First Drones and Spheros Activity – What We Learned

(Written by Keri-Lee Beasley and Dave Caleb)


As Digital Literacy Coaches at UWCSEA, we have always taken the opportunity to get our students coding whenever we can, given that it is not currently in our written curriculum. The Week of Code has been very successful in the past and we wanted to find a way to get our students coding in other ways.
 
 


In August, we attended the Asia Pacific ADE Institute in Singapore. One of the activities at the institute involved using the Tickle app which uses simple drag-and-drop code to control Spheros and Rolling Spider mini-drones. An idea was born.


We decided that we could offer an activity at school involving these great tools to our primary students. We purchased 10 Spheros and 10 Rolling Spider Drones and offered the activity to 20 students.


We hope that in sharing some of the things we have learned, we will save other people some time when setting up their own Coding activity!


Pair Your Spheros
Spheros have a 3-colour code which flashes when they are turned on, e.g. BBY (blue, blue, yellow). We used a sticker to label each sphero with a number, then paired one Sphero to one iPad and labelled the iPad with the same sticker. This proved to make our time with the Spheros considerably more efficient. Students arrived, found their Sphero and iPad easily and were able to get to work right away, without having to figure out which of the 10 Spheros was theirs, and to pair it accordingly.


Start off by letting them play


The first time the students touched the Spheros, we showed them how to connect to the iPads and then we let them play. We wanted them to inquire into what they could do with the sphero and see what was possible. We decided to use the free Tickle app as it uses drag and drop block code programing to control the Spheros.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 


Embrace incidental learning and don’t over plan


Originally, we thought that we had to have a lot of different activities for the students to do each time we had the activity. We learned that allowing a lot of time for the students to experiment and learn from their mistakes was very important.


The second time we met, we challenged the students to code the Sphero to make some geographic shapes, including making a square and a triangle. This was more of a challenge than we thought it was going to be, e.g. for a Triangle, Code: move forward for 1 second, turn 60 degrees, move forward for 1 second, turn 60 degrees, move forward 1 second, then stop. Easy right?


Well, as we all quickly figured out, 60 degrees is the inside angle of a triangle, but we actually need the sphero to rotate 120 degrees (the supplementary angle of 60 degrees) to create the inside angle of a triangle. Students eagerly inquired into solving this problem.


Many of them also discovered that if they included a pause between each piece of code that involved movement, they would have more accuracy in the creation of their triangle. It was nice to share these student learnings with the rest of the group.
 


Students love a challenge


We printed mazes on paper using the large format printer. The challenge for the students was to get their sphero through the maze without running over the lines. They loved this challenge and enjoyed fine tuning their code on Tickle to get their Sphero through the maze. Even though the sphero was on a paper map, the material under the paper (carpet or linoleum) affected their results. The students also realized that the light on one part of the sphero was the back and they could point the sphero in the direction they wanted in the app.
 
 

Collaborative Learning


We know that students learn best with others and this activity really helped prove that. Our students enjoyed having someone else to bounce ideas off of and explore different possibilities for their code. The students didn’t argue over who got to enter the lines of code as they were able to try different ideas quickly and see the results. Each student could easily try their own idea and they were working together to solve a problem.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 


Drone Dramas


The students were enjoying the Spheros but we decided we would try to use the mini-drones. There were a few differences which presented us with challenges when compared to the Spheros. The drones couldn’t be paired as easily with just one iPad like we had done with the Spheros. So when the students turned on the drone, it would appear on every iPad. So we had to clearly label the drones to make sure that the students only connected to their drone.
 
Keep them Charged
 
We made sure that the Spheros were always charged and we didn’t have any problems with them running out of batteries as long as we had remembered to charge them beforehand. We had been warned that the mini-drones have a very short battery life so we bought 5 extra batteries. Flying the drones constantly runs the battery down really quickly. You can actually see the battery percentage slowly counting down. So instead of flying the drones constantly, the students tried to run short flight programs.


A Different Purpose
 
Once again, when the students first started using the drones, we got them the explore on their own what they could do. There were a number of crashes and a few bent rotors but it was all ok.


At first, the students were getting frustrated with the drones because they are not as precise as the Spheros. The students could run the code twice and get two different results. Sometimes the drones would take off and mysteriously drift backwards.


The solution was to use the drones in a different way than we had been using the spheros. Instead of trying to get them to follow a program and follow a precise course, we found that the students could use more real time commands to control the drones.


The students use the tilt and shake features to control the drone. For example, if they tilt the iPad to the right the drone would turn right, tilt to the left and it would go to the left. This allowed them to take better control of the drones and we had fewer crashes. A useful command that the students used was if the iPad was shaken, then the drone would land. Sometimes the drone was flying too close to someone and the person controlling the iPad just had to shake the iPad and the drone would land.


One of our worries is that if one of the students uses the iPad to control the drone in this fashion, it becomes less of a team effort than entering code and seeing if their program works. When students enter a set of commands as a team, it doesn’t matter who presses the button and starts the program running, the device is going to do what the program says. When the program is designed to respond to how the iPad is moved, it becomes more of a one person activity. There is, of course, value in both forms of coding and that is the point. It is great to have a balance and learn how to use both types of coding experience.


Never Assume you are right

 

When we originally started out, we thought that the drones would be so popular that once we got to them, the students wouldn’t want to go back to the spheros. We were wrong. A number of the students wanted to go back to the spheros. And, to be honest, if we had to choose between the drones and the spheros, we would choose the spheros for the accuracy and especially for their battery life. But we are so excited that we have both because they both offer something a bit different and the students love learning to make these machines work but dragging and dropping code into a box on an iPad.


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Mathematics Apps for School

We are always hearing about new apps and trying to find ones that are great for students. There are so many mathematics apps available, it is hard to find the ones that are best for student learning.
Recently we sat down with our school’s Mathematics Coach, Tilson Crew, to evaluate what apps we should put on the Infant (K1, K2 and grade 1) and Junior (Grade 2-5) iPads. Tilson has an incredible understanding of mathematics and what is best for students of all age levels.
So many of the mathematics apps out there are ones that have the student just practice algorithms. We were looking for apps that would set themselves apart in a number of ways.
So what sets a great mathematics app apart from others? There are a number of features that we really like which make the app great in a school environment.

1. Is the app customizable? Can you start at different levels or do you always have to start from the beginning? If we can start further ahead, it is easier to customize the app so the older students don’t have to start with levels that are much too easy for them.

2. Does the app allow for different users? In a classroom, there isn’t always one iPad for each student. So having an app that allows students to log in and have their own experience is a great feature. Mathematics apps often increase in difficulty (as they should) as the student gets better. But what happens when a student who is very proficient uses the app and then another student who isn’t as proficient tries it and it is too hard. Having different users in an app allows for each student to progress at their own speed. Many of the apps that have different users also allow a teacher (or parent) to go and monitor the progress of the different users.

3. Does the app require more complex thinking? Or is it simply drilling and practice of math facts? Some apps require students to think in multiple ways when solving a problem while others are repetitively solving problems. Not that there is anything wrong with repetitively solving problems, but many apps do that. You can find worksheets or internet based games that will do that.

4. Is the app engaging? Student engagement is an important factor. Of course, not every student is going to be engaged with everything that is done at school. However, when I hear a student say that they have to get this

5. How much time does the student spend on mathematics? Some apps have a lot of bells and whistles and fancy graphics. They look great on the outside, but students might not spend that much time actually engaging in mathematical thinking.

6. Does the app put the pressure of time on the students? Timed mathematics practice can be a very touchy subject. Generally, we don’t like apps that put pressure on students when they are learning. This isn’t an absolute, but it is nice if this feature can be turned on or off.

Of course we are not saying that all apps have to have all of these features. But these are some of the things we are considering when we evaluate mathematics apps.

Here are some of the apps that we found that we really liked.

Addimals – A great app that teaches adding strategies.

Appropriate for: K – 3

1.  Is the app customizable? You can’t customize where students start. But the students are taught about different strategies in adding.

2. Does the app allow for different users? Yes. Teachers can also monitor the progress of individual students.

3. Does the app require more complex thinking? The app encourages students to try different addition strategies. They can choose the best strategy for the question.

4. Is the app engaging? Students enjoy the app and enjoy the progress they see.

5. How much time does the student spend on mathematics? Although there are videos in between levels, I find that students are very motivated to get to the mathematics and often skipped over the videos.

6. Does the app put the pressure of time on the students? The only time that the students are under time pressure is when they are working on the memorization part of the app.

Cost – Free

Overall – This is a great app for school. I love how students can be tracked and progress in their own time. One of my favourite things about this app is that it teaches students different mathematics strategies. Must have.

If you like Addimals, you should take a look at the Mt. Multiplis app by the same Teachley Group. It is designed to teach multiplication strategies and is in the same style as Addimals. Here is a quick video.

 

Subitize Tree – An app to teach quick recognition of numbers

Appropriate for: K – 3

1.  Is the app customizable? You can choose different level to start.

2. Does the app allow for different users? No


3. Does the app require more complex thinking? No

4. Is the app engaging? Somewhat – because the app does one thing (shows a number quickly and then gets students to recall what number was displayed), students can sometimes lose interest.

5. How much time does the student spend on mathematics? There are some breaks in the app and I wish it moved along a bit faster, but overall it is quite good.

