Saturday, February 18, 2017

4-H STEM: Edison Robots

Our latest 4-H activity was playing with programmable robots.   There are a variety of robots currently available that use drag-and-drop software to teach kids about coding.  After looking into the options, I decided to go with Edison robots

Edison robots are inexpensive, Lego compatible, programmable robots.   After reading a variety of reviews, I decided to go with Edison because they had mainly positive reviews (although not a ton at all since they are relatively new and Australian), were inexpensive (important since I needed at least 6 of them), and because they would work with Amazon Fire tables (also fairly inexpensive).  Many of the other programmable robots needed either IPads or laptops for full functionality.   I also wanted something that wouldn't be too simple for the kids in my group, many of which were already into electronics and coding.

The company provides multiple booklets of lesson plans that can be used with Edison.  We started with activities that involved programming Edison using barcodes.   There were barcodes for obstacle detection, following lines, following a flashlight, staying within borders, robot wrestling, and controlling with a remote control. 

We didn't try the flashlight because our room would be too bright and I didn't want the kids stumbling around in the dark.   We did experience some difficulty when we had multiple remote controls going at the same time.   I would definitely recommend only having one or two remotes, and separating the robots during programming.

The kids had the most fun with the line tracking (using black electrical tape and some print-offs from the website) and robot wrestling.

Our second meeting we used the free drag-and-drop programming software called EdWare.  At least some of the kids did.  Many of them continued to play with the barcodes and remote controls, and had a lot of fun with that.   

The company provides lessons that will take kids step-by-step through how the different icons work, including a downloadable test program.   While EdWare wasn't very complicated, I think it's probably best for kids over 8 or 9 years old who are already familiar with using tablets.

We definitely could have used more time to work with the program.  Our meetings run about an hour of activity time and that wasn't really long enough for the kids to get into the software.

Edison also has Python based software called EdPy to help kids learn text-based programming.  We did not try this out at all (lesson plans are not yet available but should be by June) but I feel like this gives Edison a longer useful lifespan than many of the robots that don't go past simple drag-and-drop software.

I purchased our Edisons through the manufacturer at the link above.   I had a few questions about the EdPy software, about the issues we had with remote controls, and trouble I had testing them out at home (turns out using them directly in a beam of bright sunlight messed up the sensors).  I was able to post questions through the Blog, check out the Forums and get answers for my questions fairly quickly.

There were a couple times one of our Edisons was acting funky (could have been the remote problem) and we popped out the batteries to reset it.  The other issue I ran into was in printing the materials.  The company is in Australia (shipping was free) so all documents were A5 size and I had to make sure to switch to Letter size when printing.

The other robots I looked into:

Dot & Dash - I was actually teaching an afterschool enrichment class using Dot & Dash when I was researching robots.   This is one of the ones I thought would be too simple for the kids in my group.  Looking at Amazon reviews, D&D are not fully compatible with many tablets except newer generation IPads, which would add to the already expensive $125 price tag.  That's just for Dash.  To really get much out of these robots, you would need to purchase Dot and an accessory pack (available in a package with Dash for $249).

Ozobots - I'm currently teaching an afterschool enrichment class using Ozobots, but I wasn't yet teaching it when I was looking to purchase robots.  Main negative reviews I saw mentioned needing frequent calibration and difficulty in drawing the lines and codes it can track.  I am finding this issue to be true in my class.  The lines need to be a certain width and the colored blocks for codes can't be too large or too small or uneven, etc.  I also don't think they would work well on screens smaller than a 9" tablet.  The apps involved "drawing" lines on screen for Ozo to follow but corners and curves can't be too tight so a smaller screen would definitely limit what could be done.  Ozobots are $54.99 each so the price isn't awful.  The more expensive Ozobot Evo for $99.99 can be programmed with an Android or iOS phone.

Lego Mindstorms - really high start-up costs

Week 23 and 24 - excuses, excuses, excuses

I'm late again.  This time at least I have an excuse or two.   Flu, snow, and my computer has bit the dust (again!).  

The house has been hard-hit by the flu for the second time since the new year.    We got our first decent snowstorm, the kids spent some time outside, and the next day everyone was coughing, sneezing and miserable.

So, we haven't done a lot of school in the past couple of weeks.  We did start Ancient History (finally!), which can be seen here and Vicki is reading her way through Harry Potter after a reluctant start.  Even the length of book 5 wasn't enough to intimidate her.

What school we did get done I wasn't able to post about because my computer decided it didn't want to charge anymore.  I managed to grab a few photos, but until it comes back from Best Buy (hopefully) fixed, I'm missing all my photo editing software, plus my plans and ideas.

I'm giving the kids the three day holiday weekend to rest and get over feeling sick, and we are jumping back into school Tuesday morning.

