Imagine a room filled with LEGOs, play dough, colored paper, crayons, recycled cardboard boxes and tubes that once held paper towels. Immediately, you may think of an art room or an early primary classroom but the room I am describing happens to be the room for the Lifelong Kindergarten group housed in the Media Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
This summer, I had the opportunity to attend a workshop on Scratch programming. Scratch is a free software developed by MIT that students can use to create games and interactive media. The simple drag and drop programming allows even elementary students the ability to make their own characters come alive on a screen. The particular workshop I attended focused on using LEGO WeDo sensors with Scratch. Workshop participants came from all over the world and I found myself in a small group with a lady from Virginia and another lady from India. The task for our group seemed simple, detect a bouncy ball coming toward our laptop using a sensor to detect distance, have the ball appear on one side of the computer screen, move to the other side and then trigger a motor sensor to propel the ball to a target, in our case a paper turkey needing to be fed. My group was one of nine, working along side each other in a semi circle, one cog in a long Rube Goldberg machine, creating a physical-digital chain reaction. Our turkey target happened to be the end goal for the elaborate series of events. As I worked with my two teammates, I began to think about the skills involved in this very engaging task:
Communication: I had to clearly communicate my ideas to the two people I worked with as well as the team next to me. They were propelling the ball we needed to detect.
Collaboration: We had to work together as a small group and as a very large team to make the machine successful. We found ourselves dividing up the tasks to quickly move to the end goal.
Creativity: We had access to whatever we needed in the room. My teammates and I gathered tubes, LEGOs, putty, a barrell of monkeys and boxes to create a structure for the bouncy ball to move. When thinking about how to propel the ball into the mouth of the paper turkey using the motor, we discussed gears and how they worked. Our solution: a plastic spoon taped to LEGO’s connected by a series of gears. When the motor turned, the spoon flipped up, delivering the ball to the turkey.
Critical Thinking: We failed over and over again, but each time we discussed what worked and what did not. We were never discouraged or felt like giving up. Eventually, we found a solution.
Of course, we used technology as well. We took a digital picture to use as a background in our program, we imported sprites (images in a game software) from a flash drive, we connected and tested sensors and we wrote a program in Scratch.
The result, well see for yourself:
If you have LEGO WeDo Robot kits at your school and think this project would be fun, you can download Scratch for free:
as well as the Physical-Digital Chain Reaction helpful information: