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FETC 2016: Sensors without the Wires

Reimagine_classroom_imageTired of being hemmed in by wireless sensors that only work on iPads or PCs? Pasco’s wireless sensors can connect with everything from a PC and Mac to iPads, Androids and even Chromebooks, for a more complete STEM lab. There are sensors for force, pH, temperature and other key physical data that start use Bluetooth to connect with a wide variety of hardware and can cost as little as $39

Learn to Play

45300_ClassroomSolution_01Lego’s WeDo 2.0 can help make every minute at school count for the smallest learners by turning play time into learning time. The $160 kit has four get-started projects with the WeDo Lego pieces that range from life and earth sciences to physics and engineering. The idea is to teach them to put the standard projects together and then to create their own designs.

Environmental TenInstead of static Lego designs, WeDo items are mini robots with motion and tilt sensors, a motor and processor-based Smarthub, all of which have been hidden inside and around regular Lego building blocks. There’s a compact programming interface for making them do you will. It’s all NGSS aligned and the software works with iPads, Androids, PCs and Macs; Lego engineers are working on a Chromebook interface.


Coding for Kids

Programming compositeWe keep hearing the future belongs to programmers, but today’s schools barely get beyond teaching them how to type and use Word and Excel. That’s despite a plethora of ways to teach coding to kids, including an innovative set of books and Web sites that can show and tell them how to create everything from basic games to controlling robots. The best part is that most use open-source programming languages, like Python and Scratch, so there’s no extra software to buy.

Hello worldHello World! Computer Programming for Kids and Other Beginners

Despite being a little long in the tooth, father and son authors Warren and Carter Sande’s Hello World programming manual has stood the test of time. A great place to start, the 440-page book is aimed at 6th graders and up, but may be a bit much for small kids to understand or even carry around. The book is illustrated with 90s-ish cartoon characters and takes you through the basics of using Python with a bunch of projects that actually help teach basic math as well as programming skills. Organized around the fundamentals, there are chapters on modules, objects and sound. Along the way, the book’s quizzes can be turned into grades for a class. The latest edition costs about $30.

Learn to Program with Minecraft

MinecraftRather than start from scratch, why not use a programming class to customize and augment an existing game so that kids learn as they customize and play games. With Program with Minecraft, Craig Richardson shows how to use the Python programming environment to take a teleportation trip around the game’s landscape, create forests and make secret passageways. You can even add lava and water traps to Minecraft. The class might think they’re playing a popular game, but beneath the surface, the class will be learning about object oriented programming, Boolean loops, “if” statements and more. The 320-page $30 book ($24 as an eBook), includes a cheat sheet.

Python for Kids: A Playful Introduction to Programming

Python for kidsThe premise of Python for Kids: A Playful Introduction to Programming is that adult programmers shouldn’t have all the fun of making creative programs. The 344-page book is aimed at 9-year olds and up, and works with Python code on a variety of platforms, including the inexpensive Raspberry Pi DIY computer. Written by Jason R. Briggs, it is a step by step guide that is equal parts serious coding instructions and light-hearted jokes and project instructions, including two full games. Rather than a boring quiz, each section has a puzzle that is aimed at expanding the horizons of each student and reinforcing what’s been learned. It costs $35 for the print edition or about $15 for the Kindle e-book version.

Scratch for Kids for Dummies

Scratch for kidsScratch for Kids uses the MIT-created Scratch programming language and is an excellent introduction to both computers and programming for middle- and high-school students. Derek Breen includes sections for making games, creating animation sequences and sharing the results with other kid-programmers. The $30 ($20 in eBook form) book has 384 pages that includes 16 projects for kids to perform. The beauty of Scratch is that it can run in a browser window or in an application, so just about any computer at school is fair game.


The Official Scratch Jr. Book

Scratchjr_cover-front_revisedMarina Umaschi Bers and Mitchel Resnick (the creator of Scratch) have teamed up to create a book for the youngest programmers with lots of step-by-step directions and illustrations for getting the most out of the junior version of Scratch. The free software runs on iPads and Android slates, and the result is a programming course that lets kids do everything from making interactive games to writing stories and creating animation. A big bonus is that the 160-page book has an online resource book that links each lesson with the relevant Common Core standard. If you buy the paperback book for $20 you get the e-book; on its own, the Official Scratch e-book is $16.

Odysseyware Principles of Coding

OW principles of coding 2Why deal with a book at all when programming can be integrated from the start in a school’s digital curriculum. That’s the idea behind the new Odysseyware Principles of Coding unit, which teaches the basics of programming to middle school students by having them create projects like games, simulations and their own apps. It’s based on the Computer Science Teachers Association’s standards, and could be the start of a new generation of imaginative programmers.



TynkerFinally, Tynker takes coding class to a new level with a K-through-8th grade curriculum that has basic modules for the rudiments of coding, but also has instruction for math, science, English and social studies projects. Each module has lesson plans, quizzes and puzzles so there’s little extra that the teacher has to provide. There’s a free trial of one of the modules and the whole curriculum can be licensed for $400 a year per classroom or $2,000 per school for up to 400 students.


Freebee Friday: A Varisty Letter in Robotics

3O6A9411_louWith STEM-related classes in robotics and programming, For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology, better known as FIRST, has a great idea: make it a varsity sport with extracurricular competitions between schools. After all, eSports gaming is becoming a big professional sport, it’s fun and educational, but with so many STEM related jobs coming, it’s a necessity. FIRST has resources for starting a program as well as list of STEM related scholarships.



