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Pros: Students may love the hands-on creation process and interactive features that bring their designs to life.
Cons: Building and programming with the equipment can be a challenge for students who are easily frustrated or hesitant to try something new.
Bottom Line: With some perseverance, it's a great fit for PBL and STEAM, helping students learn programming skills and engineering concepts through invention.
Teachers can use SAM Labs to combine programming skills with the excitement of the Internet of Things in their classroom, engaging students with hands-on learning while promoting STEAM concepts. For instance, students can use makerspace materials to create an animal or a machine, and then use the SAM Space app, hardware, and the site's coding resources to bring it to life. Teach kids about solar energy, force and motion, or renewable energy by creating different circuits to solve problems. You can even learn to create code that encrypts text or spots unreliable websites. 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 a project from scratch, they're solving problems, thinking critically, and interacting with technology in meaningful ways.
Plan time for students to learn how different commands will affect the blocks. Be aware they may have trouble pairing their blocks if there are multiple sets being used in a classroom at the same time. Teachers will want to keep an eye on all of the different parts and get students into the habit of placing the pieces back onto their charging blocks when they're not in use.
The website contains lesson plans complete with resources if you purchase a subscription, so teachers who don't have much coding expertise will find tons of support.
SAM Labs is a subscription-based site and app where students develop programming and engineering skills through creating, modifying, or enhancing designs. The SAM Studio app pairs with SAM Labs devices, which are sold in kits. Depending on your budget, hardware may include buttons, DC motors, LED lights, sliders, Lego gear attachments, and more, while software commands control behaviors, sound, timing, color, logic, and other aspects. Kids pair blocks with their device via Bluetooth and then connect and control them in one of two ways: by connecting them on the virtual space or by using the SAM Blockly feature to create programs using drag-and-drop commands.
Although it's possible to use some of the site's resources without the hardware, kids will likely be more engaged if they can see their creations come to life. Compatibility with Lego blocks allows students to add pieces such as wheels or characters, making it possible to interact with technology and design in ways limited only by the students' imaginations.
Teachers new to coding will likely want to take advantage of a demonstration offered by a SAM Labs representative as well as some of the professional development offerings. If you decide to try it alone, you can find tons of ideas for classroom use via the website, which features video tutorials, detailed lesson plans, Nearpod lessons, and robust customer support.
The opportunity to design, build, and see those creations interact with other technologies makes SAM Labs 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 today's classroom. Students naturally learn the concepts of design thinking, planning, and documentation as they learn how different connections and commands affect how the blocks interact.
For beginners, creating components out of cardboard, paper, Lego blocks, and other materials encourages imaginative play. For more advanced students, the chance to delve more deeply into the software encourages the development of programming and engineering skills. In each case, students organically learn concepts and skills inherent in the STEAM approach, such as critical thinking, experiential learning, and communication. Of course, to help students succeed, teachers should be prepared to model and teach research, collaboration, problem-solving, and inquiry skills. A lesson or two on perseverance won't hurt either, especially for students who are easily frustrated or hesitant to try something new.