By Scott McKenzie
I have a confession --
I liked math but just didn't seem to understand the methods and processes we were expected to follow.
I have another confession --
I have no background in computer science or programming at all.
I simply believe students should have the opportunity to learn how to program, and so began teaching myself a few years ago.
Now math is my favorite subject to teach, and I love integrating coding into my program wherever it seems to work well.
I am sharing an open-ended math and coding challenge I developed involving a Sphero robot. Students had to work through the challenge collaboratively and problem-solve with all their math skills to build and create a maze for the robot to navigate. It was a great experience for everyone involved.
In the challenge (outlined in the center panel of the page) the students were presented with on the day of the competition, you'll see that there are lots of insertion points depending on the math knowledge, and coding abilities of the students.
Every team had an opportunity to build a maze and were successful at the end of the day. They dug deep with their math knowledge, and tried to be creative, thinking mathematically through both the design and building of their maze. They used computational thinking skills as they planned and made connections between both math and coding. Watching students work through this process was a fantastic experience. In the right panel of the page, you'll find a video clip of the day of the competition.
The students themselves worked collaboratively and I too worked collaboratively to design this challenge for both teachers and students. I had the opportunity to work with Mary Sue Merideth, and John Lee from our Learning Services department at the Waterloo Regional District School Board. I also worked with my Elementary Information Technology consultant, Becky Rouse. I learned so much through the experience, and was honoured to work with such talented, and passionate people.
What have I learned? Students will crave challenges if we give them scaffolded problems that they can work through to build upon their skills. They quickly develop confidence in their ability to figure out more complex challenges, and will work for a sustained period of time to meet a goal.
Would I do it all again? Yes! This year we are going to do the same competition again, but will be incorporating a new, advanced challenge- Can you code two or more Spheros to work together in a shared chassis to race around a track? It seems like a difficult challenge, but I'm confident that teams will find a way to succeed!
Scott McKenzie has been an educator with the Waterloo Regional District School Board for 18 years. He currently teaches Grade 3/4 at New Dundee Public School. He regularly shares his learning with technology at various conferences and in OTF webinars. He was honoured to speak at TedxKitchenerED in 2014.
Scott is a strong believer that all children should feel successful at school, and utilizes technology to meet the needs of all learners in his classroom. This past year he worked on a project integrating coding and robotics as tools to deepen student comprehension in Mathematics and Language Arts from Grades 1 through 6.