Friday, December 14, 2012

Intro to GoGo Boards | 6th Grade Science

How would you design the logic of a traffic signal?

This was one of the challenges we posed to our 6th graders, as part of a two-day activity we did during their science class. On the first day, Sarah Barnum (6th grade science teacher) and I, with help from Ann Greyson (computer science teacher) and Megan Chiou (our teaching intern), took students through a quick lesson on inputs and outputs and then a tutorial on how to use GoGo Boards. On the second day, we asked them to use what they learned to design two everyday devices: a night light and a traffic light. At least one of their designs must incorporate some type of input (sensors) that would control the outputs (lights).

In developing this activity, the first hurdle we faced was that GoGo Monitor, the standard software for GoGo Boards, only runs on Windows PCs and our campus is for the most part a Mac campus. In the past, we kept a set of Windows laptops in the lab for this exact purpose. But we wanted to try something different this year and find a Mac-friendly way to allow students to play with GoGo Boards.

(I should probably mention at this point that a main reason for trying something different is that I'm a big believer in making technology less "precious"/as accessible as possible and tend to opt for solutions to that effect. Especially for something like programming and GoGo Boards, I want students to have the software on their own computers, so they feel empowered to explore and tinker further on their own if they want, maybe by borrowing GoGo Boards from us or buying their own, and won't feel that this is something they can do only if they came to the lab.)

In the end, we found a way to control the GoGo Boards using a cross-platform program called NetLogo. In fact, NetLogo turned out to be a great solution because it allowed us to write up a tutorial, based on the original FabLab@School activity, directly inside the program that students can follow along.

Our 6th graders loved playing with the GoGo Boards and were excited to think about how their night lights and traffic lights should work. Some thought that night lights should be motion-activated while others thought they should sense the amount of light in a room before turning on. And for traffic lights, some groups incorporated mechanical switches, which would be placed on the road and activate the traffic light sequence only when a car rolls up and triggers the switch.

Check out the video below for a traffic light demo:

Some girls got so into programming and GoGo Boards that they kept asking Sarah if they'll get to play around with them in class again. So by popular demand, we decided to lend the 6th grade science classroom a couple of GoGo kits. Now, whenever there's some downtime, girls who want to can tinker with GoGo Boards more on their own.

Not exactly a quantitative measure but I would certainly call that a sign that GoGo Boards are a hit!

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