LEGO WeDo & Scratch from April Meeting

Thanks again to everyone who attended the April 9th meeting in the Schaumburg Library Teen Room. The response and enthusiasm from everyone was amazing! Here is a brief recap and links to some of the resources mentioned during the morning presentation (this is Brad from Skokie, by the way).

I talked a little bit about my experience starting to use LEGO WeDo with Scratch in a hands-on workshop type library program for middle-grade kids. LEGO WeDo is the “youngest” level of LEGO robotics sets. They are available on the LEGO Education website for $130 each (with a slight discount for larger orders). Each set comes with an array of ordinary LEGOs plus a motor, a motion sensor, a tilt sensor, a USB hub, and booklets with step-by-step instructions for 12 projects. The software to run the WeDo components is sold separately by LEGO for $90 for a single license or $300 for a site license. However, the current version of Scratch from MIT also supports the WeDo components–and it is a free download. Plus, Scratch is a worthwhile learning platform all on its own without the LEGOs. I had handouts of a PDF I found online that shows the Scratch scripts necessary to run many of the 12 projects described in the booklets that come with the WeDo sets.

I showed a couple of short videos. The first shows the soccer player projects in action (the kicker here is running off a Raspberry Pi):

Another video showed the first CodeBots Club program at Skokie Public Library with the kids using the WeDo/Scratch combo:

Then the attendees (more than 60 of you!) got to take turns playing with some LEGO robots! We switched out groups who played with WeDo, experimented with LEGO Mindstorms, and got tours of the fabulous Schaumburg Teen Room.

There are tons of great resources available online for using Scratch with WeDo:

First is Scratch’s own support page for using WeDo with Scratch—including a step-by-step intro, starter projects, a guide to the WeDo parts and corresponding Scratch blocks, and more.

Here is another good PDF tutorial found from a Google search.

And here is an UnOfficial WeDo blog with lots of project ideas (plus the entire blog is in English AND Spanish—YES!)

I talked a little about how we set up our CodeBots Club program. We do a very minimal introduction to Scratch, and have several working sample projects available. The bulk of the time is for unstructured exploration, with guidance when requested. For the last 10 minutes or so we go around and give each kid a chance to present and verbalize what they’ve been working on.

I also mentioned Stomp Rockets, Catapults, and Kaleidoscopes: 30+ Amazing Science Projects You Can Build for Less than $1 by Curt Gabrielson as part of the inspiration for the way we decided to structure the program–which is to say almost entirely UNstructured as opposed to offering step-by-step guidance. It’s a great book with tons of projects that I’ve used before in programs, but the part that applies to what I was talking about is from the section “Bringing These Projects into the Classroom“–the author talks about the irony of presenting the projects “in a step-by-step, cookbooklike matter. When we teach the projects, we never give detailed instructions.” Instead they provide models and act as a resource for students to refer to when they get stuck. The author goes on to say: “There are great benefits to this pedagogy: The teacher is not so necessary, which empowers the students toward lifelong self-learning and allows the teacher to focus on certain individual students’ needs. Students can be creative and build the project according to their own tastes, and they can build at different paces as well, with those who finish first helping others or continuing to build more onto their project.”

I think this is super-important–maybe more important than the fact that kids are learning mathematical thinking and rudimentary programming skills by doing this kind of program. Doing it this way, they are more likely to engage in critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration and communication. Another great and more in-depth book on the topic is:

A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change by Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown

Thanks! If you have any thoughts, suggestions, or questions about WeDo & Scratch or CodeBots Club, you can contact Brad Jones: bjones@skokielibrary.info or @bltjones on twitter–or comment below!

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