. It might work for you.  

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NAO robot illustrating a TechCrunch article

Posted by Mike Nardine

Oct 14, 2014 2:08:00 PM

NAO_writes

Wondering how to teach a kid to write? How about helping a kid teach a robot to write?  Committed teachers have been saying forever that they learned more from their students than they learned from them. Might this have the same profound effect on students working from the teacher’s perspective?

I don’t have the answer to this riddle. The question simply came to me when I stumbled over this great picture of the French company Aldebaran’s anthropomorphic robot NAO hovering studiously over a digital pad seemingly writing an earnings report for the Associated Press. Looking stiff with the pencil at an uncomfortable angle and totally focused, doesn’t NAO look a lot like a kid learning to write?

Actually the blog post with this picture is talking about robots that look less like humans and more like computers. But how better to illustrate the point that computers are freeing humans from boring jobs?  NAO, after all, is the most widely used anthropomorphic robot for educational and research purposes.

Not only anthropomorphic, but autonomous also. Which brings me back to the question about NAO as a possible student and the student as a teacher. In my experience kids like to act like teachers. I know I did, and I can remember my youngest teaching to an attentive Jack Russell Terrier. NAO is programmed to be even more attentive than the Jack Russell--and speaks better English--and French, German, and dozens more. NAO is better disciplined also and won’t interrupt the teacher with barking when the doorbell rings.

NAO is a favorite with us here at RobotsLAB. We put a great deal of effort into  developing curricula that

provides NAO with the ability to keep kids engaged in learning. While writing copy for the AP is a stretch at the moment, it is certainly only a matter of time.  

 
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Topics: NAO

NAO Humanoid robot coming soon to the library

Posted by Mike Nardine

Oct 13, 2014 12:37:00 PM

NAOLibrary

I can remember the indignation I felt the first time I found video tapes in the public library; a desecration, I thought! Libraries are for books, not light-weight, made-for-tv documentaries!  I kept holding my nose when I walked by those shelves until I missed Ken Burns’s documentary The Civil War on tv and the only place I could find it was...you guessed it, the public library. Alas, virtue once lost is virtue overcome and I found myself welcoming the computer into the library (a screen search beats the old card system any day), and absolutely thrilled with the coming of the Kindle; so the idea of anthropomorphic robots on the library floor doesn’t bother me at all.  

Like it or not, public libraries are in a competition with the internet for information-delivery relevance. The internet delivers text and imagery with a speed the library cannot; public libraries, on the other hand, can deliver the real thing. Watching a video about robots is interesting, but actually interacting with one is both interesting and fun--just ask any kid!  

One of the first libraries to acquire these tradition shattering mechanical beasties is the WestPort Public Library in Westport Conn.  The Westport library has broken the mold before; specifically, by  setting up a “Maker” space for its patrons and installing a 3D printer,  technology that President Obama has referred to as the “future of manufacturing.” Now, the library intends to introduce its patrons to robots. "Robotics is the next disruptive technology coming into our lives and we felt it was important to make it accessible to people so they could learn about it," said Maxine Bleiweis, executive director of the Westport Library. "From an economic-development perspective and job- and career-development perspective, it's so important."  

The robots, named Vincent and Nancy, are “Nao Evolution Robots,” the latest model NAO robot created by the French robotics company Aldebaran. Standing about three-feet high and looking a bit like the anthropomorphic robot C-3PO in Star Wars, they have a mild, calming way about them that has made them an important tool in teaching autistic children. They are not simple windup toys with a limited behavioral repertoire; besides walking and talking, they recognize faces, can detect where sound is coming from, touch, feel, and avoid obstacles; more, library staff and patrons can program them to do all sorts of entertaining and even practical things, like help find books and meet children arriving at the library. Says Alex Giannini, the library digital-experience manager, "I don't know what the coolest functionality is going to be. Someone coming in off the street is probably going to teach us that."

Nao robots in libraries is a novel development (no pun intended), but these robots are by far the most popular robots used in science education and are found in schools worldwide. Many of these engaging robots have been sold by RobotsLAB along with lesson plans designed for students of all ages. Teachers interested in presenting their classes with an educational experience their students will remember for ever can find more about NAO at our website.  


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Is doodling a good teaching tool?

Posted by Mike Nardine

Oct 10, 2014 4:57:00 PM

DoodlingRobot_3

Just guessing, but if you’ve achieved an educational level that makes the overall material in this blog at all interesting you were probably a doodler when you were a student. I was, but that isn’t the only reason for this otherwise unwarranted assumption: recent studies show that doodlers retain and process 29% more information while listening to a lecture. Who knew?

