Cubelets and Inquiry Based Learning by Stepan Pruchnicky, The first FE Contest Winner Post

This is a guest post

Update: Check out Stepan second post with his and the students Cubelets experiences Students love the Cubelets

Elementary school learning is a messy thing. It’s loud and it involves a lot of hands-on,
exploratory, cooperative learning. Kids like building, taking apart and re-building.
In my grade five class, I have seen some really exciting learning happen when students get
a chance at messy learning. When younger students get a chance to tinker, they really get
to learn. They internalize their learning and then are able to access it later.

One of biggest hurdles for elementary school teachers to get through, over and across,
is that kids need this kind of learning. Not all learning can be quiet and controlled.

The second biggest hurdle for elementary school teachers is coming to terms with the fact
that students also need to learn to sit and read, write and process slowly. Not everything
in life happens in an interactive way, at a high-energy pace.

In my class I try to keep to the following model: messy, exploratory, hands-on lesson followed up
by a slower, reflective piece of work describing the learning that has just happened.

I would love to take part in the Cubelets competition to see what kind of writing it will yield.
I AM interested in modular robotics, but I am far more interested in what my students will do
with the Cubelets. I am still more interested in the reflective, thoughtful writing that it will
generate. I’m eager for my students to play with the Cubelets, record (on video) what they have
constructed, then describe what they have learned about Cubelets and how they work. Perhaps they
can write a follow up to this blog post?

Cubelets are toys that provide users with a unique opportunity to imagine, construct and play.
Students would be so excited to imagine their toys, then build them, then play with them. The play
would plant seeds into their imagination of other combinations of cubes to make new robots,
providing the students with even more ideas for robots to construct. Constructing and reconstructing
would give the children a chance to “edit” and refine their ideas with their hands. Since the Cubelets
require seconds to re-arrange, students with even the shortest attention spans would be able to take
part in this process. Moreover, they would instantly see how their edits had changed their robot.
Presumably, the students would then be able to write about this process.

Some key-learning that would arise from a process like
this would be:

  1.  Ideas (in general) require editing. Cubelet robots require refinements – student thinking and writing also requires refinement.
  2.  Teamwork is powerful. A team is far more likely to find its way out of a problem than an individual.
  3.  Asking questions (“How can we improve this?”, “What else can these do?”) leads to an improved understanding of how things function.

I realize that this proposal is not technical/scientific; however, I think it will provide real insight
into how students learn. What is it about the hands on process that allows them to grow
synapses and truly learn? Maybe after the Cubelets challenge, students will be able to tell us.
Better yet, maybe they will recognize it in themselves and seek out authentic learning experiences
for themselves.

You can follow Stepan Pruchnicky on Twitter at @stepanpruch or his tumblr blog.

This post is the first winner in The Flexibility Envelope’s Spectacular Cubelets Competition
Check out the competition to win free tinkering time with the Cubelets and soon other Modular robotics systems!

This is a guest post by an external writer. For more guest posts and how you can contribute,
check out the guest posts page.

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