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Posts Tagged ‘technology for kids’


A better way to teach Arduino: http://igg.me/at/codeshield

The Codeshield is a small add-on to the Arduino Board and enables students to get started on electronics projects very quickly (lesson plans included).

If you are interested in teaching electronics to your students, please check out the crowd-funding campaign: http://igg.me/at/codeshield

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It looks like Lua programming is not a good fit for Dana at this time. He needs an approach that allows him to learn by doing from the beginning more than the Lua tutorial allows. Or maybe it is because he doesn’t relate well to an online tutorial that has him linking to several other pages he has to become familiar with before he can actually do the programming. Anyway, I have done a lot of looking and think I have found what he needs.

Phrogram
is a language and program that was originally designed to teach kids ages 10-14, but it works so well that it is even being taught in colleges and universities.

The book on Amazon,”Phrogram Programming for the Absolute Beginner,” says near the beginning, “…Learning how to program by doing is key to becoming a good programmer and learning how to program by creating games just makes the whole process a lot of fun. Since Phrogram is specifically designed as a learning language that emphasizes graphics, animation, and game development, this book’s approach to learning Phrogram programming makes for a perfect match.”

A review on the book by the mother of a boy much like Dana, who also has Aspergers, says it works great for him. Each chapter ends by having the learner create a simple game. They say it also carries over quite well when the student is ready to move on to more complex languages, like C++, etc. This is not true of the drag and drop languages, some of which Dana has done, like Robolab and Scratch. The program you use in the computer is fairly cheap, too, and they give you a free 30 day trial, which is great.

He has also decided that he is not ready to “fly solo,” and still wants me beside him while he learns. Even when he is working on his own, he likes to have me near by to watch and so he can check with me. He says it is mostly because he wants me to learn along with him, and this may be true. He constantly “plays teacher” by asking me questions about what he is doing, even when he is playing games.

In any case, after doing the first simple programming lesson in the book, he decided to explore Phrogram a bit by running some samples provided. He was very impressed by finding one that allows you to control a spaceship in a “3-D” space environment. The idea that he can learn to write the programming for games like that excites him.

Once again, we learn that Dana’s learning style is uniquely his own and he fits no better in the regular unschooling box than he does into traditional schooling! We’ll see how it goes.

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With the influence of comments made by Dana’s psychiatrist and from reading the first few chapters of John Taylor Gatto’s book, “The Underground History of American Education” (online), I decided to make changes in our homeschool to not only allow Dana to follow his interests, but to make them the focus of his education. 

In particular, I was impressed by the psychiatrist suggesting that we should have different expectations of Dana than we would for other students and should encourage his strong computer, electronics and robotics interests and above average abilities in those areas. I was also affected by what Gatto said about reading, which is a strength of Dana’s that needs to be built on.

Gatto said: “Reading, and rigorous discussion of that reading in a way that obliges you to formulate a position and support it against objections, is an operational definition of education in its most fundamental civilized sense. No one can do this very well without learning ways of paying attention: from a knowledge of diction and syntax, figures of speech, etymology, and so on, to a sharp ability to separate the primary from the subordinate, understand allusion, master a range of modes of presentation, test truth, and penetrate beyond the obvious to the profound messages of text. Reading, analysis, and discussion are the way we develop reliable judgment, the principal way we come to penetrate covert movements behind the facade of public appearances. Without the ability to read and argue we’re just geese to be plucked.” –

Some of this is way beyond Dana at present, but we will try to lay the groundwork. Reading lessons on Time4Learning and grammar study address some of this, also, so we will likely return to that later.

For at least the next two weeks, and likely for a long time, we are going to try this experiment. Dana is to learn what he is interested in learning and do it the way he wants to do it. I discussed this with him and we came up with a curriculum that he agreed reflected this. If it turns out to be too much influenced by my expectations and uncomfortable for him, we will make adjustments. If he has over-estimated his readiness to learn scripting programming, I will provide more assistance or we will hold off for a while. 

The curriculum starts off with learning scripting because that is what Dana said he most wanted to learn right now. And since scripting, like other programming languages, requires at least basic math, we will cover it when he needs it, thus avoiding the usual battles.