Ancients: Plans and Cave Painting

We finally started our study of Ancient History!   We are using History Odyssey Level 2, with some modifications/additions, including using both the Kingfisher History Encyclopedia and the Usborne Internet Linked Encyclopedia of World History.  I've had the Usborne for years but bought the Kingfisher because it was supposed to be at a higher level.  Honestly, so far I'm not seeing it.  The reading level seems similar between the two, in fact some entries in the Kingfisher seem to be a lower level.    The main difference is that the Kingfisher starts with Early Humans, while the Usborne covers Prehistory.

We will also be looking for relevant entries in our Art: Over 2500 Works from Cave to Contemporary book.  This book is full of wonderful pictures and tons of information on art.  Since I'm teaching art as a accompaniment to our history studies, this book is perfect.

History Odyssey includes assignments to complete dictation sentences, definitions, fact cards, and/or summaries drawn from the Kingfisher Encyclopedia.  Each unit I'm going to write up my own dictation sentences (or definitions, summaries, fact cards) from the Usborne Encyclopedia and one kid will do the Kingfisher and one will do the Usborne.   All this information will then be put in our Timeline book.  

Our Timeline book is old but mostly empty. It has entries for the family birthdays and events from when we were discussing what is history.   I made it way back when we first started homeschooling.  I don't remember why I set it up the way I did.  I'm sure I read it somewhere, but basically what we are looking at is:
We start at 5 million years ago. 
1 million years ago. 
200,000 years ago
100,000 years ago 
50,000 BC to 5100 BC
5000BC to 4200BC 
4200 BC to 500BC - 100 years per page
500 BC to 1000 AD - 50 years per page
1000AD to 1800 AD - 20 years per page
1800 AD to the present - 10 years per page.

We also have the History Odyssey wall timeline and stickers that we will update as we go along as well.   I like the idea of having both.  The book will allow us to put more detail in each entry, the wall timeline will show the progress of history better.

Before the Holiday craziness, we finished up our Evolution/Prehistory study by learning about early man. We started with studying various Creation Myths using In The Beginning: Creation Stories from Around the World since it seemed like a good transition from evolution.

We then revisited the tail end of our evolution study by reviewing the early man sections in the Kingfisher and Usborne.  History Odyssey begins with the first civilizations but I wanted more of a transition between prehistory and history.

I wrote up some simple dictation sentences for the kids to complete while reading from the encyclopedias.   There were some minor differences in the times given between the Usborne and Kingfisher.  Exact dates are not available when you go that far back. 

I can see already that I may need to use smaller index cards or add extra page flaps.

In addition to the encyclopedias, the kids completed the Ice Age activities from Kids Discover.   We used to receive the print magazines but they don't seem to offer them anymore so I purchased a subscription to the website.  In addition to articles with pictures, diagrams and videos, they offer Teacher's Guides that include quizzes and activities to extend the learning.

and they read a few stories about the time period.

We also took a virtual tour of the cave paintings at Lascaux from this website.

We finished up by doing some cave painting of our own.  I was going to set up a fake cave and have the kids paint the walls inside but we were all getting over various colds/flu (that hit again a week later) so I went simpler.  I use brown paper bags (leaf bags from Walmart), tore off sections and crumbled them up to give them some texture.  Instead of making our own paints from charcoal and oil, I let them use some of our paints.  But only colors that would be possible to find in nature.  I originally gave them only brown, yellow and white to match the colors in the cave paintings we viewed, but they managed to talk me into red, green, and orange.   I allowed them to use their fingers or a stick as a brush.  George did one simple drawing with a stick (a squid of course)....

while Vicki jumped right in with her hands and did an entire sunset scene.

As soon as everyone gets over the latest round of colds/flu, we will continue Ancients by starting History Odyssey with First Civilizations and Monuments.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

4-H STEM: Crime Scene Investigation

Back in December we did what I think was the funnest activity yet with our 4-H STEM group.  We did a crime scene investigation that incorporated some chemistry, some biology, some physics.

The Set-up:  A crime has been committed.  The sugar cookies for the party have been stolen.  We  will be examining the trace and physical evidence left at the scene to determine our guilty party.

Our suspects:
Beary Cedric AKA Cedric the Bear
Seen near the scene of the crime with white powder on his paws

Richard Odod the Dodo
Also seen near the scene with white powder on his wings

Oscabolla the horse
Seen leaving the scene

Also seen near the scene of the crime were Pikachu and an unknown human.

Our first activity was to identify the unknown powders that were found on Cedric and Richard's paws/wings/feet.

We tested a variety of white powders: baking soda, baking powder, corn starch, and detergent with different reactants - iodine (reacts with starch), vinegar (a weak acid that will react with bases), and cabbage juice (pH indicator) and recorded the results.

We then processed our reactants with our two unknown powders and compared the reactions to our known substances.

To make it easier, each group was provided with an ice cube tray to separate the samples.
Our results: Cedric had baking soda on his paws, while Richard had cornstarch on his wings.  So far the evidence is inconclusive.

