Review by Marianne Rogowski, Common Sense Education | Updated January 2018
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Wireless blocks promote design, engineering, and programming skills

Subjects & skills
  • Science

  • Creativity
  • Character & SEL
  • Critical Thinking
Grades This grade range is a recommendation by Common Sense Education and not the developer/publisher.
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Pros: Students will love the hands-on creation and interactive features that bring their designs to life.

Cons: Students may be frustrated by the lack of in-app support, and costs for the various blocks and kits can add up quickly.

Bottom Line: With some perseverance, SAM is a great fit for PBL and STEAM, helping students learn programming skills through invention.

Teachers can use SAM Edu to bring the Internet of Things into their classroom, engaging students with hands-on learning while promoting design, programming, and engineering skills. Teach velocity and speed by letting students collaborate to build a car and an interval timer, or challenge them to design a product that could solve a problem at home, at school, or in the community. Teach robotics with Lego and SAM blocks, and help students connect coding language to real-world applications without the intimidation that programming languages may present (advanced users can write their own code). Give students a chance to teach one another by asking and answering questions like "What if...?" and "How can we...?" Whether students are creating, enhancing, or starting an invention from scratch, they're solving problems, thinking critically, and interacting with technology in meaningful ways.

SAM Edu is not ideal for direct instruction, but teachers can have fun learning alongside their students while they draw from or submit ideas to the developer's website. While users can share ideas on social media sites such as YouTube and Twitter, a feature allowing students to share their projects and see what other students are doing would be a useful addition to the website.

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SAM Edu is a programming app where students develop engineering skills by using SAM blocks to create, modify, or enhance designs. Depending on the kit, hardware may include buttons, DC motors, LED lights, sliders, buzzers, and more, while software commands control behaviors, sound, timing, color, logic, and other aspects. Users can pair up to six blocks with their device via Bluetooth and then connect and control the blocks using drag-and-drop software commands. Compatibility with Lego blocks allows students to add pieces such as wheels, and the ability to connect with third-party apps makes it possible to interact with technology in ways limited only by the students' imaginations. Teachers can find ideas for classroom use via the SAM Labs website, which features short videos, detailed lesson plans (currently there are about 25 lessons), a teacher guide, and a student documentation guide.

Although the website features many resources that users can access to get help, find inspiration, and learn about the design process, there's not much detailed support in terms of how to build or use the software blocks. Students will have to invest time up front in learning how the different commands will affect the blocks, and they may have trouble pairing their blocks if there are multiple sets being used in a classroom at the same time. Also, the kits don't come with charging blocks, so teachers will need to have some on hand.

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The opportunity to design and build things and see those creations interact with technology makes SAM Edu an effective educational tool on many levels. By its nature, this tool lends itself to creativity, iteration, problem-solving, and other skills vital to student success in the 21st-century classroom and workplace. Students can naturally learn the concepts of design thinking, planning, and documentation by using the Activity Log resource. For beginners, creating components out of cardboard, paper, Legos, and other materials encourages imaginative play. For more advanced students, the chance to delve more deeply into the software encourages development of programming and engineering skills. Students can organically learn concepts and skills inherent in the STEAM approach, such as critical thinking, experiential learning, and communication.

Although SAM Edu doesn't give feedback, and in-app support is somewhat lacking, the SAM Labs website and social media pages offer a growing number of resources. To help students succeed, teachers should be prepared to model and teach research, collaboration, problem-solving, and inquiry skills.

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Overall Rating

Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return?

Wireless technology paired with creative, device-controlled designs are a near-certain win for strong student engagement. 

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer?

Naturally immersing students in STEAM concepts encourages the development not only of technical skills, but of social and emotional skills, as well.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students?

Support features include basic tutorials and many resources that show possibilities for design. The lesson plan feature is somewhat limited but shows promise.

Common Sense Reviewer
Marianne Rogowski Media specialist/librarian

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