Psyched for STEAM: Coding Activities

Crash! Bang! Is it more fun to program your robot to flawlessly complete the course or to "accidently" run into obstacles? Such is the dilemma for students who participated in the Psyched for STEAM short course offered by Wisconsin Center for the Blind (WCBVI). Over the weekend of January 24, 2020, eight students came from across the state to participate in Pysched for STEAM, a Group Short Course filled with STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Math) activities. The objectives of the program were:

  1. Students will participate in two coding activities:
    • One coding activity with the use of technology.
    • One coding activity without the use of technology.
  2. Students will build one small and one large structure.
  3. Students will solve problems within a team

To meet these objectives, students participated in activities such as the Great Egg Drop, building marhmallow towers, Coding Unplugged, Snap Circuits, fort building with recycled materials, and featured activity. . . CodeSnaps! Many of the activities were inspired from the WCBI Short Course team's attendance of the incredible POSB Math and Science Symposium held in 2019! Check out our Student Book filled with student expectations and activity directions! Today's post features:

Tim Fahlberg, one of thte WCVBI guest Short Course team instructors and an innovative math and technology teacher at WCBVI, and his sister April, took learning to a whole new level of fun with the free CodeSnaps app paired with a Sphero - a programmable robotic ball.

Tim and April designed a full afternoon of engaging activities. See the Psyched for STEAM Short Course Outline here. This outline includes the lesson plan and logistics (set up) for each activity. At the bottom of the outline are diagrams of how to set up the course for each activity. Tim's short course involved 8 students with visual impairments who were broken up into three teams. 

Note: If teaching a coding class/club that meets each week for a shorter time frame, these activities can be divided with one or two activities per meeting. The activities can also be easily be expanded to cover a full day. Tim also used these same activities with 20 students in his residential program.

Set up and Materials

Tim divided his students into three teams and provided each team with their own set of materials. Each team worked on the same (or similar) activities simultaneously.

General Materials

photo of CodeSnaps Command box: plastic tub with the long CodeSnaps coding blocks and small insert holding CodeBlocks numbers.Photo of long table covered with yellow tiled squares, with accessible CodeSnaps cards and organization tubs, SPRK+ and meter stick.

Optional General Materials

  • Large tables (Courses can be created on the floor, but tables are recommended!)
  • Interlocking tiles to cover the table (SPRK+ runs better on this surface and the bright yellow provides high contrast for low vision participants)
  • Pipe insulation (or pool noodles)
  • Gaffer's Tape (to attach pipe insulation)
  • Containers to organize and store CodeSnaps coding blocks (highly recommend!)
  • Stainless Steel Sauce Cups (2.5 oz) and 1" Jingle Bells (can use plastic solo cups or other materials to make audible obstacles)
  • Boxes labeled for City and/or other obstacles

Making the Materials for the Small City Activities

April Bahl applied her artistic talent and created multiple Small Cities and Large Cities, made the models of the cities and adapted the CodeSnaps coding blocks. She also found the stainless steel sauce cups (found on Amazon) and the plastic "Command Containers" for the accessible CodeSnaps coding blocks (containers found at Target).

April shared the following hints:
  • The scale buildings on the APH Graphics Aid for Mathematics scale model were made using square wooden pushpins glued together, with a poster board piece on top. There was a legend in both Braille and Large Print, with each building having a one or two letter designation. Corrugated cardboard was used to indicate parks (no travel zones off limit to Sphero).
  • The buildings are made from foamboard, chipboard and packing tape. They fold flat for easy storage. When they are setup, we put cans of soda inside to weigh them down so they wouldn't move around if they got accidently bumped. In the first iteration - they were pretty plain. Based on feedback from Tim's students, we made improvements.
    • We added carboard doors and windows to the front and sides of the buildings to provide a different tactile feel.
    • We added a 5" circle to the top of each building with the letter from the scale model legend, so large print readers could identify the building more easily.

Photo of Small City building front view: Gas station with 2 cardboard gas pumps in front of the building. Photo of Small City Gas station, side view.

Image Description: Small City - Long table covered with yellow tile blocks with pipe isolation attached with Gaffer's tape to the edges of the tile blocks. On the table are 6 boxes (3 different sizes) labeled in large print and braille. The boxes represent Mary's house and John's house (both houses have angled roofs), bowling, pizza, high school and Post Office. Buildings are spaced and arranged to indicate roads. There are sauce cups which indicated blocked off area (a park). Measuring tape provides scale. Also on the table is a SPRK+ and the APH Graphics board with an accessible model of the Small City which is to scale. Attached is the diagram of the Small City layout.

Photo of Small City: long table with boxes for buildings, metal cups, and APH Graph Board with model to scale.

The photo below shows the APH Graphics Aid for Mathematics board with pushpins and string forming a square that represents the CodeSnaps table. Five buildings are represented by 'blocks' and are labeled in print and braille. The "blocked off" park is represented by a square piece of cardboard. The depicted area is created to scale and mirrors the real CodeSnaps table Small City.

Photo of small city model using APH Graph Board and tactile materials.

 

Activities

The various activities are listed in the Psyched for Steam Short Course Outline here.

The following image is an Audible Maze with approximately 30 sauce cups lining both sides of a "zig-zag" path and the SPRK+ rolling down the pathway. The zig-zag path is move straight ahead, turn right and travel a short path, turn left and continue in the same initial direction; the zig-zag path is as if the Sphero need to navigate around and obstacle (zig to the right) and once past the obstacle (zag to the left) to continue moving in the original direction. Inside each sauce cup is a small bell. If the Sphero hits the cup, there is a noise!

Photo of the Audible Maze which is set up in a zig-zag path.

Tim shared the following about the audible mazes:

"Students would take measurements of paths and then write little programs to try to get their Sphero robots through the courses without making much noise but as young teens often found it just as fun (or more fun!) to see just how much destruction and noise they could make either on purpose or "by accident". They were happy to blame failures of their code on poorly calibrated robots even if that was only the case perhaps 10% of the time!"

What We Learned

April shared a few additional comments:

  • We set up a charging station for each Sphero. In between running the code, each team returned Sphero to its station. We were concerned that with the length of the course, that a Sphero might not last if it stayed on the whole time. We also had an an extra Sphero, just in case.
  • We also made a modification to add Velcro dots to the back of the command blocks and the backs of the numbers. We cut the top left corner of the numbers off at an angle to indicate how the numbers should be oriented. We did have a problem with the number containers getting knocked over because of the small footprint, so we are working on a modificaiton to prevent that in the future.

A big thank you to Tim and April for sharing their wonderful Psyched for STEAM Short Course Activities with us!

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