6. Does the app put the pressure of time on the students? Yes. The whole point of subitizing is to quickly recall how many items are in a group. But the amount of time that is allowed is customisable.

Cost – $0.99

Overall – This app is designed to do one thing – test the student’s ability to see a set of objects and recall how many there are in the set. It does a good job of this and one can customize the level which students start at. Great for specific skill.

Friends of Ten – Using two rows of 5 to teach concepts around recognizing numbers to ten without counting them.

Appropriate for: K-2

1.  Is the app customizable? No, but there are a number of activities in the app

2. Does the app allow for different users? No

3. Does the app require more complex thinking? No

 

4. Is the app engaging? There are a number of different activities to engage the students

5. How much time does the student spend on mathematics? The mathematics is the focus of the app
6. Does the app put the pressure of time on the students? No
Cost – $0.99

Sushi Monster – An app which requires students to find two numbers that when added together (or another part of the app, multiplied together) form a number.

Appropriate for: K – 5

1.  Is the app customizable? No. You need to go through the levels to get to the next level. But once you have gone through a level, you can go back to it

2. Does the app allow for different users? No

3. Does the app require more complex thinking? There can be multiple options to add a set of numbers together.

4. Is the app engaging? Students can choose from addition or multiplication and they enjoyed trying to beat their score.

5. How much time does the student spend on mathematics? The mathematics is the focus of the app with a little wait time for the question to be asked.
6. Does the app put the pressure of time on the students? No
Cost – Free
Overall – I really like how there are multiple options that the students can choose when solving a problem using this app.

Jungle Time – An app to teach student about time.

Appropriate for: K – 3

1.  Is the app customizable? There are lots of options to customize including the sounds and different time intervals.

2. Does the app allow for different users? No

3. Does the app require more complex thinking? No

4. Is the app engaging? Young students will enjoy the animals in the app.

5. How much time does the student spend on mathematics? The majority of time students spend in the app is trying to tell time but some of their time is spent waiting for the hands of the clock to spin around.
6. Does the app put the pressure of time on the students? No
Cost – $2.99

Overall – The app does a good job of helping students learn to tell time and has a number of options to customize the app.

 

Blackboard Madness Math – A great app for challenging students’ thinking. Very much like Fruit Ninja.

Appropriate for: Grades 4 – 5

1.  Is the app customizable? No

2. Does the app allow for different users? No

3. Does the app require more complex thinking? Yes – students are required to look at nontraditional questions and solve them quickly.

4. Is the app engaging? Students enjoy the way the nature of the game where they have to slash the correct answer.

5. How much time does the student spend on mathematics? Students are always engaging in complex mathematics
6. Does the app put the pressure of time on the students? Yes – the students are under pressure to solve problems quickly.
Cost – Free

Overall – This is a wonderful app for challenging students in terms of complex thinking and problem solving. The pressure of answering questions quickly won’t be for all students though.

 

Mathboard – A Mathematics learning focused app that isn’t flashy, but focuses on helping students learn about the four basic operations.

Appropriate for: Grades 2 – 5

1.  Is the app customizable? Yes – This is the best app for customization. You can customize the language and even customize the way each word is said (e.g you can change sum to add or plus or any other word).

2. Does the app allow for different users? Yes – and you can track the progress of the different students.

3. Does the app require more complex thinking? Yes – students are required to look at nontraditional questions and solve them quickly.

4. Is the app engaging? This app is not flashy like some mathematics apps, but it is based on learning.

5. How much time does the student spend on mathematics? This app is all about learning. Students can even put in their own question (addition, subtraction, multiplication or division) and the app will show them how to solve it step by step.
6. Does the app put the pressure of time on the students? No
Cost – $4.99
Overall – Check out the video below to see the features in action. It is one of my favourite apps and totally worth the $4.99 price tag. You can track students and it is very customizable.

Kakooma – An non-traditional addition app which requires the student to look at nine numbers and find a set of three related numbers.

Appropriate for: Grades 3 – 5

1.  Is the app customizable? There are 4 different levels one can try

2. Does the app allow for different users? No

3. Does the app require more complex thinking? Yes – students scan a series of numbers and try multiple combinations to find a set of three. It is a puzzle type format and can be challenging.

4. Is the app engaging? Once you know how to play, the app can be very engaging.

5. How much time does the student spend on mathematics? There are no bells and whistles on this app. There aren’t even clear instructions. The whole time students are on this app, they are working on addition skills.
6. Does the app put the pressure of time on the students? It is timed activity but the running clock is small and in the top corner of the app.
Cost – Free
Overall – I love this puzzle app. There are so many problem solving strategies that students can use while trying to find the set of three numbers.