Inside the Body, Comic Book Style

Physio_cover_webLearning about human physiology involves a lot of hard work memorizing all the different parts and how they work together to keep us going, right? It doesn’t have to be with No Starch Press’s “The Manga Guide to Physiology,” a comic book on our guts and how we stay alive. It’s all centered around a Japanese nursing student and a professor who is teaching her all about the body, from the parts of blood to how the liver, kidneys and heart work. Written by Etsuro Tanaka, a doctor and professor at the Tokyo University of Agriculture, the 239-page book is nicely illustrated and is chock full of big-eyed characters, furtive looks and snide remarks, although color could have helped a lot to visually explain some things. Still, there’s lots of details about things like the nervous and endocrine systems. In fact, the manga physiology guide looks like the easiest way to learn human anatomy and is a bargain at $20 for the print edition and $16 for the ebook.

The Ball Rolls On

Sphero Lightning Lab screenshotWhen we looked at Sphero’s SPRK robotic ball package, we thought it was a great way to teach programming, but it lacked a place for teachers and students to interact and share. By partnering with CWIST, Sphero’s SPRK Lightning Lab now has a virtual community for sharing ideas and experiences about STEM along with some new activities to try out.

5 (Not So) Easy Pieces

DSC_9523_preview_featured3-D printing may be the future for manufacturing technology and education but to get kids and teachers comfortable with it you need a good group of basic design to work with. MakerBot Thingiverse has an incredible library of designs that can help a class get started with 3-D printing. The latest five come from some extraordinary students and include everything from a music box and gripper to a fork for Parkinson’s Disease sufferers and a medication bottle opener. May favorite, though is tiny Roman Colosseum that was made by group of students aged 13- to 17-years old. It is true to life in just about every detail and is used in a 3-D map of Europe.


Science via the Rain Forest

Edtechlens rainforestUsing the ecosystem of a rain forest as its motif, EdTechLens’s Rainforest Journey can teach K-through-fifth graders all about science. With sections on everything from the water cycle to the parts of an ecosystem, the curriculum is all online. It includes lesson plans, assessments, primary source material and activities.


Freebee Friday: Code Day, Everyday

Code hourThis coming week rates a star on the calendar of STEM teachers, students and geeks in general. Welcome to Hour of Code 2015, a celebration of programming that will have events in 180 countries. There are online tutorials, but if you can get out of the classroom, you can celebrate at your local Apple store where there will be (you guessed it) hour-long workshops on getting kids excited about becoming programmers and creating innovative software. You’ll need to sign up but it’s all free and if you can’t get there some of the events will be podcast.

Up Close and Cheap

44302_Deluxe_Handheld_Digital_Microscope_4STEM education should be more than programming robots, and with Celestron’s Handheld Digital Microscope, students can get a front-row seat a journey into the microscopic world. Whether it’s examining the folds of tree bark, butterfly wings, an electronic circuit board or what a fingerprint actually looks like, at $50 it is one of the best school bargains around.

While most of Celestron’s products peer into the cosmos, the 4-ounce portable microscope can look deeply into what’s here on earth. About the size of a small flashlight, the handheld microscope is small and easily fits into a pocket. Inside is a 2-megapixel imaging sensor and optics that add up to a 1,600 by 1,200-pixel view. The company also has a 5-megapixel version that goes to 200X magnification and costs $120.

Powered by a USB cable, the microscope goes dead when it’s unplugged. It has a ring of six white LEDs to illuminate the surface and the microscope comes with a small chrome stand but is equally good when used on its own. At the end of the microscope is an orange button for snapping a photo, although there’s an annoying three-second delay.

Celestron microscope bill with markersThe microscope comes with software for recent Windows systems that has an excellent interface. With it you can view what the microscope is taking in. It can take snapshots (at 1.9 megapixel) or save video streams (at 0.3 megapixel), which is adequate, but disappointing in an era of HD and ultra-HD imaging.

A big bonus is the software’s ability to measure the distance between any two points with digital pushpins that you can place anywhere on the field of view. It is accurate to about .01 millimeter, making perfect for a lab that measures common things, like the size of a newspaper’s type or how deep the ridges of a key are.

Unfortunately, the microscope’s lighting stays on even after the system has gone to sleep. In fact, the only way to turn it off is by unplugging the microscope.

While it puts out an impressive 150X with a 19-inch screen, the real worth of the handheld microscope is when it’s connected to a projector or big display for everyone to see.

Its optics and sensor allow you to see lots of things close up, but can’t see bacteria or individual cells. Celestron does sell three sets of four preserved insects for $13 each.

44302_Deluxe_Handheld_Digital_Microscope_8On the downside, if you want to use a Mac or Chromebook system, there’s no specific app available. As a result, there’s no measurement feature. You’ll need to view the images in PhotoBooth for a Mac and a Web Cam viewer app for a Chromebook. To grab an image, click the microscope’s screen shot button. There’s no software for Android, iOS and Chromebooks.

To get closer to the action, you’ll need a more heavy-duty device, like Celestron’s $360 Pentaview microscope that goes down to 600X and has a 4.3-inch screen. With it, you – and your students – can see everything.



Celestron Handheld Digital Microscope


+ Inexpensive

+ Includes stand

+ LED lighting

+ USB connector

+ Measurement software

+ 2-year warranty

- No software for iOS, Android or Chromebook

- Lacks an on/off switch



Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in Tech Tools are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Scholastic, Inc.