Science Fiction and Space Exploration

I love science fiction and space exploration. Some of my earliest memories watching television were Star Trek episodes. In 4th grade growing up in Lubbock, Texas, I got a television for my own bedroom. It was small and black and white! That was around 1975. I remember watching Star Trek, staying up late, and the adventures of James T. Kirk and Spock. I always had a crush on Spock! (Leonard Nimoy) Back then, the statement that captivated my imagination was, “Going where no man has gone before!”

I can remember drawing pictures of the Star Trek Enterprise, and drawing lots of mazes with a friend at school, These were mazes which the Enterprise would have to navigate.

Fast forward 47 years, and I am a 5th grade teacher in Union County Public Schools, in North Carolina. I love teaching my students about space, Scratch coding, STEM and exploration! A couple weeks ago, we had a “science day” when all our teaching faculty dressed up as scientists. Many dressed up in white lab coats to look like Albert Einstein. I ordered a NASA astronaut jumpsuit from Amazon, and went to school that day as an Artemis astronaut scientist!

Shelly Fryer: Artemis Generation Teacher” (CC BY 2.0) by Wesley Fryer

In addition to watching science fiction television and movies, I love reading science fiction. There are three books I’m either reading right now or want to read which have to do with science fiction and space exploration.

First, I am reading Mark Wagner’s (@markwagner) book, “Space Education: Preparing Students for Humanity’s Multi-Planet Future.”

In June 2022, Wes and I attended the Space Exploration Educator’s Conference (SEEC) in Houston, Texas, at the Johnson Space Center. We ran into Mark and learned about his book as well as his work for ARES Learning (@areslearning), The Space Prize (@thespaceprize), and The Kepler Space Institute (@keplerspaceinst). Wes and I are planning a summer professional development workshop for teachers which will be Space Camp / Artemis themed. I’m wondering if we could use Mark’s book as a centering point for the kind of learning, teaching, and pedagogy we love and want to promote in schools? The kind of learning I want to be a part of in “The School I Love!”

The next book I want to read is “Project Hail Mary” by Andy Weir. Weir is the author of “The Martian,” which is not only great book but also a fantastic movie adaptation with Matt Damon.

Since our son works for NASA as a robotics engineer and our daughter is headed to the Air Force Academy, wanting to study aerospace engineering for a career as an astronaut or in Space Force, I’m thinking we need to encourage both of them to read “Hail Mary” as well!

The third book on my reading list right now is “Space Case” by Stuart Gibbs. It’s the first book in his series, “Moon Base Alpha,” and we picked up a copy of it last weekend at a used book store in Charlotte. I want my students to be able to visualize our existence as humans away from planet earth, “off world.” What can and will our lives living away from our world look like and feel like?

This is “science fiction” because it has not happened yet, but we ARE in the process of moving into space and establishing permanent human colonies on our moon and Mars. This is just the beginning. I see my students as part of “The Artemis Generation.” Part of my role as an elementary teacher is helping spark their curiosity and imaginations, to see amazing possibilities for themselves and think about where they will go and what they will do as scientists, engineers, citizens and good humans.

A couple weeks ago, my students and I created this banner for our classroom with the tagline, “We Rise Together, Back to the Moon and BEYOND!” This the phrase the NASA commenter used at the moment the Artemis I rocket escaped the launchpad at Cape Canaveral. We all signed it together. “Together, we RISE!”

We Rise Together!” (CC BY 2.0) by Wesley Fryer

Biomimicry Robots with Edison

The past three years I have enjoyed bringing coding skills using Edison robots together with our elementary science curriculum. In this post, I want to share a little “window” into our learning from our culminating unit in 3rd Grade STEM class on biomimicry and animals.

This is a photo of 3rd grader, Grace, building her code in EdScratch. Her elephant robot:

  1. Enters its environment.
  2. Swims around (turns) in a mud hole.
  3. Finds a tree and eats.

In the video below, Grace’s robot performs this series actions in its “natural environment.” Students conducted research about their selected animal to discover what behaviors the animal would display in its environment in the wild, built a “costume” on top of a 3D printed “cap” (designed with TinkerCAD) attached to an Edison robot, and used EdScratch to create their code.

