Saturday, July 2, 2016

Money, Money, Money.... Teaching and "Making" with or without them

My brother and I grew up playing with Lego all the time since it was made by simple solid plastic blocks. I remember the excitement when we had the first hollow pieces that were allowing to create some sort of articulation. Back then we did not even fathom the possibility of robotic Lego able to be complete action based on kids generated code...what a fantasy!
My brother at 10 poses proud next to the
robot he build using simple Lego blocks.
25 years later he published this picture in
the first page of his robotic engineering
P.h.D. thesis.
Interesting enough from playing with Lego my brother kept moving in this direction becoming a biomedical robotic engineer, while I have taken a very different route focusing on humanistic studies leaving Lego and constructions behind. In the recent years I was fascinated by the level of technology Lego has developed and I giggle to the idea of "playing with Lego" as I knew it because my nephews will have quite a different experience from what my brother and I had.

In schools across the country and worldwide robotic courses are offered to all grade levels, using programmable Lego robotics. What an amazing tool for learning in a playful and engaging way, isn't it?! The only down side is the cost that this material has. Yes educators can hunt for grants, when available, or engage in creative and extended fund raisers using tools such as or still not always these money show up and in those cases there is just a lot of disappointment and great creative ideas are put back in storage for that "one day" in the future... What a sad alternative, isn't it?

This summer I had fortune to participate to a 3 workshop on advanced paper circuitry offered by Jeannine Huffman and David Cole organized by AKTeach, Kodiak Island Borough School District. This workshop was following up a year of training with paper circuitry building up to this advanced level requiring coding and soldering a microchip to a paper circuit for activating an hand made (cut and colored) paper robot.... yes a PAPER ROBOT!!!
Jeannine Huffman's paper robot.
As you can see from this image of  Jeannine's Panda bear, you do not need even a fancy laminated paper-stock, but you can already create a simple robot drawing on white paper  and cutting out the image created. Yes you need some pieces of technology for the movement but definitely the difference in cost between this time of robotic creation and the Lego creation is quite remarkable... wile the creative experience and the coding experience is not that different!
Now the point I am trying to make is not that expensive technology is bad and cheep technology is good, but that you do not need to have a lot of money for offering students a creative, engaging, and technology rich learning experience! My personal approach is plan for no money and celebrate for whatever you can get!

In Alaska these days school districts are quite tight in finances, so this option of using simple and very low cost material is very appealing to teachers and administrations. I am personally planning to try to use a combination of fund raisers web tools such as and for purchasing the low cost material, so that I could use these money for offering this type of learning experience to a much larger number of students.


  1. Emanuela,
    I look forward to your integration of paper robots and language education. It's going to be really exciting to see this application. You've come up with some incredible applications in the past and your new-found knowledge can only embolden your creativity.

  2. beautiful share! Thanks for giving so much detail and the panda pic. I look forward to hearing how it all unfolds in your classroom. It's a different world when you virtually teach. :)

  3. I also liked for helping with student projects.

  4. I have found it challenging planning for application in my "online courses" however I have not given up the idea to integrate it to them :)