Exactly why doodling provides an advantage is still a matter of conjecture.  Some educators don’t care why, they are simply looking for any advantage they can find that will help students succeed. Sunni Brown from Austin, Texas is among that number. Considered  one of the “100 Most Creative People in Business and one of the “10 Most Creative People on Twitter”  by the business magazine, Fast Company,  Ms Brown fervently believes in the power and value of doodling.  She is the Chief “Infodoodler” (this position title found on Wiki) of Sunni Brown Ink, a “visual thinking consultancy” with which she pursues her passion.

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Tech education can't start too early!

Posted by Mike Nardine

Oct 9, 2014 4:24:00 PM

Cubelets_Pic

The programming language "Scratch" is for young people that have an itch to create interactive games, stories and animations online. Designed originally for kids 8 through 16, it is offered free by the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). The Lifelong Kindergarten Group believes its interactive programming language provides the young with essential skills for 21st Century employment, including the ability to think creatively, reason systematically and work collaboratively.

Scratch Jr., the newest example of this language from prestigious MIT is designed for even younger students, preschoolers as young as five. A new Ipad app is now available for these younger kids. Scratch Jr. was developed with mobile devices rather than computers in mind like Scratch. Its developers hope that the language will meet the following educational goals for younger kids:

  • give them a better understanding of literacy and math

  • help them become familiar  with classifications of various computer software and mathematical components

  • help them learn to be problem solvers and thinkers and better understand science and software development

A personal note here: The last time I had babysitting duty I downloaded the Scratch Jr App to my Ipad and handed it over without comment to my seven-year-old grandson, Fox. He likes cats and I thought he might take to it. He did. Also without comment.

I wandered off leaving him completely unsupervised in my recliner with the Ipad inches from his face. When I returned a few minutes later he had already completed three projects.

 

“Was it fun?” I asked

“Yes.”

“Did you learn anything?” I said, knowing I was pressing my luck.

He rolled his eyes in answer and went back to playing with the app.

Another learning tool for the younger set that Fox and his three-year-old brother Dexter both like is RobotsLABS' own CUBELETS.  Their small hands find these little magnetic blocks safe and easy to manipulate. They get a big kick out of the autonomous robots they can make entirely on their own. It pleases their parents and me to see them developing their ability to think procedurally and learning to solve problems in a step-by-step manner.

 

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STEM's Newest Darling: Robotics

Posted by Mike Nardine

Oct 8, 2014 6:19:00 PM

 

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Me, being a believer in the robot as a teaching tool,I was at first a little put off by the title of a recent article in the Boston Globe, STEM's Newest Darling: Robotics; a bit cloying, I thought.  The subtitle, It’s the 21st century’s newest must-study subject, came across as patronizing.  I felt certain my favorite machines were in for a verbal drubbing. And guess what, after reading the entire article I've decided my first opinion was almost entirely wrong!  Error! Error! Will Robinson!

Oh, I guess I could still fault the article writer for his off-putting approach in the title, but I certainly can't complain about what he had to say about robots and education; it was highly complementary and informative.  It's good to see that Massachusetts, the home of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), really gets it. Maybe it was the fear that Massachusetts, certainly one of the most progressive states in matters of education, didn't get it, that put me off at first (Ok, Ok, I won't use any further renditions of the term 'off-put' in this post!).

Anyway, Massachusetts does seem to be a hotbed for STEM learning using robotics. An elementary school in Boston’s oldest community, the North End, plans to use robots in Kindergarten classes. And the “inventor-in-residence” (a PHD from MIT) at a private school in Brookline where they intend to integrate programming into all the classes K6-12 says, “robotics is not about building real-life C-3POs, quasi-humans… Instead, it’s a way of combining sensors, computer programming, and actuators to solve problems in the physical world.”  The president of  Worchester Polytechnic Institute, Laurie Leshin, has this to say about the importance of introducing robots early in a student’s career and sticking with them: “Second- and third-graders get this stuff inherently,” she says. “By the time they get to middle and high school, life has beaten out of them some of that interest, and I think robots are a way to get that back.” We couldn’t agree more!

The one disagreement I still have with this article comes near the end where the author says, “The last and maybe biggest challenge, as schools try to start programs, is teachers.”  The author quotes the principal of a Boston K-8 school that says it is difficult to add robots to a classroomunless you have a person who has expertise and is motivated.”  The best teacher is always a motivated teacher, but we here at RobotsLAB would argue that a motivated teacher who lacks expertise in robotics should not be held back.  Any well-motivated teacher skilled in their own discipline, be that math, science, engineering or whatever, will find themselves capable of engaging and educating their class from day-one with nothing more than the material we provide with our robots.

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