Biomimicry Elephant Robotics Code

This next example is a “fire salamander” robot designed and built by Jon. He described his biomimicry robot project by writing:

My animal walks along the forest looking for new types of bugs so scientists can study them. It is predator and prey. It eats bugs and snakes sometimes try to eat it.

Here is the final project video of Jon’s robotic fire salamander in action, dramatically escaping the clutches of a hungry robotic snake built by Ben and Reed!

VIdeo: The Fire Salamander Escapes!

All students turned in their final projects in our class Seesaw learning journal, using a template I created and shared from Google Docs. This is Jon’s final project shared in Seesaw, including all completed elements from the template. Here is the shared Seesaw activity, if you or another teacher you know would like to use and/or modify it.

I love so many things about this project!

  1. I love the independence which students have with coding and problem solving.
  2. I love the fact that students have CHOICES in how they manage their project, whether or not they work with a partner, and the order of project procedures / deliverables.
  3. Students learn and develop “project management skills,” which are so important not only in school but also in LIFE outside the classroom!
  4. Students learn that “not everything is going to be perfect.” When you combine code with robotics, there are SO many opportunities to troubleshoot and iterate.
  5. I love that we have lots of TIME to complete this unit. We took two full weeks to complete it.
  6. At the end of the project, students have opportunities to add enhancements (we call them “sprinkles”) to their presentations to make them even better.
  7. This project combines CREATION / creativity with art and coding, along with science, engineering, and design. This project, to me, is a true reflection of a STEAM project which brings together all the skills we have worked on developing throughout the YEAR. This makes it an ideal 3rd grade culminating STEM project!

The inspiration for this unit and series of lessons came from summer robotics and coding camps I led with our head school librarian, Michaela Freeland, for two summers. We worked with Sharon Marzouk, founder of TechyKids, to teach 5 day robotics camps for students in grades 1-5. We also utilized high school and middle school student mentors, who worked as volunteers earning “service hours,” to help coach and teach our elementary students. The culminating project for those TechyKids robotics camps (using Thymio robots) was to create a robotic animal with a partner. So this Edison robot biomimicry unit was a natural iteration and extension of those summer robotic camp experiences!

Michaela took the lead on the 3D printed aspects of our project. Here are the shared TinkerCAD links to the 3D printed “caps” we used to attach our costumes to the Edison robots:

  1. Pen holder cap
  2. Cap
  3. Sensor cut out cap

These “caps” were necessary because we had to SHARE our Edison robots in the classroom. We don’t have enough for each student in every class to have their own or with their partner. By using these “3D printed caps,” students in my four 3rd grade STEM classes could quickly attach and test their costume designs to the Edison robots for testing, and the Edisons could be reconfigured and re-programmed quickly in the next class of the day.

To create their final project reports, some students chose to use the DoInk Green Screen app on their iPads to film their final videos. By using green screen techniques, they were able to design custom backgrounds for their animal’s environment, and in some cases, even special effects! One example was Aaryan’s project, which included a fish attached to a green pipe cleaner. His video includes a robotic bear attempting to catch a fish in a forest and river biome.

Here is a 19 second video of Aaryan in action filming his robotic animal (a bear) with green screen effects!

Green Screen Video Effects for Final Project

This is one of my all-time favorite units from our 3rd grade STEM class! Please use any of these ideas or lesson materials. Let me know if you have questions!

Edison Robot Coding

On Fridays this year, my third grade STEM students have opportunities to develop their coding skills using Edison robots. Over the years, in addition to Edison, I have used BeeBot robots, Thymio robots, and the Dash robot in after-school coding clubs as well as summer coding camps. I love the ways EdScratch and the Edison robot challenges foster independent student learning, allow for multiple pathways to a coding challenge, and support an open-ended approach to the development of computational thinking skills.

Shelly Fryer teaching coding to 3rd grade STEM students using Edison Robots

Physical computing is important and powerful. As we find in mathematics and with the importance of manipulatives to help students move move from concrete to abstract thinking, or from abstract to concrete thinking, coding robots can help students make these transitions and connections in powerful ways.

On Friday last week, students in all four of my Science classes explored ways to create music using code. Specifically, their challenge was to code “The Hokey Pokey” and make their Edison robot play the song as well as dance.

