Robot to the Middle

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Robots have long been used to help students with geometry.  In 1971, Seymour Papert and Cynthia Solomon wrote a paper called “Twenty Things to do with a Computer” in which they talk about using a robot they call a turtle to draw geometric shapes.

Robot TurtleTurtle Robot

Last year at the MakingMath Expo we had two versions of this, drawing bots and a program where you could draw with a virtual turtle robot.

cbnxlamwkaehvru Drawing Bots (foreground) and Virtual Turtles (background)

This year we are going to use the bots to raise the question, “How can you figure out the exact middle of various shapes?”  Students will start with a rectangle and move through other shapes like parallelograms, triangles, and circles.  At each shape they will have to justify how they know they are right about where the middle of the shape is before they are given a robot.  Once they have the bot they will drive it with a remote control to the exact middle then stop.  In the classroom, however, they would have to program their bot to go from the origin and stop in the center on its own with minimal information about each shape.  Here’s what the entry document might look like.  At the expo there will be a leader board with a prize going to the closest at the end of the day.

Come join us at Lighthouse Community Charter School in Oakland on March 12th between 9am and 1pm, tickets are still available (and free) but are going fast!

Hope to see you there!

– Jim Town MakingMath Specialist


#Scratch-ing the 6th grade Math Itch

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Our first project highlight for the 2nd annual Making Math Expo is “Using Scratch for 6th grade Math,” where 6th graders will teach attendees how to use the computer program Scratch while sharing their final projects from their work with the program. As attendees learn Scratch firsthand, creating their own coded projects, students will share how they linked blocks to build a “code,” building both programming and mathematical proficiency.Screen Shot 2016-02-11 at 4.12.11 PM.png

As programmers, participants must strategize about the choice of coding blocks in order to make their code more efficient, and as mathematicians, they develop a conceptual understanding of positive and negative numbers as they move objects around the xy-grid, using academic vocabulary to describe their location in the grid.

Want to scratch your coding itch and do some math in the process? Come play with this and more at the Making Math Expo on March 12! Registration is free but limited slots are available, so sign up today!

-Celine Liu, Mathematics Specialist at ACOE

Hour of Code

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HourOfCode (3)As we are ramping up for ACOE’s Math and Technology Team’s first Hour of Code hosted in our very own Meaning Maker Studio, I wanted to share the resources we are using in case you can’t make it.



Ages: 5-9 (and up)

HOC Website:

What is it? You are responsible for telling a little robot what they need to do in order to blink a light on top of all the blue squares.  As with most engaging games, the challenges start of simple so you can learn about the game and then increase in rigor.  What starts out as a coding game for five year olds quickly escalates into an interesting challenge, even for adults.

How is this coding?  Coding, according to is “a system of symbols and rules used to represent instructions to a computer; a computer program.” Which is exactly what you are doing to help the lightbots meet their objectives.  

Can I use this after the hour of code? Yes, but the app costs 2.99 for iOS and Android.



Ages: 9-12 (and up)

HOC Website:

What is it? Scratch is a block based language that has a simple, but powerful interface.  Besides being easy to use, they have great resources for people teaching themselves and teachers looking to use this in their classes.  The Scratch online teacher community has a plethora of resources, lessons, and active participants who can answer your questions quickly and intelligently.

Can I use this after the hour of code? Yes! Scratch is free and has both a browser based version that work on most modern laptops (including Chromebooks) and an offline version that work better on older computers (including really old ones that can only run Puppy Linux) or places with spotty internet.


CS Unplugged

Ages: 8-14 (and up)


What is it? Activities were created to get students thinking about computer science even if their school couldn’t afford computers (or their teacher could never book time in the lab, the lab was always down, etc) or the students had access, but felt reticent to sit down at a computer and hammer out some code.

How is this coding? The two activities are a Magic Trick and Binary Cards.  For the Magic Trick, students turn one card upside down in an array of two sided cards.  Using a parity bit at the end of each row and column, the magician can tell the student exactly which card was turned over.  This is a form of error detecting commonly used when transmitting data.  Another common method of error detecting similar to this that most people have heard of are check sums.  The activity helps them understand the idea using physical cards so they understand it in a different way than if they had learned it on the computer.  The binary cards are dots representing the first few powers of two.  Students represent base ten numbers using the cards (ie 12 would be an 8 dot card plus a 4 dot card) then translate that into a binary number (ie 12=01100).  Binary numbers are how computers transmit and store information, this activity help students understand that binary is just a different way to represent numbers (and letters).


Raspberry Pi + Scratch = Scratch IRL

Ages: 12-18 (and up)


What is it? Raspberry Pi is a small, inexpensive computer that was designed to help students learn to code.  Scratch is described above.  With the Raspberry Pi, students can integrate objects in the real world (etc buttons, LEDs, etc) into their Scratch projects.  This helps bring the abstract world of coding into the real physical world and opens up exciting possibilities like playing a buzzer noise when someone opens your door or blinking a light when you get a high score on a game.  If you don’t have a Raspberry Pi, but still want to play with Scratch IRL, there are several options that work with regular computers such as Lego WeDo, Picoboards, and Makey Makey.