Dana’s Curriculum beginning February, 2011

  1. Scripting on ROBLOX using the Lua 5.1 programming language, a simple scripting language that can be embedded into games or programs (parent applications). A scripting language is a programming language that allows control of one or more applications. John K. Ousterhunt, in “Scripting: Higher Level Programming for the 21st Century,” says, “Increases in computer speed and changes in the application mix are making scripting languages more and more important for applications of the future.” Roblox developers have added in functionality to Lua so that users can create interactive content. Lua tutorials are available on ROBLOX. One important feature that nearly all programming languages use is math. Lua uses basic math, variables, conditional statements, random numbers, and more. So math will be included in scripting lessons. Dana will mostly learn and apply on his own, with help as needed. He will share what he learns and applications he develops.
  2. Mechanical principles of physics applied to building robots and Power Funtions constructions, plus programming Lego robots. Dana will mostly build and explore on his own and will share with  me what mechanical principles he applied and demonstrate programs by running the robots.
  3. Reading for pleasure and sharing and discussing afterwards, beginning with “The Unusual Mind of Vincent Shadow” followed by other books of his choice.
  4. I will continue reading classic literature to him and discussing it as we go. We will finish reading “The Secret Garden” and then “read “Huckleberry Finn,” followed by many others.
  5. I will continue reading history to him, and discussing and referring to maps. We are finishing reading about explorers and will learn about pirates next before beginning the founding of the U.S. Dana will read the “Little House” books at the appropriate time in our study.
  6. Dana will observe and work with my husband and our handy man in work around the house and property to learn a variety of useful skills, get exercise and develop positive attitudes to work.
  7. Dana will continue to tutor a boy at karate as long as needed, as well as continue his karate lessons, daily practice and exercise.
  8. Dana will likely continue his membership in 4-H, complete a project and do community service with the group.
  9. Other lessons will be at his request only.

Comments are not only welcomed, but requested.

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CNN recently posted a video about a study done with students who were referred to a website about the Endangered Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus. Reports tell us that many of the kids believed the story, even after they were told it was a hoax. However, contrary to the beliefs and slanted reports in the media, education experts agree that it does not prove that the internet is dangerous or should not be used to gather information. Rather it shows the increasing need to teach students how to critically evaluate information, which even adults need to learn. Many adults also quickly assume that online information is accurate and trustworthy without checking it out.

I found a great website which provides background information and even lesson plans and worksheets to teach both safe internet use and critical evaluation of information found on internet sites. I highly recommend Kids on the Net. I particularly checked out the pages for 9-10 year old and 11-12 year old kids and was very pleased.

“CyberSense and Nonsense: The Second Adventure of The Three CyberPigs,” an online interactive for ages 9-12, looks like a good place for us to start. The website says, “In this sequel to Privacy Playground…, the three CyberPigs learn some important lessons about authenticating online information and observing rules of netiquette. They also learn how to distinguish between fact and opinion and how to recognize bias and harmful stereotyping in online content.”

“Deconstructing Webpages” for ages 11-12 provides a complete lesson using a real website containing information which should be evaluated. Worksheets are also available for download and printing. Be sure to look for the download link for the complete package in pdf format (in the yellow box on the page).

Other resources on the site provide materials for teaching cyber safety, which I have also addressed more fully in another post.

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Robotic Arm Project


The type in the image is very small and hard to read, but this was a gift Dana received this year. He built the robotic arm (with some help from Grandma getting the screws good and tight) in a day and a half. I plan to have him write a descriptive page about the project to go in his scrapbook/portfolio. It is a rather amazing little wired-control robotic arm not unlike industrial use robots. It has grippers and several rotation points and extensors controlled by 5 little motors that he had to put together.

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Dana is starting his second year with 4-H, and although he is starting to get interested in some of the many other projects he can do, he is sticking with just robotics again this year. In his club there are only 2 boys who have chosen robotics projects, and the other is a high school senior. Although they are both working on the Robotics Probe, or level 2, project, they will each work independently. Fortunately, one of his homeschool friends who was in his robotics workgroup last year, is also doing the project this year on his own. He is in a different 4-H group, but will come to our house now and then so they can compare projects and learn from each other.

This level gets into physics and mechanical engineering, especially toward the end of the 14 activities. However, only 7 activities per year are required. Dana will do only the first 7 activities, while the older boy in his group will likely complete the book. This year the building and programming involves the use of a rotational sensor and belts, pulleys and gears. This requires understanding different types of gears and gear assemblies and figuring the ratios, as well as new programming.

Besides the workbook/activity guide, 4-H provides online supports. The “Robotics Project Online” has building guides, information sheets and booklets and worksheets as well as slide presentations. These are all in pdf format and can be downloaded and printed. The “Robotics and You CD” online provides instructional narrated videos. The two activity guides for Robotics Explorer, Level 1 and Robotics Probe, Level 2 can also be downloaded and printed. And there is a guide for project helpers. Links to all these online resources can be found here. (This is the only site I have found with a link to download the project books.)

The projects are designed using the experiential learning model: 1. Experience – do before being told or shown how; 2. Share – describe the experience and their reaction; 3. Process – discuss what was most important about what they did; 4. Generalize – relate to their own everyday experiences; 5. Apply – share how they will use the life skill and robotic skill practiced in other parts of their lives.

