Reflections on Summer Robotics Workshops with ABC CREATE

by: Colleen Smith
Penn State New Kensington

What do teachers do on the last days of summer?  Sign up for a robotics workshop - with their own kids!  Teachers with kids often cherish the time in the summer with their families and are hesitant to pursue professional development opportunities as they don't want to lose that precious time.  At ABC CREATE, we invite the kids to join in!  It's a win-win.

For the past two summers, ABC CREATE has hosted Hummingbird Robotics trainings in August that have involved teachers learning alongside their kids and creating Arts & Bots projects together.  We adopted this approach last year when a teacher asked if she could bring her son.  The ABC CREATE teachers who led last year’s training (Sue Mellon from Allegheny Valley and Michelle Thomas from Kiski) were happy to have kids in the mix, so we opened up the session to allow all attendees to bring their school-aged children.  It worked beautifully! We knew we had an idea worth repeating, so we did it again this year.

Kelsey Derringer, from Birdbrain Technologies, facilitated both our Hummingbird Robotics with micro:bits and our Finch Robot sessions in early August 2018.  When we first discussed what the training sessions would look like, I asked if she'd be willing to allow teachers' kids to attend. She was very receptive to the idea and maybe even a bit intrigued.  We went for it, and it turned out so well that I even agreed to write this blog post about it. 

photo: Nico Segall Tobon for Remake Learning

Observations and Reflections:

  • It was very helpful for the teachers to watch how their kids and other teachers’ kids in the room absorbed the robotics experience.
  • Some of the teachers noted that they thought kids learn differently.  As digital natives, the kids had no fear of “hurting” the technologies.  While that was a bit off-putting for the teachers who approached robotics with a bit more hesitation, it was also gratifying for them to realize that the students in their classrooms would take to this easily and that, as teachers, they wouldn’t have to be the experts in the room.
  • We had some great reflections on the growth mindset.  Several of the kids in the room had experienced robotics and/or coding before while many of the teachers hadn’t.  Once we opened the discussion to experiences and not to innate abilities, the educators (and some of the kids for whom this was new territory) were able to acknowledge that they may not be moving along as quickly because these were ideas that they hadn’t been exposed to … YET. 
  • Watching the kids (and some were elementary aged) thrive with robotics, encouraged the teachers.  “If a 4th grader can do this, so can I!”
  • The kids were very comfortable in the creative technology space.  They were quick with ideas and not afraid to figure out how to make them work.  It was okay when it didn’t all work perfectly in the time we had to build. 
  •  Both teachers and kids were quite proud of their creations and their coding skills – and very interested in learning from one another’s creations.
  • It was lots of fun watching teachers ask kids and kids ask teachers for help in working something out.  Not all the teachers had kids with them, and the exchanges of information and support were sometimes within the teacher-parent/student-child groupings and sometimes beyond from a teacher to another’s child, from a teacher to a teacher and from a student to a student.  The unspoken realization that all were bringing skills and creativity to the table in mutually beneficial ways was quietly powerful. 
  • Teachers could quickly see the progression of learning with robotics, coding, and engineering.  Having a group of mixed ages and experience levels really allowed the teachers to see possibilities for differentiation and for building upon skills.  Kids and teachers who had prior experience with Hummingbird Robotics were able to move forward with more advanced coding (some even moved to text-based coding) and with more complex mechanisms and engineering skills. 
  • Teachers appreciated getting to test out their own learning while simultaneously observing student learning.
  • Not every teacher-parent/student-child pairing proceeding perfectly throughout the day; even in those moments, the culture in the workshop was one of learning and reflection.  I heard discussion of what they learned about working together and how they might do things differently next time. Gotta love the opportunity for iterations and the growth mindset – in all its forms.
  • When adding kids in to the mix, be sure your menu includes some pizza.
  • Having kids engaged in the professional learning for teachers does require the presenter to be very thoughtful and to be prepared to accommodate the perspectives and goals of both audiences.  Carefully developed reflection prompts and classroom integration discussions that address both sets of learners can add depth and dimension to the experiences for everyone.

We were lucky enough to have a photographer visit us during one of our August trainings (thanks, Nico), and when I look at the pictures, I can feel the moments.  The moments of discovery, collaboration, creativity, pride …. Not bad for a professional development in August.  And not a bad way to spend some time with your kids before summer’s over, either!  

Learn more about ABC CREATE here.


When Nothing Is Something: Exploring Global Refugee Flow

Algebra students at The Campus School put their research and data analysis skills to the test as they evaluated the truth of a statement about global migration patterns. Students first explained how to rate the reliability of an information source, using information such the web address suffix (.gov & .edu indicate reliability), past experience with a site, or cross verification of data with another site.