We then dusted some plates found at the scene for fingerprints.  I set up the plates ahead of time by putting lotion on my hands and pressing my fingers against the edge of white ceramic plates.

The kids used cocoa powder and soft brushes to bring out the fingerprints.  It was very important to tap lightly with the brushes, not brush back and forth.  We then used tape to lift the fingerprints off the plates.

We then used markers (the lab sheet said to use pencil but our pencils didn't work for some reason) to make an impression of our own fingerprints and compared them.

Our last activity was using short wave UV lights to look for clues around the scene.  We discussed the various things that will show up under the lights, which include blood, saliva, sweat, scorpions, some vitamins, milk, some oils, honey, ketchup and various other organic materials.

I used yellow highlighters and wrote messages on black cardstock so they would only show up under the lights.  I placed these in semi-hidden spots around the room.

My signs:


Our guilty parties were: Cedric the Bear and Oscabollo the horse.

The kids had a great time with this activity and were very excited when they solved the crime.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Weeks 11 through 22: Catching Up

Happy Thanksgiving.. um ...Merry New Year....Happy Groundhog Day!

Okay, I really really got out of my trend of posting every week.  I'm hoping to get back into it now that the holidays are over and we are back into our "normal" routine.   Despite not posting, we have been doing quite a bit of school in the past few (3??? eek it's been that long!) months.   This weekend will bring a plethora of posts on 4-H, Science, and History to bring us up to date.

But first!  What have we accomplished in our core subjects?

Vicki has been struggling a little bit with multi-digit multiplication.  We are taking time every day to work on memorizing her times tables and doing extra practice problems outside of the busy pages from Math Mammoth.  We are spending more time sitting together doing her work so I can help her before she gets overwhelmed.  We have taken a break from Evan Moor Skill Sharpeners Math until she has a better handle on multiplication.

She's enjoying Beast Academy.  She is up to the lessons on perimeter and area (so almost done with 3A).  We like how BA presents geometry much better than what's in MM so I'm sure we'll do the same thing we did for Squidy - skip the MM geometry chapters (more on that later).

Vicki is almost finished with Vocabulary from Classical Roots 4.   Most of the vocabulary words she has already been familiar with and since book 5 was unavailable from Amazon, she will be starting book 6 soon.  I had her take a look at Squidy's book 6 and she was familiar with many of those words already so she shouldn't have any problem with that level.

She has started Evan Moor Spell & Write Grade 6.  When she finishes this book, she will be done with spelling except for corrections in writing.

I finally convinced Vicki to give the Harry Potter series a try.  She was very reluctant at first so I told her she only had to read the first one if she wanted.  She ended up loving it and is now on the third book.

She has also read My Side of the Mountain, Black Beauty, The Mouse and the Motorcycle, Charlotte's Web, and a bunch of books for Ancient History - Ice Age.    We are working through the Mensa reading lists.  Since she is not ready for a lot of the harder books in the 4th-6th grade list (subject wise more than ability) we are doing the higher level books (or those we missed reading) from the K-3rd list and those she is ready for from the 4th - 6th list.

We've made some changes to Squidy's line up.  We are putting aside Math Mammoth because he felt it was boring and too repetitive. We will pull out the MM if it looks like he needs the extra practice or explanation when we come across a topic in Jousting Armadillos or Zaccaro Challenge Math.   My main concern with this plan is the geometry chapters in 6B.  Like many others users, we don't really like the geometry presentation in MM (it's considered the weakest part of the program) but there is information there that will be needed going forward. 

I found a recommendation for Hands-On Geometry, available as a free download, for 4th to 6th grade.  It should give him all the geometry he will need to be ready for High School Geometry in two years.  Once he finishes Beast Academy 4C, we are going to switch to Hands-On Geometry.  While we really like BA, he's not learning anything new and we're starting to look at what he needs to be ready for Algebra and beyond.

Squidy is finishing up Vocabulary from Classical Roots 6 and will be starting book A next week. 

He is currently reading the Inheritance Series - he has finished Eragon and Eldest, and will be starting Brisngr next week.  He has also read The Red Pyramid series (really LOVED that one), and Tuck Everlasting in the past few months.

We have started Write On! for our writing curriculum.  I wanted something that was gentle, started at the beginning, and increased gradually.  Being able to use it with both kids is an added bonus.

So far they've written acrostic poems, rhyming sentences, descriptive sentences, and riddles.

One of Vicki's riddles:
If you have too little you die
If you have too much you die
I'm in you and all
What am I? (water - I think she remembers my talk about good chemicals/bad chemicals at 4-H where we discussed Chemical X, which was water)

One of Squidy's riddles:
I can go out, but I can't go in.
I can wax, but I cannot wane.
When used, I often shine bright.
What am I? (candle)

Coming soon:  Crime Scene Investigations, Ancient History - Ice Age & Cave Painting, Zip Lines, Pendulum Painting, Edison robots, and a field trip to a Bug Museum.