Some coding curriculum lessons challenge students to move through a sequential series of puzzles. Those kinds of lessons have value and an important place in student learning, since they “chunk skills” to help build foundational coding abilities. However, I really enjoy using the Scratch coding language for open-ended problem solving, allowing students to find creative coding solutions. These kinds of challenges invite students to creatively experiment and discover different pathways to a coding challenge.

Everyone’s code does NOT look the same! These kinds of coding challenges also work well in collaborative settings. I enjoy asking my students to partner up and work with a classmate. We know collaboration and communication skills are vital to develop in school, and these robotic coding challenges provide great opportunities for students to practice working together in teams.

Coding under the constraints of our class meeting times is also great for the development of “a growth mindset.” This is something we have been talking about and working on for several years at our school. Not all students are able to complete coding challenges fully during our class time. We talk about how “we’re not there YET,” but we will keep iterating and trying to find different solutions that can address our challenge of the day.

I love helping my students develop this rich set of skills during our STEM robotics lessons! If you have not yet checked out Edison Robots, the Scratch programming language, or “EdScratch” (the modified version of Scratch used by Edison) I encourage you to do so! They are wonderful platforms for student learning and computational thinking!

Bringing ART into the Elementary STEM Classroom

Tomorrow after school I am sharing a presentation over Zoom on, “Bringing ART into the Elementary STEM Classroom” for pre-service teachers at Kansas State University, taught by my friend, Cyndi Danner-Kuhn. (@EdtechksuCyndi) These are the slides I’ll be sharing, mainly talking about several lesson examples and strategies for integrating art vocabulary and skills into our third grade STEM classroom. There is a difference between “art enhanced” and “integrated art” lessons, where the lesson integrates specific art content, vocabulary and skills. Many of these ideas build on professional development I did with Oklahoma A+ Schools.

I’m looking forward to sharing these ideas with future teachers!

Adventures in Coding Summer Camp

One of my passions is helping students love coding. I love opportunities in the summer to lead camps which allow me to build relationships with students outside my ‘normal’ academic grade level (3rd grade) at Casady School. Last week, I led a camp for rising kindergarten, 1st and 2nd grade students, called “Adventures in Coding” through our “Casady Summer by The Lake” program. The majority of our camp activities were ‘offline,’ using BeeBot robots.

Our final ‘coding adventure’ for the camp was a “Pirate Adventure.” We used the PBS Scratch Jr. app to draw and animate our own pirate scenes. This is a 13 minute video tutorial I created in advance for my students to use in this activity, and I’ve added it to my YouTube playlist of Scratch Junior tutorials.

Invention Immersion day

On Friday, January 17, 2020, we had our second “Immersion Day” at Casady School. In our Lower Division (grades 1-4) we focused on “Inventions” and used the resources from the Invention Convention Worldwide website to provide students with a variety of opportunities to explore what makes something an “invention,” learn about invention history, and meet some current inventors from our local area as well as Florida via a special videoconference. Students also participated in hands-on activities like a “reverse engineering challenge.”

In order to get a larger block of time each day of the week leading up to Friday, our third grade social studies teacher collaborated with me to combine our instructional times. We used these longer class periods to learn about the design process, which includes brainstorming problems in our school and community and identifying possible ways these can be addressed.

A slide adapted from the Invention Convention Worldwide website

We challenged students to explore a topic they selected based on our brainstorming and discussions together, identifying what additional information they needed and where they could go for help with their ideas. In the Pic Collage image below, you can see some of the problems students brainstormed, as well as our brainstorming and research process in action in our classroom.

Friday morning started with a videoconference presentation and interactive Q&A with Florida high school senior Peyton Robertson. Payton was a 4th grader in Ms. Braun’s class in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, eight years ago. Today he has numerous patents for different inventions and has been both in the Oval Office of the White House sharing his inventions with then-President Barack Obama, and also was a guest on the Ellen Show. This was an exciting opportunity for our students to learn more about “what is an invention” and how someone can take an idea and make it into a real product others can use. This is a photo from our videoconference with Peyton, which we made using our school’s portable LifeSize videoconference unit and our BlueJeans Network conferencing room “in the cloud.”

After the videoconference to better understand what an invention can involve, students participated in a reverse engineering “take apart activity.” They had to take apart a small wind-up toy, identify its different parts and their functions, and draw and label what they learned. They attempted to explain how the wind-up toy moves based on their discoveries and observations. Here are two short videos of our students explaining what they did and learned, and how important it was to persevere and not give up!