Their task was to use data to assess the validity of a statement “caravans of people (are) coming through Mexico to cross U.S. border...”given three data sources. Students received an article from Politifact, a graphic from an MSNBC news broadcast, and a link to the Global Refugee Flow Explorable, provided by CMU's CREATE Lab.

As soon as they opened the site mapping Global Refugee Flow, the comments began to fly. “What are the colors?” “What happened in 2007?” “What’s going on in Russia? Is that Ukraine?” Once students had time to find their way in the Explorable, they turned to the task of graphing data from the article and comparing it to the news broadcast graphic. Each indicated a general decline in numbers of refugees entering the US.

“There’s nothing happening in North America!” was the consensus comment when students returned to evaluate their graphs in terms of the Refugee Flow Map. What was merely an academic conclusion from the static graphs became a full-fledged outcry when viewed on the Map. Students experienced the reality that sometimes an absence of data is also a revelation. They concluded that the statement represented an exaggeration of actual contitions, based on their three data sources. 

Read more about the Explorable at:


Carlow University's 'Do > Happen'

Do > Happen

Building a concept with circuit blocks and language arts

The primary classes of the Campus School were early adopters of the Childrens’ Innovation Project curriculum and circuit block materials. Teachers continued to deepen students’ experience with persistence, observation, and other valuable intangible skills by incorporating themes of the curriculum into students’ daily work.      

When teachers discovered the works of author Herve Tullet, they were inspired to design and adopt various “do > happen” activities utilizing his books.  Montessori kindergarten students first had a read-aloud experience with Press Here, which allowed children to interact with the book and provides opportunities for prediction.  Students then explored the “do > happen’ relationship with an activity with a color mixing using colored pencils. 

The activity wrapped up with students playing the Press Here game!  The game, consisting of patterned game boards and a set of colored dots, asked students to consider where to best place a dot on one of the game boards.  After placing a dot, the child explained how the dot fit where it was placed.  The rest of the students discussed and indicated whether they agreed or disagreed, leading to a group consensus. While playing the game children observed, predicted, and collaborated with one another, while engaging in logical thinking, and using precise language.

STEM Best Practices Conference

Dr. Suzy Cox and Dr. Bill Heyborne recently presented on the CREATE Satellite Network at the Utah STEM Best Practices Conference held June 20th in Provo, Utah. Their session, attended by approximately 60 teachers and other STEM professionals, introduced the work of the CREATE Lab and described the opportunities, for Utah teachers, available through the satellite partners at Utah Valley University and Southern Utah University. Four projects were highlighted, including Giga Pan, Message From Me, Finch, and Arts and Bots. The teachers were enthusiastic about the potential for the projects in their classrooms and asked a host of insightful questions. In addition to leading a session, Dr. Cox and Dr. Heyborne also staffed a both in the vendor area of the conference. Here they were able to demonstrate the four projects, share information, allow teachers, and other interested parties, to ask questions about the network, and have some fun playing with the technology. 

Arts & Bots and Global Awareness and Autism

I had the distinct pleasure today to teach the first ever class in the Utah Valley University Melisa Nellesen Center for Autism DURING the ribbon-cutting ceremony - think media coverage, large crowds, heightened emotion. So, what did I teach?

Arts & Bots, of course!

For this event, we combined the final exam periods for our Elementary Education pre-service program Instructional Media and Creative Arts Methods courses into a 4-hour experience. We discussed the mission of the CREATE Lab - to empower children of all walks of life, and particularly those who are underserved, at-risk, and perhaps on the Autism spectrum, to learn and grow and succeed. We then spent some time getting familiar with the Hummingbird board and all of its inputs and outputs and practicing some basic computer science concepts before getting to their task.

The learning target for the day was to: Represent a local, regional, national, or global issue you are concerned about using visual art and robotic components. They were inspired by a model created by an 11-year old, using fine art as backdrops for the life cycle and endangered status of sea turtles. They then created their own works through re-mixing and creation of original pieces that explored the issues of climate change, poverty, diverse classrooms, and more.

This was an eye-opening experience for these future teachers as they considered how technology, arts, and project-based learning might both hugely benefit broad populations of students and simultaneously cover more curriculum across more subjects in less time than traditional, sequential teaching methods.

It was an honor and a privilege to teach in this context today, using Arts & Bots as a vehicle to communicate love and concern for all children in our school system!​

Exploring World Cultures through GigaPan

Stay calm and eat apples...

