Building Toward Greater Success in Robotics

Since joining the high school, Doug Scott has been rebuilding the robotics program with rising success. Currently, two courses are offered.

For the students, robotics offers an alternative opportunity to discover skills they may not have known they possessed. Combining collaborative, project-based learning in a team environment that includes research, writing, building, programming, communication, and marketing, students face challenges that are creative and fun.

Image: Doug Scott speaking with students.

Doug Scott speaking with students.

“The kids get pretty competitive,” Scott said. “The competitive nature drives them and they want to do well.”

Lego robotics provides an entry point for anyone interested and features the familiarity of Legos for construction and a simpler block-style programming language. Yet, the more advanced team robotics course extends beyond the classroom.

Sophomore Neel Mehdi echoes that observation, “I just love competing and I think that is what drive our team as a whole, competing against other teams. It helps us bond.”

Team robotics uses far more robust hardware than the Lego counterpart, as well as a C-based text programming language. Students in the course compete interscholastically, with honors students required to compete outside of school.

Students have achieved notable success. In their first competitive year, Hopkinton fielded five teams. All qualified for the Southern New England Championships, the next regional level of competition.

“Teams that perform well in that even have the opportunity to move onto the World Championship where 34 countries participated last year,” Scott explained. “One team made it to world’s last year and finished 11th in their division of 200 teams.”

Image: Alopa Waje and Tanya Kahn discuss their robot design.

Alopa Waje and Tanya Kahn discuss their robot design.

Yet for freshman Tanya Kahn the appeal exceeds the competition, “It’s really captivating, building a robot from scratch. A lot of people think it is not creative but it is so creative.”

In fact, for instructor Doug Scott building the robot is only a small part of the experience and learning.

“For me as the teacher it is more about the soft skills that students learn. Those skills are transferable,” Scott said.

The students shared this notion, recognizing that thee are range of areas where they recognize their own growth.

Freshman Alopa Waje said, “There are so many aspects to robotics. There are so many different ways that you can contribute to a team, which really helps with the bonding and teamwork that we can display in this class.”

“It teaches us some very necessary life skills that we will need down the road, like managing a schedule,” Mehdi added.

Sophomore Phillip Blanchette recognized another thread that links a lot of different elements in class. “Communication is a big part of it. You need to know who is doing what. When they are doing it,” Blanchette said.

Image: Beatrice Galbusera solving design problems.

Beatrice Galbusera solving design problems.

Nevertheless, the outside competition provides a deadline that is neither ambiguous nor arbitrary. In addition to inspiring some fun, it drives a lot of teamwork and communication.

“The person building the robot needs to know who is building this other part and when the program is going to be done for that part, who is in charge of the notebook, and when we are going to be done and ready for competition,” Blanchette explained.

As teacher Doug Scott maintains, “If you are person that likes to work in teams and work collaboratively toward a common goal this is a really positive experience. A lot of kids might think it is not for them but it is available to everyone and everyone is capable of being successful in the program.”

Education Evolutions #47

IMG_4227 flickr photo by Jemimus shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

Select Readings and Thoughts on Teaching and Learning in the Digital Age

Happy holidays to everyone, especially for those whose holidays have already begun. Given the calendar, it is very likely that there will not be an issue of this newsletter next week. I may be able to put a quick one together early but I am not sure yet. Plus, I am considering seriously downing my technology use over the holiday break to take advantage of time with the kids. It wouldn’t be a complete blackout but seriously limited. I am thinking of it as a kind of refresh.

This group of pieces is a bit more about culture than anything if there is any emergent theme. It is not entirely based on American culture but definitely Western. Technology and how we use it may be a major thread but all of these articles examine some hard decisions about problems that loom for all of us in one way or another, whether we realize it fully or not.

This week the honor of  “If you read only one article…” is the final one on net neutrality. Part of it is the timing but more than that just because the FCC voted the way they did doesn’t mean that the issue is resolved or even finished. What comes next may be the most interesting thing yet, in fact. Especially interesting to me is how educators will respond, which has me adding this piece as a bonus from the outstanding academic mind of Bryan Alexander.

Enjoy the week before the break, not to mention the holidays themselves.

Here are three+ curated articles about education, technology, and evolutions in teaching.

France to impose total ban on mobile phones in schools – The Telegraph – Henry Samuel (4-minute read)

I have to admit that the first time I saw this story, I was seriously skeptical that it was some kind of fake news story. My first exposure was from European news outlet (The Local) which devotes a site to individual countries and publishes in English. However, I had never heard of it before. Then as I saw it reappear across a number of sites, including The Telegraph, I took more proper notice.

It is an awfully bold idea, to be sure. I cannot honestly decide whether I think it will work or not. Something seems desperate about it. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it is an awful idea either. As this piece points out, adults are not exactly exemplary users of mobile technologies, further complicating an issue like this. There is also the feasibility challenge, something acknowledged and likely a lot easier to deal with at the elementary level than the secondary. Yet, the fact that the French are willing to examine this as a public health issue may be most instructive. Younger children are handed mobile devices at younger and younger age. Have a look at this item about when children receive mobile devices around the world. It is interesting, albeit constantly changing.

Are Private Schools Immoral? – The Atlantic – Dianna Douglas (24-minute read)

This is not the first time that Nikole Hannah-Jones has made an appearance in this newsletter. As a fierce advocate for students of color disenfranchised by existing public school structures especially in urban areas, she offers a lot of interesting perspectives that may not be amplified to certain demographics. Given the racially charged history of vouchers and charter schools, as well as the problems faced by urban and rural schools, in particular, there is a lot here worth reading from a broader perspective. Whenever I read facts like, “There are more black men incarcerated than were black men enslaved during slavery. There are more black men killed by police than there were black men lynched in a year,” it is hard not to take notice.

