Review by Marianne Rogowski, Common Sense Education | Updated May 2019

SAM Labs

Kids use block code and wireless blocks to program, design, and create

Subjects & skills
Subjects
  • Science

Skills
  • Creativity
  • Character & SEL
  • Critical Thinking
Grades This grade range is based on learning appropriateness and doesn't take into account privacy. It's determined by Common Sense Education, not the product's publisher.
2–8
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Pros: Students will love the hands-on creation process and interactive features that bring their designs to life.

Cons: The site is slow to load, and costs for the various blocks and kits can add up quickly.

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. Use maker space materials to create an animal or machine, and then use the Sam Space app 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. Or learn about body systems by building a skeleton with movable parts out of LEGO® blocks. 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.

Plan time for students to learn how the different commands will affect the blocks, and 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.

SAM Space contains lesson plans complete with resources if you purchase a kit, but there are a limited number of plans compared to the possibilities teachers and students will likely dream up. Either way, take time to share your genius with the community of users by posting plans or finished projects in the gallery or on the site’s social media pages.

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SAM Labs is a programming site where students develop engineering skills by using SAM blocks and the SAM Space app 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. On the Sam Space app, kids pair blocks with their device via Bluetooth and then connect and control the blocks using drag-and-drop software commands. On the SAM Labs site, kids can create and share programs using block coding as well as browse or post to the gallery of shared creations.

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 website, which features short videos, detailed lesson plans (currently there's one free sample lesson and a number of paid lessons), a teacher guide, and a student documentation guide.

The opportunity to design and build things 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 and their future workplace. Students naturally learn the concepts of design thinking, planning, and documentation as they learn how different pieces affect lights, sounds, and movements.

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.

Overall Rating

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

Wireless technology paired with block coding to make 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?

Immersing students naturally in STEAM concepts encourages the development of creativity and social and emotional skills as they build technical knowledge.

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. Both struggling and advanced students could benefit from the hands-on learning activities.


Common Sense Reviewer
Marianne Rogowski Media specialist/librarian

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