Campus School world languages teacher, Linda Wallen, discovered that fourth graders are not crazy about conversing in their target language. She found, however, that they were happy to give voice to the rubber ducks that inhabit “Ducky World”. In each of the past three years, students were challenged to immerse themselves in a specific environment where their target language was spoken. This year students explored Fez, Morocco, combining their study of world languages with their creative and engineering skills. Students enhanced this year’s World with the addition of electric circuits to provide lighting to the citizens. GigaPan photography allows the viewer to capture the scope of the construction as well as to explore such delightful surprises as "Garder le calme et manger des pommes."

Garder le calme et manger des pommes.... or Stay Calm and Eat Apples. Scroll around the above GigaPan to find this advice.

Past Ducky Worlds represented Lyon and Orleans, France and Chichicastenengo and Solola, Guatemala. To view them, visit here and here.

Utah gets artsy (and botsy) as new Satellites receive Arts & Bots training

"I feel more prepared to try coding with my 5th graders"
says LeAnne Jones, Iron County School District teacher 

On the first weekend of February, Satellite Network partner ASSET STEM Education led an Arts & Bots workshop for Utah CREATE Lab Satellites. 

28 faculty and partner educators from Southern Utah University Center for STEM Teaching and Learning (SUU), Utah Valley University School of Education (UVU) and Utah STEM Action Center (that is coordinating the expansion of the Satellite Network into Utah) participated in the two-day workshop. Participants learned everything from identifying components to programming a robot using 5 different languages, including the new BirdBlox app based programming via iPads. Here is what some participants had to say about the experience:

Suzy Cox, Associate Professor at UVU:

This training was a valuable first step in orienting our school and district partners toward not just the use of coding and robotics in the classroom, but the types of thinking that these activities help to develop across the curriculum. We are excited for the next step, and already have partners who are ready to integrate Arts & Bots into their instruction. Plus, it was so fun to combine coding and creativity!

Bill Heyborne, Associate Professor at SUU:

We had the opportunity to train five elementary school teachers and four university faculty on the use of Arts & Bots. We are so excited to begin using this project in our teaching and professional development. In fact, it only took one of our teacher partners 2 days to begin using the technology with her students. We look forward to a long partnership with the CREATE Lab on this exciting and timely project.

Darwin Deming, Science Teacher, Mount Nebo Junior High:

At first the training for the Arts and Bots seemed like it would be applicable to only a technology class, but as we went through the training, it was apparent that it could be applied to a variety of curriculum. The trick is you need to get creative!

Lynae Puckett, School Librarian, North Elementary:

The Hummingbirds are an excellent fit for my library makerspace. I started the 5th graders in my school just a few days after I came back from the workshop. We've already talked about the different components and their possible uses. The next time they rotate through we will start making the connection between the hardware and programming pieces. I really enjoyed the workshop. The facilitators were patient and enthusiastic, and I have a lot of great ideas for applications at my school.

Cecily Heiner, Assistant Professor at SUU:

I thought the cup-bot project was cool because it was so simple and still helped people learn electronics and robotics, and I thought the concept of using painters tape and hot glue to hold things together and still be able to re-use them was also great! I think you should add string and maybe balloons or tubes to your stuff stash for building robots.

CREATE Lab Satellites in Utah and this workshop made possible by Infosys Foundation USA

Messages from Hollis Innovation Academy

Message from Me goes to Atlanta

"The Message from Me training allowed the Hollis teachers to learn how to utilize technology in their classrooms to help their students develop stronger communication skills. This unique app is developed with kids in mind, and teachers at Hollis have already begun implementing the program in their classrooms. I'm excited to see what comes next." - Tamara Peason, CEISMC

On January 28, 12 teachers from the Washington Cluster of Atlanta Public Schools attended a Message from Me workshop at Hollis Innovation Academy.  The training was hosted by PAEYC’s Katie Gullone and the CREATE Lab's Emily Hamner, in partnership with CEISMC, the CREATE Lab Satellite in Atlanta

(pictured above: Katie and Emily walk participants through the MFM setup)

The day began with an overview of how young children typically use technology in the classroom. Teachers and trainers discussed ways that Message From Me can start student-centered conversations in the Washington Cluster.

Participants then used their iPads to photograph student activities in their school and shared them using the Message From Me app.

(pictured above: Teachers take photos to share on MFM)

(pictured above: CEISMC's Tamara Pearson helps participants set up MFM, including Hollis principal, Diamond Jack)

Through an ongoing partnership with CESIMC and the CREATE Lab, teachers at the Hollis Innovation Academy plan to implement the program school-wide in the 2017-2018 school year.

