Finding ways to teach language arts through science

Cool tech toys and tools sourced at uOttawa conference can inspire learning within many teachable disciplines

Robert J. Ballantyne considers how the learn-by-doing maker movement can complement English teaching for his grade 7 classroom.
Robert J. Ballantyne considers how the learn-by-doing maker movement can complement English teaching for his grade seven classroom. Supplied photo

As a first-year B.Ed student, I faced my first disappointment when I learned that most of my class didn’t love English as much as I did. Over the past five weeks, I’ve surveyed small groups as part of my community service learning, and only eight out of 74 students said their favourite subject was my teachable.

Which subject did the majority favour? It was a near-tie between physical education and science. Why did they prefer these subjects? The students said they loved the combination of physical activity and experimentation.

So, rather than compete with these two subjects, I started to reflect on ways to complement them instead. How could I integrate active learning and find a way to teach communication and language arts through the sciences?

Bearing this in mind, I immediately jumped at the chance to attend the University of Ottawa's Ontario Makers and Mentors Innovation Conference (OMMIC) on October 26-28, 2018.

The conference, organized by Faculty of Engineering students, promotes the maker movement — an interdisciplinary culture of creativity that promotes learning-though-doing.

Beyond the panel discussions and workshops about machining, coding and virtual reality, the event was also a showcase for the Faculty of Engineering STEM complex at 141 Louis-Pasteur.

3D printers line the walls of uOttawa's Richard L’Abbé Makerspace. It also smells a bit like burnt plastic in the room when they're all running.
3D printers line the walls of uOttawa's Richard L’Abbé Makerspace. It also smells a bit like burnt plastic in the room when they're all running. Robert J. Ballantyne

Education faculty and students will find lots of creative opportunities within the complex’s numerous open-concept teaching labs — especially the VR, 3D printers and other invent-build-play equipment at Richard L’Abbé Makerspace, which is open to all (including the public).

While I was inspired by many things during OMMIC, I wanted to share one interdisciplinary English lesson idea that I developed after seeing and interacting with a set of pocked-sized coding robots.

The Ozobot is a programmable, pocket-sized robot that can travel along hand-drawn lines on paper.
The Ozobot is a programmable, pocket-sized robot that can travel along hand-drawn lines on paper. Robert J. Ballantyne

Make My Ozobot

Learn procedural writing using science, computer programming, art and active learning

The Ozobot is a cute programmable robot that offers a unique way to teach procedural writing, the writing of instructions to complete various tasks and goals.

Using a drag-and-drop interface, students can easily learn to code the Ozobot to travel along a set of lines. For example, the students can program the Ozobot to travel along black lines, to speed up when its bottom sensor detects the colour red, or even slow down when it detects blue.

Next, the students will draw the black, red and blue lines onto a piece (or pieces) of paper with markers. The path can be as short, long, twisty or straight-forward as the students’ creativity allows.

After running their experiment, the students will then offer step-by-step instructions to let others know how to program, run and direct their Ozobot as they designed it.

Content Creator

About Robert J. Ballantyne

Robert J.Ballantyne is a teacher-in-training at the University of Ottawa. In a former life, he was a journalist and producer/director at the CBC on a number of news programs including the fifth estate, Marketplace and The National. He also worked at the Toronto Star and freelanced at other publications.

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