Friday, September 23, 2011

Lego and Robotics

Years ago a friend of mine handed me a bag of Lego her daughter had outgrown. Well, I don't know if you ever truly outgrow them, but they passed them on to my daughters anyway. When she handed them to me she said, "Welcome to the world of vacuuming up Lego". I laughed.

Of course, I had grown up with Lego and knew all the greatest ways to make a game out of setting up a storefront and trading pieces back and forth with my siblings. Usually we would trade for something from another sibling's store so that we could have that one special piece they had built into a structure. Those are great memories.

I taught that game to my children, but they made it their own. They customized it to fit a new generation with new ideas and challenges. We discovered K'nex along the way too, which opened up a whole other world. But that is another engineering moment.

The thing that really opened a new door as far as Lego is concerned was when my son became interested in robotics and we realized there was a 4-H robotics camp coming up. The door opened, we walked in and they fell in love with the idea of building a robot, hooking it up to the computer and telling it what to do, all with a specialized set of robotic Lego. It's not as easy as it sounds. Sometimes they would program the robot only to discover that they hadn't told it to turn far enough at a certain point or had given it some other faulty command that threw off the sequence. This took them back to the computer to fix the program and what I realized as I watched them is that they were learning engineering skills that could help take them toward a rewarding career if they were ever interested in that.

Just one more wonderful, hands-on way of learning. Lego has led us from the store front game to the world of robotics and headed us down a fascinating road where we are busy exploring other robotic mediums for learning.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Hands-on Learners

Kinesthetic learners are exhausting. They have to be doing something all the time. If their hands are not busy they will find something to do with them…tap on the table…pick on their sister…you get the idea. If you have hands-on learners you know what I’m talking about.

As the mother of six active children I've always looked for ways to enhance the learning of my children by letting them do. We love games and manipulatives that provide an active approach to learning. File folder games, lapbooks and other activities keep their hands busy and their minds focused on the subject at hand, helping them to comprehend and learn effectively.

I love to come across new ideas for making it hands-on; like the one in the picture. Here's how you do it. You'll need a round piece of cardboard. An easy way to come up with this is to buy the cardboard cake holders like the one pictured above. You can find them in the cake decorating section and they are intended to put a round cake on before you decorate it. They usually come in a stack with several to work with.

Choose what you want to focus on whether it is times tables or synonyms and antonyms as in the example above. I chose to put synonyms on one side and antonyms on the other. Write these systematically around the edge. Then, on clothespins, write the answers that will match up to each item around the edge. Because I made mine two sided, I wrote answers on both sides of the clothes pin, but carefully colored the edge of the clothespin on the side where the synonym answers are.

When they play, they pull all the clothes pins off the edge of the cardboard and mix them up. Then the goal is to get each clothes pin back where it belongs.

Any time we can give variety to learning it helps keep the mind open. For example, yesterday while teaching one of my piano students, I asked if he had worked on his theory. I've never been crazy about theory workbooks, but it came with him from his other teacher and so I've assigned it. However, he never does it. He said yesterday that after being in school all day the theory seems too much like school work. Sitting down to the piano and practicing was okay, but he just hate doing the theory. I pulled out the music Wrap-ups. If you've never seen these they are a great tool when children are drilling facts that must be mastered. I handed it to him and he was excited. I asked if he wanted to work on the Wrap-ups every week at lessons or take it home. He wanted to take it home and practice it every day. Now instead of begging him to do theory he made the commitment on his own to work on it daily. I love it when a child enjoys learning.