This is the kind of article that can be really hard for some people to read and even easier for some to dismiss. That does not make any of the problems that Hannah-Jones raises go away. To deny or dismiss the problems strikes me as rather dangerous, even if someone doesn’t like what Hannah-Jones has to say about them. For me, there is razor sharpness in claims like, “Our public schools are not broken, but are operating as designed. Our public schools were set up to provide unequal, inadequate education for black children. So that’s what they do,” or “We have a system where white people control the outcomes. And the outcome that most white Americans want is segregation. And I don’t mean the type of segregation that we saw in 1955. I don’t mean complete segregation.” When I read that and look around, I guess I just find that really hard to dismiss out-of-hand.

Net Neutrality Was Never Enough – The Atlantic – Ian Bogost (14-minute read)

A lot of drama surrounded the FCC’s party-line vote to end the Obama administrations policies that maintained net neutrality. It is hard not to view the process and new policy direction with anything but dark cynicism. Still, it is a complicated issue and has been for some time. Bogost unpacks the issue far beyond the 3-2 vote and its potential consequences. There is a sharp insight in his assertion that changes will likely be slower and more invisible to consumers than the hyperbole might suggest. Perhaps more alternatives will appear but with their newfound power and influence, I imagine the telcos will lobby and litigate most alternatives out of existence.

Still, Bogost strikes some deeply resonant chords when he maintains the Internet “has become this era’s heartbeat. Data has become the blood that courses through the veins of ordinary life.” That is a powerful image that is awfully hard to oppose. Equally hard is rebut is his criticism of our collective inability to truly wrestle with our dependence on the Internet, as well as the consequences it has wrought.

Education Evolutions #46

IMG_4227 flickr photo by Jemimus shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

Select Readings and Thoughts on Teaching and Learning in the Digital Age

So this is being sent much later than usual. As the festive season approaches, time is becoming a bit more scarce. The snow in New England did not help either.

This is another eclectic mix of pieces. I deliberately kept them on the short side, given my penchant for the long read. There is no real theme to these three but I found all of them interesting. I suppose if you look really deep there is a political dimension in each of these articles but that would be a bit of a stretch and it was definitely not by design.

There is no “If you read only one article…” this week. They are each little gems on their own. The one that probably speaks to one of the main reasons I continue to curate this newsletter is probably the first one Letting Go Of School In Order To Think About Education, while the others probably reveal more of my idiosyncratic reading habits. Regardless, they seemed worth sharing. Sometimes the stranger additions get the most attention, anyway.

Enjoy the week and preparations for the holidays.

Here are three+ curated articles about education, technology, and evolutions in teaching.

Letting Go Of School In Order To Think About Education – Medium – Identity, Education, and Power – Sherri Spelic (7-minute read)

I began following Sherri Spelic over the summer, I believe. Since then, I have found her to be an insightful and interesting educator. She has a wonderfully honest and inquisitive voice in her blogging that continually raises issues while documenting her journey as a teacher. In this post, she writes freely about some of her thoughts about the obstacles that exist in schooling that often are at odds with education. I think what I identified most within this post is how she discusses thoughts about her own children. It is a way I often begin thinking about school, now that mine are old enough to be fully immersed in the public school system.

The next best thing about her free thinking and writing is that professionally she starts with people. The more I have been at work specifically with teachers and technology the more I have become convinced that this is the only way to go. Yet, it is an increasingly hard road. Still, we humans are the greatest technology ever developed and we keep developing too. When Spelic writes, “We need to reclaim education as a human-centered public good that belongs to all of us,” I wish I had written that sentence.

Why I Seldom Teach The Hero’s Journey Anymore — And What I Teach Instead – The Huffington Post – Craig Chalquist, PhD (13-minute read)

This might be a little off the beaten path but I found this piece to be fascinating as a window into the thinking of another educator but also as a bit of cultural commentary. I am a big fan of Joseph Campbell’s work, ever since I was exposed to him in a high school humanities course, timed with the release of The Power of Myth on PBS. Nevertheless, I found Chalquist’s take on Campbell fair and fascinating. More than that, I found his alternative to the Hero’s Journey even more so.

While Campbell famously said, “We are all heroes of our own journey,” that has always seemed a little over-simplistic to me. I quite like Chatquin’s dive into what we might glean from the no-Hero’s Journey of Reenchantment. It strikes me as something that might be even more accessible to more people. While we all might hope to be heroes, it is a word that is too loosely thrown about, as cited in this piece. After all, we might all be better served by stories of “post-heroic patience, wisdom, and forgiveness” anyway.

How the Index Card Cataloged the World – The Atlantic – Daniela Blei (11-minute read)

This piece is a bit of fun. It is brief, like the medium it illuminates but is an interesting look at the development of an analog technology that had a far greater impact than we might have realized. I love historical writings like this that focus tightly on a specific item and explore its impact and evolution. It certainly made me think about how often I reach for an index card much in the way that its first user, Carl Linnaeus, did.

For anyone that remembers the old BBC show Connections with James Burke from the 1970s, this essay reminded me of a text version of that show. I loved that leisure suit wearing presenter. In addition to a reminder of the historical importance of Linnaeus for anyone that does not teach biology, it is also a poignant reminder of just how long information overload has been a problem facing humans. Better still, I love the inclusion of the dark side of classification. Like any gross misappropriation of a good idea from one context to another, bad consequences can arise. Best reminder of all, “The act of organizing information—even notes about plants—is never neutral or objective.” Definitely, something to keep in mind.