When Cubetto lost the tire on one of his wheels, teacher Lana Shea and her students at the Illinois School for the Deaf came to the rescue. Watch their hilarious video and read our interview with Lana Shea below.
Tell us about your project
The Illinois School for the Deaf (ISD) in Jacksonville, USA, has initiated Tech Friday this year in which all students in Pre-Kindergarten through 8th grade (ages 3-14) have one class period devoted to technology. The goal is to expose the students to a variety of technology (robots, apps, Arduinos, circuits).
How do you incorporate Cubetto into your programme?
Several of our Tech Fridays were devoted to Cubetto. The first few weeks were all about Cubetto. Later, we hosted an Olympics between Cubetto and another robot. Cubetto won the fastest circle, the most precise square, and “fastest out of the blocks.”
Cubetto is endearing – like a mix of a warm toy and exciting electronics
Have there been any challenges in your activities?
One challenge that I turned into an opportunity. During a little rough handling, the rubber ring around one of Cubetto’s wheels became unattached. Turns out this is an easy operation that requires opening up Cubetto. [See video below.] I’m so excited that the computer club got this opportunity to fix Cubetto. Most robots are labelled: ‘Do not disassemble!’ How refreshing that Cubetto is ‘open’ to exploration. [Please note that Cubetto should only be disassembled with adult supervision.]
What kinds of activities do you cover?
I typically have Cubetto in a bag and tell the students that I brought a robot with me. I love to see their eyes light up when I slowly bring out Cubetto. Cubetto is such a friendly, unassuming robot and the first thing everyone wants to do is hold him and check him out.
Next, I set Cubetto and the control board down on the colourful World Map on the floor and say: ‘Hmmm, I wonder how we get him to move.’ I talk to Cubetto. I sign to Cubetto. I encourage Cubetto with motioning hands. Nothing seems to work. I wait for students to explore, and one will eventually pick up Cubetto and see that there is a power button. The students are excited to have solved part of the problem. This is soon followed by another student who picks up the control board, finds the power button and turns it on. Still nothing as they push the button.
Then I pull out the small, white bag of coloured blocks. Eyes light up again. I tell them that we need to write a code book so that we understand what each color does. (At this point, the beige and blue blocks are hidden in my pocket so that they only have access to green, red, orange, purple and black.)
The students feel empowered when they figure things out on their own
Students take turns putting one coloured block in Cubetto’s control board and documenting the result. We save black for last. And, when the students try the black and it moves Cubetto (forward, right, left, or backwards), I question why we would get a coloured piece that does what another block does, and ask the student to try again. After several pushes on the Go button, the students understand that black is random – a good vocabulary word!
Then, we explore how to move Cubetto from one area on the map to another. We discuss that sometimes there is more than one answer. Later, I ask the students to make a move that requires five forward moves. After having mastered turning Cubetto every which way, the students assume that this will be an easy task, until they reach for a fifth green block and there isn’t one. That’s when I pull out the beige block. After much exploration, the students are able to figure out that beige does the opposite of the square in front. It still takes a little while for the students to realise that they can solve the problem with an opposite and backward block.
What do the children like best?
The students feel empowered when they figure things out on their own. They like the look of Cubetto. I think they are even comforted by the fact that it’s a block shape. There are lots of ‘Oohs’ and ‘Ahhhs.’
What skills do they learn, either related to computational thinking or broader skills?
Last year, the Junior High Computer Club offered to present Cubetto to the high school math classes. They enjoyed being the champions of technology and seeing the high school students struggle with the same problems and solutions that they did.
What do you like about Cubetto?
Cubetto is endearing – like a mix of a warm toy and exciting electronics. I like that Cubetto lends itself to discovery. Typically, all it takes from me is a: ‘Hmm, I wonder how…’ and the students are able to engage in the discovery process.
Lana Shea is a volunteer at the Illinois School for the Deaf, teaching web design and running computer club. She always knew that she wanted to be a teacher. She remembers sitting up in bed in 2nd grade, red pen in hand, correcting spelling mistakes on the cards that her classmates sent her when she was home with the chicken pox.
She applied to the Illinois School for the Deaf when they advertised for someone with a teaching degree who could teach programming and knew sign language. Thanks to her liberal arts education, she ticked all the boxes and was hired immediately. More than 30 years and jobs at other institutions later, she has returned to ISD as a volunteer. Although she has no need for a red pen, she is very happy to have come full circle, making a direct difference in the students’ lives.