The excitement our students felt and experienced during our Immersion Day activities come through very clearly in these videos!

The final event of the morning was a presentation by inventor, medical doctor, surgeon and engineer Dr. Jim Long. He is the co-inventor of an artificial heart pump which uses magnets. That specific pump was mentioned in one of our Amplify Science curriculum books. One of our students, whose father is a heart surgeon, knows Dr. Long and arranged for him to come share about his heart pump and his work as a medical inventor. This was an amazing and perfect way to cap off our exceptional Immersion Day!

In the photo below, the original heart pump designed by Dr. Long is on the left. The 2.0 version is in the upper right corner. The 3.0 version is in the plastic bag. They are still waiting on approval for this most recent design. Our students were amazed to see how much smaller the second and third versions of this heart pump are! It was also wonderful to hear the good questions students had, since they developed good background knowledge about magnets and forces in our STEM class activities this year.

It was wonderful to collaborate together with other teachers at our school to make this Immersion Day about inventions a big success! It will be exciting to see where our students take their STEM learning and invention inspirations in the years to come.

Coding Edison Robots with EdBlocks

Today in day 2 of our holiday robotics camp for 2nd through 5th graders, students started writing code for their Edison Robots using EdBlocks. Like Scratch Junior, EdBlocks is a simplified, block-based coding language which allows younger students (ages 7-12) to program and control a robot. Yesterday, students started by using Barcode Programming. By advancing to EdBlocks, students were able to create their own programs on iPads and download them to their Edison Robots via an “EdComm cable,” which is an audio cable that sends digital signals similar to the way “old school” modems worked.

One student group used the musical functions in EdBlocks to program the song, “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” Another group used the “messaging” feature and infrared blocks to send messages between robots, so they could code a ‘dance party.’ I was very proud of all the student groups and the way they demonstrated persistence in problem solving various bugs and challenges in their algorithms.

We started our day with a design challenge, to design and plan a robot which would help our planet and environment. Students used Lego bricks to create a static version of their robot ideas. We then watched a clip from the movie, “Walle,” and did a “See, Think, Wonder” thinking routine. Students wondered about how the trash got so bad in Walle’s world, what happened to all the people as well as the other Walle robots which were not functioning, and thought about feelings and emotions which Walle had working on earth in that situation.

For this day, we used our iPads, and each student was able to build their own code. We shared the Edison Robots, and took turns downloading their programs into the robots. Students worked mostly in self-selected groups. It is interesting to observe the ways students choose to work in our camp, especially since we have a wide range of ages that is different from a “traditional” or regular classroom. I love this multiage aspect of our break camps because it allows students to share their ideas and expertise regardless of their age or grade. In a robotics camp like this, we are all learners and can all be teachers!

In this 2 minute video, one of our third grade girls explains how she coded her Edison robot to pick up trash. This was her first experience with coding and robotics. I was so pleased with how she developed her computational thinking skills and applied her creative imagination!

I’m looking forward to continuing to use our Edison Robots with my 3rd grade STEM students when we get back to class after our holiday break. This robotics camp provided a good opportunity for Michaela Freeland (@_mfreeland) and I to both get a better understanding of how some of our youngest students can both learn and apply their coding skills through robotics!

Winter Break Edison Robotics Camp

This Christmas break, my friend Michaela Freeland (@_mfreeland) and I decided to offer a two day, morning robotics camp for students in our lower and middle divisions. We opened registration up to 2nd through 6th grade students, and ended up with 11 students ranging in age from 7 to 11. 9 are girls and 3 are boys. Today was day 1 of our robotics camp, which we’re holding from 9 am to noon. Last summer we co-led two different robotics camps using Thymio Robots from TechyKids. For our winter break camp, we are using Edison Robots.

We offered this camp for several reasons:

  1. To provide students with opportunities for extended periods of time to play, explore, and engage in “design challenges “
  2. To develop computational thinking skills
  3. To develop collaboration and problem solving skills
  4. To have fun with friends, learning how coding and robotics can be both challenging and fun!

In third grade my students have been coding using both the iPad apps “PBS Scratch Junior” and “Scratch Junior.” This has helped many of them develop a strong foundation in coding. They have told stories, created animations, and made games. I love the creative ways my students apply the ideas we are learning in Science and STEM class, and represent them through coding in Scratch Junior’s “kid-friendly” block-based environment.