With the entire set of materials available free online, the child would not have to belong to 4-H to do the project, if they have their own Lego RCX robotics kit including the required sensors and parts. But they would miss the enjoyment and skills developed as they participate in and accept leadership positions with their 4-H club. Of course, they would also miss the experience of having their project judged. If you cannot find a suitable 4-H club near you, you might consider contacting the extension office and asking if you can start one.

Either way, anyone can purchase any of the 4-H project manuals, and there are many, from their local extension office or order online.

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My 9 year old has a hard time getting excited about learning spelling or math, but you hand him some electrical components and you’d better get out of his way! He hates getting books for Christmas. I guess because we have a houseful already and he associates them with everyday life, or at least homeschool. But he got a couple of electronics books with kits this year that really pleased him.

He will talk for hours about spur of the moment robotic inventions and can tell you all about electronics components and schematics. So, I figure this is a passion that should be encouraged and fed. I am also hoping that he will learn higher math more easily and willingly when he sees he needs it for electronics. I have been searching the Internet for resources to help him learn. The problem is that once you are past simple circuits, there isn’t much geared to a boy his age that is both interesting and understandable and doesn’t use too much math.

I recently stumbled across http://makezine.com which is a great website for builder-types of all ages, and I subscribed to their free podcast as well as getting Dana a subscription to their magazine. Then they notified me about a fabulous book for learning electronics. “Make: Electronics –Learning by Discovery,” by Charles Platt is going to be Dana’s next textbook for science, just as soon as we finish “Real Science-4-Kids Physics Level I”. “Make: Electronics” teaches in a fun, hands-on way. As the back cover says, “You’ll build the circuits first, then learn the theory behind them. I love this book! You can find the book on their website or on Amazon.com. Better yet, you can download a free large portion of the book at: http://cdn.makezine.com/make/Make_Electronics_Excerpt_1.pdf (Caveat: This book is not written for kids and may be too difficult as a starting place. My boy started much further back and “grew.” For beginners, you might start with Snap Circuits, and then go to “Fun With Electronics” or “Fun With Computer Electronics,” nice little books with a kit of build and learn projects.)

If you want more, check out the free downloadable article  “Teaching Some Basic Concepts of Electricity” by Laura Spoerri for the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute. These lessons are designed to teach a few basic concepts of electricity to middle school students with experimentation, demonstrations, analogies, discussion, work sheets and vocabulary review. Handouts and a materials list are included.

If you go to http://www.tryengineering.org you can find “Get Connected With Ohm’s Law”, a lesson for ages 10-18

Then for high school age, there is “Electricity Visualized: The CASTLE Project,”  by Dr. Melvin S. Steinberg. CASTLE stands for “Capacitor-Aided System for Teaching and Learning Electricity.” It was funded by the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Dept. of Education National Diffusion Network. This course is a part of the New York State Regents Physics Core Curriculum. The student manual WAS free to download. There is a teacher guide, but I am still trying to get that. (Apparently the original paper has just dissapeared from the internet. It appears that Pasco has obtained rights to change/update it and include it in a kit with supplies which they sell for around $79.00. Since the original student curriculum was funded with federal money and specifically states that it is free and can be duplicated, I have placed links here for you to download the student  files. Go to the bottom of this post for links.) UPDATE: PASCO now has their new revised and updated version available for free download on their website: click here. They also let you request a free download of the teacher’s guide. I have requested it and am waiting for their response.

For more advanced high school or beginning college/technical school level, go to: http://www.ibiblio.org/kuphaldt/electricCircuits/ for a free series of six big textbooks on the subjects of electricity and electronics, revised in 2009, by an instructor who was not satisfied with available textbooks. He encourages full free printing and use (including revision).

To cap this off, here is a great free computer program. For hands-on computer learning for the visual learner who likes to try stuff to see if it works, I recommend that you download Yenka at http://www.yenka.com/en/Free_Yenka_home_licences/  Yenka is a powerful piece of software for learning, which lets you use – and edit – an ever-growing library of free lessons for mathematics, science, technology and computing. It is used in schools, but they specifically encourage homeschoolers to download it for free, as long as you will not use it in a classroom (co-op) setting, etc. My boy tried working with the lessons on circuits already and certainly knew more than I did about the circuits and about how to use the program. Once we exploded a light bulb and it was fun – with no danger or mess to clean up.

Also, check out WatchKnow videos on electricity. And for knowledgeable comments and suggested teaching resources, click here.

Electricity Visualized, The CASTLE Project (Capacitor-Aided System for Teaching and Learning Electricity) Student curriculum. To download the pdf files, right click on each file name.

Intro.Student.09     Section.1.Student.09    Section.2.Student.09    Section.3.Student.09    Section.4.Student.09    Section.5.Student.09    Section.6.Student.09    Section.7.Student.09   Section.8.Student.09    Section.9.Student.09    Section.10.Student.09    Section.11.Student.09

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