Placemat Instructions In Action
Wondering what using placemat instructions in your classroom would look like?
When doing the Silly Walks challenge with my students, I started the activity by introducing the challenge and leading students in a rapid brainstorming session about different ways that animals move around (i.e. hopping, slithering, walking, crawling, etc.). We discussed relevant science concepts such as biomimicry, evolution, and adaptations to change. We shared ideas about how we could model the motion of a frog hopping using parts from the SPIKE Prime set. Next, I prompted students to think about why building a robot that doesn’t use wheels, but instead uses another mode of movement, might be useful. Students shared ideas about how not using wheels might allow the robot to travel over different types of terrain or fit into smaller oddly shaped spaces. After this short (ten minutes or less) discussion relating to the prompt, I invited students to start building, iterating, collaborating, and testing.
Introducing the Activity
When using a placemat instruction, I typically find that some students may struggle at first to get started or get stuck midway through their design process. One of my students was hesitant to start building, so I suggested he start by replicating one of the solutions shown on the front of the placemat instruction. He started to build the robot from the leftmost image in the “Example Ideas” area of the placemat instruction, but then decided he wanted to attach his motors differently and create a different configuration of “legs” that would push the robot forwards when the motor spun.
Supporting Student Thinking
While he started out by replicating the idea provided in the placemat instruction, he ultimately came up with his own unique solution through a series of tests and iterations.
If several students in the class are asking similar questions or struggling with the same aspect of the design challenge, the “Build it!” or “Code it!” zones of the activity brief can serve as a useful way for the teacher to share ideas with the whole class. For example, several of the students in the robotics club were struggling to get both of their motors to rotate at the same time. I asked everyone to stop working while I showed them the back of the placemat instruction and highlighted how to use the pink movement blocks to get both motors to move simultaneously.
Sometimes students don’t use the placemat instruction at all, and that’s OK! One of my students, Leo, didn’t use the guidance at all, and finished building his Silly Walker halfway through the session. Everyone else was still working, so I directed Leo to the extension challenge zone of the placemat instruction, and he spent the rest of the time trying to convert his Silly Walker to be powered by only one motor instead of his original two motor design. It was helpful to have an extension ready to go to help keep Leo engaged and appropriately challenged.
The best part about using a placemat instruction is that, inevitably, every student or/student group will build something different, and will iterate on their unique design multiple times! Below are some of the different Silly Walker robots my students came up with.
Synthesizing Student Learning
Make sure to take time at the end of class to have a discussion and highlight all of the different solutions students came up with. Talking about aspects of each design that did or did not work well is a rich opportunity for students to make connections to scientific phenomena and engage in one of the most important aspects of the engineering design process - sharing ideas.
You can find the “Silly Walks” activity brief, along with other activity briefs for SPIKE Prime published on the LEGO Education website. Additionally, you can find over 100 placemat instruction activities for LEGO Education solutions and other robotics products at CEEO INNOVATIONS.
Give One A Try!
Visit the LEGO Education Professional Development platform to see students use a similar activity.
Want to learn more?
- Design and iterate. Choose SPIKE Prime and then Pedagogy to find Learning Burst: Learning through Iteration.
- Produce solution diversity. Choose SPIKE Prime and then STEAM Concepts to find Learning Burst: Generating Multiple Ideas.
- Learn throughout the engineering design process. Choose SPIKE Prime and then STEAM Concepts to find Learning Quest: Facilitating Engineering Design.