Can I use this after the hour of code? Yes! Scratch is free and has both a browser based version that work on most modern laptops (including Chromebooks) and an offline version that work better on older computers (including really old ones that can only run Puppy Linux) or places with spotty internet.  Also, Raspberry Pi’s are available for $40 and the new Pi Zero is only $5.

Algebra 1 with Robots

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In August, a group of dedicated teachers came together to build a series of project based Algebra 1 with Robots units to support the Algebra 1 with Robotics and Computing class that is approved by UCOP for mathematics (‘c’) credit.  Approved course outline.

After two months of work, it is finally ready to be unveiled.

Projects can be found here.

Each project starts with an entry document that generates a need to know for the math topics the students will be learning. Most of the projects utilize robots so students have a physical way to interact with abstract concepts and learn the ideas in a different way than in a traditional classroom.IMG_1758

These projects are a work in progress. As the teachers here in Alameda County test them out over the course of this year, we will be updating them. If you find ways to make them better, or would like to contribute your own project, please contact Jim Town (jtown(a) This is an open source project, it can only get better with your help!

Though this course was written for the Barobo Linkbots in Python or Ch, many (if not all) of the projects can be adapted to work with other classroom robots (Finchbots, Lego NXT, etc). We would be happy to help you translate any of the projects and incorporate adjustments you made so that more teachers and students can benefit from this course. Please contact Jim Town (jtown(a) for assistance.

– Jim Town

Squishy Circuits

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Brought to you by the Alameda County Library:

Squishy circuits at the Newark Library!

Squishy Circuits in action at the Newark Library

Squishy circuits are a neat way to have students learn about some of the basic properties of electricity through tinkering and problem solving.

But where is the math?

Besides problem solving to troubleshoot their design, students have a chance to engage in some measurement and data.  In each of the 2nd through 5th grade CCSS standards, students have to measure something and put it on a line graph.  The difference has to do with the scale on the line graph, 2nd is to the nearest whole number, 3rd includes halves and fourths, and 4th adds eighths.

So after your students engage in problem solving to test and make their squishy circuits, they’ll measure the distance between the LED and the battery and add that to the class graph.  After all groups add their data, they identify the longest distance.  Then ask them to make a conjecture about the longest possible distance and build it to see if it works.  All the circuits that work should be added to the class graph.  If time and interest, repeat until you’ve found the maximum distance.  An example student lab sheet can be found here.

Come play with this and more at the Making Math Expo on March 28th!

-Jim Town, Mathematics Specialist at ACOE

Making a Bigger Peanut Butter Cup

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In its infinite moneymaking wisdom, Hershey’s has expanded its line of REESE’s Peanut Butter Cups to include minis and Big Cups, in addition to the original tasty candy.


You may notice that the Big Cup, which logically should be twice as big as the Original based on the mass provided on the packaging, doesn’t look twice as big. Which begs the question–how big would a double-sized Reese’s cup be?


At this MakingMath table, hosted by Math Specialist Celine Liu, you will examine the surface area or volume of the Original cup to determine how big a Double-Sized cup would be. You will then be able to make your own Peanut Butter cup and take home your delicious custom-designed final product!

Come join us on March 28 from 9am-3pm at Lighthouse Community Charter School in Oakland and make some math! We look forward to seeing you there.

Related links:

Spoonlick’s Spoons

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Spoonlick's Spoons Logo

The first featured table at the Making Math Expo is hosted by ACOE Core Learning’s own Jim Town.  At his table you will be tasked with designing a vessel that holds exactly a tablespoon.  You will then create your vessel using CAD software.  After your design is realized in the CAD software, you can print out your design on a 3D printer and take it home.  The only catch is you must scale your design so that it only prints a teaspoon sized vessel.

So come see us on March 28th between 9am and 3pm at Lighthouse Charter School in Oakland and make some math!

If you are a teacher who wants to use this project in your classroom, supporting documents and scaffolding activities can be found here.

(pictures from US patents 3931741 and 2654252)

Making Math Expo

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ACOE Core Learning team in conjunction with Lighthouse Community Charter School are proud to announce the Making Math Expo to be held March 28th from 9am-3pm.  Parents, Teachers, and Students are invited to come make some math and experience the importance of the new Common Core Math Practice of Problem Solving in every math classroom.

Click here to see all MakerMath posts, who’s going to be there, what you can make, and other updates. 

We are defining making anywhere in the range from making meaning in math problems, to making physical objects, to computer programming.  You could host a table and share the amazing things you are doing!

For tickets to the event please go to our Evenbrite page.

Making Math Expo flyer 3-28

Making Math Expo flyer 3-28_orig