Our design challenge for day 1 of our winter break robotics camp was to use at least two of the Edison Robot “pre-programmed” bar codes to navigate a maze. Students had the opportunity to explore five different, pre-programmed bar code programs to introduce them to the possibilities of the Edison robot sensors.

In this 2 minute video, two third graders and one first grader explain how they developed a maze using the “follow a torch/flashlight” and “clap controlled driving” programs.

I am looking forward to seeing what our students will learn and create tomorrow, as we introduce them to the “EdBlocks Programming Language” based on Scratch Junior blocks from MIT. EdBlocks is web-based, so our students will be using iPads and the Safari web browser to create their programs.

Build a Snowman in Scratch JR

This is an 18 minute video tutorial for my 1st and 2nd grade coding club students, demonstrating how to use the draw tools in Scratch Jr (for iPad) and add some basic blocks to make characters (sprites) interact.

This is based on a lesson included in the book, “The Official ScratchJr Book: Help Your Kids Learn to Code” by Marina Umaschi Bers (@marinabers) and Mitch Resnick (@mres).

I added this video tutorial to a YouTube playlist which includes other PBS Scratch Jr. videos I’ve made along with my husband, Wes Fryer (@wfryer).

Commands for our Offline Coding Activities

Last year I taught several coding clubs for elementary students using “regular” Scratch, and those resources are available on my school teacher website: mrsfryer.casady.org/home/scratch.

I will introduce this snowman activity in Scratch Jr. this week to my 1st and 2nd graders. This is our third meeting. In the first two classes, I introduced coding vocabulary and basic movements through several “unplugged” (offline) activities inspired by Code.org’s “CS Fundamentals Unplugged” lessons. I also used these offline coding activities after Christmas break with my 3rd grade language arts students.

If you use this tutorial with your own students, have questions or feedback, please reach out to me on Twitter @sfryer!

Stopmotion Movie Making

This semester instead of coding classes, I am teaching two after school classes for 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th graders on creating stopmotion movies. We are using iPads for stopmotion. In this post I’ll share about the apps we are using and some of our lessons learned.

We have mainly used the iPad app KOMA KOMA to get started, since it has simple features and provides an easy interface to help students develop basic stopmotion skills. I wanted to eventually use an app with more advanced features, like green screen/blue screen effects and music, so we also tried StikBot Studio. Unfortunately, however, it crashed a lot when students would preview their movies in the app, and this was frustrating. The students really liked being able to add special effects and music, and learned to persevere and work around the crashing issues with StikBot. Hopefully an upcoming update will resolve those stability issues, because it really is a great app and it’s also free!

At our fall STEM night for parents and students, in my classroom we used KOMA KOMA to create simple stopmotion stories using a variety of different materials. This is a resource page of stopmotion examples I shared with parents and students for inspiration.

To help students in my afterschool club learn stopmotion skills, I challenged them to use different kinds of materials in their movies each week. These moved from simple to complex projects, and eventually included green/blue screen effects and music.

  1. We started with clay / Play-Doh
  2. We used candy (Skittles)
  3. We experimented with drawing using a dry-erase board
  4. We used paper cut-outs (some students drew, some they cut out of construction paper)
  5. We ended with using objects: legos, mini-figures, Matchbox cars, etc.

We have one class period left in our eight week session, and I really want to help my students share some of their favorite projects into Seesaw. This will allow them to share their learning with their families and classmates. It will also allow us to share our work with a wider audience!

What I love most about helping students create in this type of environment is the way they develop their collaboration and teamwork skills. Most students went home and got the apps we used in class, and this encouraged them to extend their creative learning beyond our after-school time.

If you have not yet introduced stopmotion moviemaking to your students, I encourage you to give it a try. Our 9th grade daughter used KOMA KOMA for some of the sequences in this 3 minute video she made for a Honors Biology project on Photosynthesis this month. It’s pretty amazing how creative and effective storytelling and communication can be using these tools and strategies!

This is another remarkable and inspiring Stopmotion example, created by an 8th grader who is a cousin of one of my third grade students. It’s about malaria and Youyou Tu, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for her work in developing an innovative treatment for malaria which has saved millions of lives worldwide.