Update December 8th 2020

Hello Everyone

We hope this newsletter finds you all well and safe. We’ve missed you! It’s been a very quiet November without our usual chaos of classes. However just because it’s been quiet doesn’t mean we haven’t been furiously trying to get our new COVID programming out to you.

To some of you who are new to us since March. Our traditional courses, pre-covid, were designed for 10 weeks of classes, stretched over & reinforced by a normal academic school year. As we previously mentioned, while this springs/summer online programming worked, they were always a “band-aid” solution to the conundrum that was teaching/learning in a pandemic.  We shrank our past programs into the new, online one month, classes that we ran in May, June, July and August.  Even though students were getting our tasks/missions completed we were concerned that their level of comprehension wasn’t equivalent to their participation in a regular E-Bots 10 week session.  We found that we were teaching concepts that would normally have occurred in conjunction and reinforced by the student’s school curriculum.

Our previous session ran as 4 semesters/sessions in an E-Bots year; Fall, Winter, Spring and Summer camp. Students could potentially move through Level 1, 2, 3, and 4 in a year if they were focused to do so. In the “band-aid” solution students could have taken all 4 courses in 4 months.  We have decided that what would normally take a year for practice and comprehension, was presented too quickly for long term learning.  Our coming programs will take all of the above into consideration.

Developing our new programs. When LEGO, finally, released their new language environment in September (EV3 classroom, across all platforms MAC & PC) this allowed us to start thinking about how to teach both the new environment and also how to reorganize our curriculum to be the most successful for students in a covid environment. A simple example of this change is providing them with more practice time; our regular Levels 1, 2, 3 & 4 are now Levels A, B, C, D, E & F.  What was 4 levels will now be replaced with 6. The students also have access to their robot at home for the duration of their class for added practice and learning.  

These past and current levels will be identified on our webpage when our new schedule goes live. It will tell you based on your students last completed program, with us, what the next NEW program is that they should take.  Any programs taken with us since Sept 2019 will translate over to the new programs. However, if your student attended a pr+ogram with us prior to Sept 2019 you will need to contact the office to establish what the best new program choice will be. 

The technical language behind our new programs. 

We are thrilled to be bringing you (across all platforms MAC & PC) the new EV3 Classroom environment. Almost a year ago in November 2019, with the upgrade to MAC OS, Apple computer users lost the ability to program in EV3 Mindstorms, a LABVIEW backed programming language. They were forced to upgrade to EV3 Classroom which was now a version of the very successful Scratch MIT language. Unfortunately, the roll out for PC users did not come until mid-September 2020.

EV3-G Mindstorms LABVIEW has been LEGO’s default programming environment since the release of the NXT (precursor to the EV3 robot). It’s perfect for introducing students to coding through its visual block programming. It’s fairly intuitive and allows students to focus on logic concepts and operations without the pesky side of having to deal with syntax errors. We’ve had great success teaching programming to students for 12+ years with this environment and like everyone facing the passage of time, we were looking down the barrel of change and were digging our heels in, in the interest of our students learning and comprehension.

EV3 Classroom is based on the very popular Scratch MIT programming language that’s been around for a while now. Scratch, like LabView is a block based visual programming language designed by the MIT Media Lab primarily targeted at children 8+ to help learn coding. You’ve probably heard your student reference Scratch before; it’s website is readily used in classroom settings. If they haven’t seen it in school maybe they’ve found it on their own explorations. 

My student has done scratch before.  It is REALLY important to note at this point that while your student may have Scratch experience that does not mean they have LEGO EV3 Scratch experience. The LEGO environment takes from the scratch language but in most circumstances they would not have been taught EV3 along with Scratch. This means that Level A will be the correct starting place for their E-Bot’s experience if they are new to working with us and even if they have previous scratch experience. Please remember that only 10% of our teaching is focused on the environment/language and the remainder, on the logic of programming that extends across languages and platforms and the soft skills (critical thinking, analysis, problem solving, etc) that goes hand in hand. 

In our extensive research & development of the new EV3 Classroom we have fundamental concerns about implementing EV3 Classroom for FIRST LEGO League teams. With the change in language, LEGO has given up a profound amount of student user control over the robot and any program exceeding 50 commands becomes overwhelming to the user. This has been universally complained about by participants in the 20/21 FLL RePLAY Competition. Although we are still able to compete this season in EV3-G, LEGO has stopped supporting the EV3-G software, so we are looking to alternatives in order to remain competitive. Our solution is the recent support LEGO has put behind MicroPython. 

MicroPython, a syntax based language, is a lean and efficient implementation of the Python 3 programming language that includes a small subset of the Python standard library and is optimised to run on microcontrollers and in constrained environments making it ideal for use on the EV3 Robot. It has been available for a while for use on the EV3 but was cumbersome and relied on a third party install. LEGO has now rolled it out under its own umbrella. We have decided that our higher level classes (Level E & F) will be taught in MicroPython. We will teach it using the Microsoft Visual Studio environment and it will be a prerequisite course for consideration for any of our 2021/22 FLL Teams.

We are also adding an Arduino B class after many, many, many requests for it. It won’t be offered immediately as we are limited to the amount of classes we can fit into a month between our FLL Teams, VEX team and online classes… but be on the lookout for the roll out in the new year.

The new program details

Our new classes will be a month long (4 weeks) with two classes a week at 1.5 hours each class. There are 8 classes, for a total of 12 hours. Similarly, to our “band-aid” classes of spring/summer, all students will be provided with a robot & activity board that will be picked up prior to the start of classes and returned shortly upon completion (dates and times will be specified). Our Level A will also be provided a tablet for programming, but will still require a computer to participate in the Zoom portion of class. All students will require a PC or MAC computer to participate in any of our classes with a working camera and microphone.

We hope to start our first classes in January 2021 with the schedule coming out in the next couple of days. We are thrilled to be coming back into your lives and into your homes. We’ve truly missed the kids smiling faces and thank you for all your support!

Let’s shake off 2020 and look to the promise of 2021, best wishes for a Happy Holiday. 

Pam, John & Stephanie.