EdtechRVA Recap: Plotting, Programming, & Printing in the ELA Classroom

It’s a brand new week, and definitely time for another Edtech RVA Recap. There’s only one more to do after this one. So far, previous recaps have included Getting Interactive with Google Apps and Bite-Sized Professional Development. If you’ve not had a chance to check them out, definitely do so, as they are worth the read.

This particular recap focuses on some different ways to engage students in the ELA classroom. My schools do not have the resources to implement what will be discussed here, but I was fascinated by how they were used to engage students in new ways, while still meeting the ELA standards. This session was presented by Colleen Casada, Gillian Lambert, and Emily Roberts. Gillian is @GillianLambert and Emily is @Connor6307 on Twitter. I do not have a Twitter for Colleen, but if anyone does, please let me know and I will edit this post to reflect it.

These ladies brought some new tools into the ELA classroom- 3D printers and Sphero robots. In addition, TinkerCAD was used to create the items for the 3D printers. When you think of ELA, these certainly aren’t the tools you think of seeing in the classroom.

To convey their ideas, these ladies gave examples of projects that had been completed with these tools, which is one of the most effective ways to demonstrate to teachers how the tools can make a difference in the curriculum. They also made sure to convey how the tools enhanced lessons and how they engaged the students. Typically, they tried to focus on lessons that normally would be challenging for students, and ones that often found students disengaged from the content.

One lesson example focused on Charlie from Flowers for Algernon. In the book, Charlie has an intellectual disability, which causes others to take advantage of him, though he doesn’t realize it. He is selected for an experimental surgery that will help correct his disability, but ultimately, the effects are not permanent. After reading, students are asked to do research on intellectual disabilities and make connections to Charlie. Then they spend time talking to folks who develop assistive technologies. Finally, they use TinkerCAD to design a device that would help aid Charlie in his daily life.

2017-03-08 13.39.07

Flowers for Algernon example, photo is my own

Another lesson example, Project Runway, focused on the novel Shakespeare’s Secret. After reading, students would be asked to research families in the British monarchy. Using this research, they design a collection of jewelry for the family. Each piece must have reasons based upon research, so students must use their persuasive writing skills to demonstrate that each piece suits the chosen family.

A final lesson example that I’ll share here focused on the play The Merchant of Venice. After reading the play, students would discuss direct and indirect characterization. They would then be asked to design a ring to symbolically represent the characters and plot. In addition, students learned how to find their ring size and how to measure for it. One of the presenters mentioned that for this particular project, some of the rings had flaw designs when printed. Students were given the chance to redesign and reprint their work, but it had to be on their own time. She said that 100% of the flawed rings were redone and reprinted.

Moving on, the presenters discussed how Sphero could be used in the classroom. There were not as many examples here. Sphero was used with The False Prince. Students learned to code Sphero to represent the journey of the Sage. Sphero was ran on a green screen, and then students edited in the music and images to match Sphero’s movements.

The presenters also gave some pointers and tips for getting started. I’ve put them in a list format for easier reading:

3D Printing/TinkerCAD

  • Explore databases of 3D models for ideas
  • Learn the basics of TinkerCAD (free online)
  • Identify a lesson for students that is challenging
  • Due to costs, not every design can be printed on the 3D printer typically


  • Learn the basics of Sphero and making him move
  • Make sure to chunk the learning as students want to go, go, go
  • Consider using an online learning platform to help provide the material
  • Only give 25-30 minutes of class time to students to discover how to work Sphero

Even if your school does not yet have the capabilities of these tools, consider how something like these tools could change how some of your students engage in their education. It might just be the spark that one student needs.

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