This work is supported by the Infosys Foundation

Robots Makes the World Go Round

CEISMC is kicking off Arts & Bots in Atlanta

With Infosys Foundation USA and Blank Family Foundation support, Arts & Bots is making its way to Atlanta. This Monday CEISMC, the local CREATE Lab Satellite, hosted a workshop at Hollis Innovation Academy team. The training was lead by BirdBrain Technologies LLC with support from the CREATE LabCheck out what participants had to say below. Also, check out what was going down during the training via social media.

"The training gave me the tools needed to incorporate Arts and Bots and the EL curriculum to implement the lesson within my classroom. I enjoyed working with my colleagues to build a robot that made the Earth spin. Enjoyable experience; loved the collaboration aspect of programming"

"The Arts and Bots training was so inspiring. I can't wait to see what my students do with Hummingbird."

"Today's experience was fun, imaginative and creative. I enjoyed working with my peers on creating a robot."

"I appreciated having the opportunity to explore in building and programming. I also appreciated the opportunity to grapple and have productive struggle as we collaborated on building our robot. I thoroughly enjoyed this experience."

"I enjoyed collaborating with my team and experiencing the challenges that many of my students will face as they create their project."

Utah Satellites Zoom into GigaPan

"I cannot tell you how excited I am," wrote Kerstin Bolton, a teacher from North Elementary school in Cedar City that participated at a GigaPan workshop at Southern Utah University this November. Bolton used the GigaPan website the next morning in her classroom. "I used a picture of Rome to start our discussion for our lesson. Every one of my students was engaged in the conversation and in awe of the details they could see when we zoomed in on the picture. They are very eager to create their own GigaPan picture!"

At the workshop, members of the Marshall University CREATE Lab Satellite shared GigaPan techniques and practices with teams from the new Satellites at Utah Valley University and Southern Utah University and some of the partners they support. The new Satellites will be offering professional development, support and GigaPan equipment lending library to the educators they serve. This work is made possible by generous support from Infosys Foundation USA

Read on to hear what some of the participants had to say and check out some of their great work: 

Bill Heyborne of Southern Utah University - "The opportunities for using this technology for engaging our students is endless. We anticipate tremendous usage in the coming months and years," said Heyborne, who leads the Satellite at Southern Utah University. "The faculty from the SUU Center for Teaching and Learning are very excited to begin using GigaPan in our professional development activities, as well as with our own University students."/p>

Southern Utah University Upper Quad by Bill Heyborne (SUU) 

Kerstin Bolton of North Elementary - "The training on the GigaPan was highly engaging. The hands-on component, as well as the printed directions and support, from trainers made learning the process of setting up and utilizing the GigaPan a breeze. To further enhance the training there were several in-depth conversations discussing applications of the GigaPan, resources, and website. I was able to immediately return to school the next day and not only access but utilize the resources which were available. My students were highly engaged and excited at new learning opportunities. "

SUU College Of Education Stained Glass by Krista Ruggles (UVU)

Jackie Grant of Southern Utah University - "Because I am a part of the Southern Utah University Semester in the Parks program, I was exceptionally interested in learning how to use Gigapan technology from the CREATE team. We take our students to national parks all over the region, which gives us a phenomenal opportunity to use Gigapan to introduce students to each park's unique resources. After a day of working with the CREATE team, I felt confident about using the equipment and integrating it in my courses."

Alisa Petersen of Southern Utah University - "I loved the GigaPan training. It was great to be able to explore the website and talk about it as a group of educators. I was not surprised at how many really different and interesting ideas the participants had about how to use the online resources with different student populations. I also enjoyed getting to use the technology. I felt that the written directions about how to prepare the camera settings and assemble the camera, tripod, and GigaPan were so thorough and helpful. I was pleased with how easy the stitch software was to use.

I have lots of ideas for using GigaPan and introducing it to teachers and students in our area. I am planning to teach an introductory session at the statewide Utah Art Educators Conference in February for K-12 arts teachers. In the summer I will host a two day workshop at SUU for elementary classroom teachers and arts teachers about how to use GigaPan and Visual Thinking Strategies.

I'm even finding all kind of applications for GigaPan on campus at SUU. Just today I recommended the GigaPan website to an honors professor who is teaching a freshman cohort in SUU's Jumpstart program. They are studying National Parks this year. I think GigaPan is a perfect tool for them."

Outside Roots of Knowledge by Susy Cox (UVU)