Teacher diaries: Getting Started with SAM Labs

Karen Fleming, Director of Digital Learning and Communication at Keble Prep school has been coding with SAM Labs for over 4 years making her one of our longest running users. SAM Labs wanted to know her tips and tricks on how to get started with SAM Labs in the classroom.

SAM Labs: What is your advice for other educators when they first get started with the kit?

Karen: The first step would be to have a play with the kit yourself and then invite your technicians or other staff to try it out too. Build a car and get familiar with the technology.

I suddenly thought of the Internet of Things and prototyping possibilities when I first used the blocks. IoT is all around us and these blocks help you to bring some of this into the classroom. It helps you explain some of the everyday things students are experiencing. One of our first projects was based on the ring.com advert. I had a ring doorbell and I realised we could build a similar version with the SAM blocks. It helped me to explain to students how it all worked and  it was no longer just a virtual exercise.

SAM Labs: And when you introduced SAM Labs to your students, how do they find SAM Labs?

Karen: I found it easier to introduce SAM Labs as physical programming. After working with programmes like Scratch, it was so nice to introduce the SAM blocks as they bring knowledge in coding into the real world and can be used to make things happen. The students really liked that idea and we discussed the different inputs and output blocks.

I tend to find introducing the car projects a great point of reference. They can draw parallels with things in the real world, the Motors, the Light Sensors and LED Lights.

Usually one of the students tells me about their car's lights coming on automatically and it leads us to a discussion about the Light Sensor. The students love the idea of the Proximity Sensor and can usually relate it to the parking sensors in their own car which leads them to building their own cars and controlling them. Before we know it, we have discussed and looked at quite a few of the blocks already!

SAM Labs: How easy it is to combine SAM Labs with the curriculum?

Karen: After using SAM Labs I am always looking for ways I can bring the curriculum to life using these fantastic blocks. In Geography, the idea of building our own data logger for example. In History, creating our Tudor board games. In our Technology lessons, I am looking at combining our SAM blocks with our robots and we are looking to explore using our 3D printer to create more design projects. Our Science teacher is also considering incorporating them into the curriculum. Once you start using SAM blocks, they are so easy to work with, you can go through your existing curriculum and look for opportunities. We are looking to create a working group to explore ideas together and share the journey!

SAM Labs: Is there anything else you’d like to add about your experience that you think other educators should know?

Karen: I found the students have a wealth of ideas. They tend not to be frightened of new technology and are happy to try out new ideas. We set up an after school club to try out some of our ideas especially in the early days. We let our students use the blocks alongside lego and our 3D printer to come up with little projects. I used the club as a way to build up my confidence before I brought them into the classroom. I also got our technicians involved! They loved trying out their ideas and together, the students, the technicians and I built up our knowledge and confidence. This made it easier to then start bringing them into the classroom. Any problems or issues were flagged up before I introduced them to the class.  

The more people you have on the team the more fun and easy it is to start working with the blocks. We are looking into the possibility of having after-school clubs for some of our teachers now.