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Hugo Mathers

Hugo Mathers

Cubetto in the Community: Northwestern University, USA

The Center for Talent Development at Northwestern University ensures gifted pupils receive the education, encouragement and support they need to grow into confident and accomplished lifelong learners. Last summer, Northwestern used the Cubetto Playset as the centerpiece of their Summer Leapfrog Program, which provides fast-paced summer classes for children who have a keen and early interest in learning. Cubetto was introduced as an example of ‘tangible programming’, a device that pupils can move, manipulate and hold to create computer codes.

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Institution: Northwestern University
Location: USA
Session leader: Ann Gadzikowski – Early Childhood Coordinator, Northwestern University, CTD Program
Size of group: 250
Age group: 6-8
Group size: 4-16
Date: June-July 2015

“We offered this course 5 times over 5 weeks with 5 different instructors and 5 different groups of children and each time the course was exciting and innovative in new and unique ways.”

How did Northwestern incorporate the Cubetto Playset into their program?

Pupils used Cubetto to explore the concepts of ‘tangible programming’ and ‘elegant code’. They created increasingly complex and elegant codes to program Cubetto to perform specific tasks and actions. The children also learnt about the design, mechanics and programming of the playset. By the end of the program, they were able to define and use computer programming terms and concepts such as code, symbol, sequence and function.

What particular aspect of Cubetto worked well for the course?

Cubetto worked well as the core tool for the courses. Instructors successfully used Cubetto and the board to demonstrate and teach the core terms and concepts of computer programming. The design of the playset is simple and open-ended enough to provide a starting point for pupils’ own creativity and invention. They found all kinds of ways to represent their own codes, and in addition to the board they also used beads on a string or created their own symbols on paper.

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What skills did Cubetto help to develop?

Cubetto encouraged the development both soft skills, such as spacial awareness and forward planning, and hard skills, like programming terminology and functions. The course topic was explicitly robotics and coding, but there was a lot of mapping, geometry and spacial reasoning skills that were intentionally included in the lessons.

How did pupils respond?

The children were happy playing with Cubetto, both with teacher facilitation and on their own, once they became familiar with how it worked. All of them were successful in using the playsets. The pupils also enjoyed dressing up Cubetto in different costumes, and he has very much become one of our classroom characters.

“The design of the playset is simple and open-ended enough to provide a starting point for pupils’ own creativity and invention.”

How did staff members respond?

Very positively. For most of the instructors, the first time they actually touched and used the kit was on the first day of class, and they all found it very accessible.

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