I’ll be 100% honest.
Five years ago, the concept of Robotics at the early childhood level scared me to death. Truthfully, the concept of Coding did too. And I’ve always considered myself a pretty “techy” teacher. But not THAT techy, right?!
What I very quickly realized is that coding is the future for today’s kids. Currently, there are over 500,000 job openings in computer science, in every industry and every state. Women who simply try AP Computer Science in High School are ten times more likely to major in it. Black and Hispanic students are seven times more likely. Additionally, a computer science major can earn 40% more than the average college graduate. (Source: code.org)
So what does that mean for us? It means that lighting that coding spark for our young children now can open countless doors of opportunity for new hobbies, interests, and even potential careers.
It’s taken several years, a ton of baby steps, some awesome professional development, and tons of play and exploration on my own for me to really “get” how powerful coding and robotics can be in the elementary classroom. I remember my first Hour of Code, when I followed the unplugged lessons on code.org, then allowed my students to experience block coding for the first time. Shortly thereafter, I fell in love with the Kodable, Box Island, and Scratch Jr.apps. Here are all my current faves:
I also love incorporating unplugged coding to allow my students to practice basic coding concepts without technology. I use my Hop Scotch Coding (pictured below) when I introduce coding to them for the first time. This allows them to discover the basic flow control structures of sequencing, conditions, and loops in a memorable, interactive way.
But it wasn’t until I attended a local STEM conference with my teacher friend, Pat Morgan, that I realized just how simple and powerful robotics could be. I had the chance to play with Bee-Bots for the first time, and I thought to myself, hey! These are easy peasy! Even my Kinders can do this! It’s just sequencing, which we teach and practice in almost every subject area, right?! I couldn’t wait to write a grant to get a set of Bee-Bots for my students. Four years later, they’re still one of my students very favorite coding tools.
We often use clear vinyl mats with our Bee-Bots so we can put cards and challenges underneath. This makes it super simple to tie them to curriculum! Bee-Bot sells these mats separately, but you can also make them yourself using clear vinyl from the craft store or even a clear shower curtain! Just draw the 6″ x 6″ grids using a straight edge and permanent marker. The Emoji Match game above is found in my Bot Basics pack.
Screen-free Bots are perfect for our youngest students because they are so simple, interactive, and FUN. Here is the rundown to compare my top three favorite screen-free robot models.
Last year, I was finally brave enough to get my hands on Sphero and Dash…taking coding to the next level of cool with more bells and whistles than I ever imagined. Man, I had NO idea what we were missing. Yes, my students were practicing basic sequences of code, but now they were also learning loops, conditions, and functions. They were exploring speed, angles, and duration, even adding lights and sounds and animations as they programmed their robots. Yes, this was coding, but it was a hands-on interactive type of coding that my kids and I had been craving. And a HUGE bonus is that these bots are So. Easy. to connect to a variety of math and language arts standards.
In my personal experience and in my honest opinion, the robots shown below are ideal for the early childhood classroom. You can see the detailed list of reasons why I love each one in the “What I Like” column. Each of these robots requires an Apple or Android device (iPads, tablets, Chromebooks, etc.) to program. They can also be utilized in “drive” mode, similar to a joystick with a free-range of movement.
To say I’m in over my head with Robotics right now is a big understatement…. But I’ve gotta tell ya, I’m LOVING IT. And more importantly, so are my students!
I’ve just finished creating a huge pack of Bot Basics challenges that are perfect for students (and teachers) in K-2nd Grade who are new to Robotics and Coding. You can set up these challenges in a whole class setting, in rotated stations, or in a coding center depending on how many robots you have in your room. (I recommend that one robot be shared among 2-3 students.) Bot Basics challenges are compatible with all of the recommended robots shown in the charts above, as well as Ozobot Bit and Ozobot EVO with the OzoBlockly app.
10 simple challenges are included to help students get to know their robots and practice sequencing, directions, and navigating around obstacles.
10 Seasonal, themed Maze Maker challenges are also included that have a start, end, and four “rewards” for the robots to collect along the way.
Y’all knew I couldn’t stop there though, right?!
If robotics = optimal student engagement, then why not incorporate them into other subject areas too?! Enter, Bot Basics: Language Arts Edition…perfect for literacy centers and guided reading discussions….and Bot Basics: Math for math centers and partner games. The Language Arts Edition has 14 challenges and the Math Edition has 10.
And here’s one more crazy fun option for your math centers or game time: Bot Bowling with four math concepts!
You can receive ALL FOUR SETS of Bot Basics and save $4.00 by purchasing the Bot Basics Bundle!
Questions or suggestions for Robotics or Coding apps? Leave me a comment! I’m always looking for the latest and greatest ideas to bring to my students!
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