Robotics in elementary education is a new concept. Especially when it as viewed as part of the school day and objectives and not relegated to clubs and afterschool programs exclusively. But there are few guideposts for schools interested in robotics to understand what is appropriate at the elementary level. After a few years of experimentation and research, this is what our school has decided.
Pre-K through 1st grade
COGNITIVE AND PHYSIOLOGICAL DEVELOPMENT
- Students at this age need frequent and immediate feedback to evaluate and adjust
- Their ability to operate robots out-paces their dexterity and ability to build them with that level of sophistication
- They must work in “real time” to connect programming (“telling the robot what to do”) and robotics (“the robot working and doing things”). In other words, the robot must act out the actions as close in time to the “telling it what to do” as possible.
- They need to see the actions in 3D.
- They must have the ability to get up and move with the robot. They need to see the active robot from multiple angles, and sometimes walk its steps, touch it, move around it, or use their own bodies as models for what they want it to do.
- The more senses the robot can engage with the children, the more the children can interact with it- lights, sensors, sounds.
- They must have clear discussions that robots are not “alive” or making decisions.
- Robotics can help students organize their thinking into clear steps and expectations of actions related to those steps.
- Careful selection of equipment can serve classrooms of diverse learners and challenges can begin simple and become as complex as needed
- Students gain experience in estimation, measurement, and visual-spacial reasoning
- Robots can enhance content, facilitating independent or small group work, in particular (but not limited to) math and science in innovative ways
- Students have frequent and low-risk ways to try new ideas and problem solve through planning as well as trial and error
- Students often learn easily from each other by observing the actions others take, and when they are faced with challenges will often ask a peer to teach them
- Students experience frustration, but in a playful environment allowing teachers to enter the situation and mentor through with low stress
- Students learn persistence as they work to solve problems
- Playful learning is appropriate at all ages, but is necessary for early childhood
- Students who are not always socially confident or connected may feel comfortable interacting with the robot and then expanding their social interactions
Our School Selection
For this age group, our school selected “Dot and Dash” robots from the company called “Make Wonder” (we have no affiliation with them and receive nothing for this post- just happy customers).
These robots have been successful in reducing the barriers for both students and teachers in introducing robotics to young children. They are sturdy, appealing, work well consistently, and students do not need to put them together. They allow young children to focus on the function of commanding robots to solve a problem, not creating them or understanding the mechanics (that comes later).
Dot is a stationary robot that I use with older students. Dash is a moving robot that I use with both older and younger students. They come with a myriad of apps, which is the true reason for their success in our school. Two apps in particular really support authentic and appropriate entry into early childhood- “Go” and “Path”. They both use finger swipes/touch, meaning that students do not have to read, move code blocks, etc.
“Go” essentially turns the ipad into a controler. The robot will move, speak, change colors, record voices, move its head, and more in the moment that the child touches it. It is as immediate feedback as it gets! In this mode, teachers who set out challenges, mazes, or other innovative learning can have students use the robot as a tool or even as a proxy for engagement for other learning goals. Children as young as 4 can easily operate the controller app and robot and are excited about using it to explore.
“Path” delays the planning and action with a very short interval and requires the student to think ahead. In this app, the student can trace a finger pathway on the ipad (adding noises, stops, lights, etc.) and then when they have made the “path”, they tap the robot icon and the robot follows the path they have laid out. The grid that the app presents is in squares that measure to the dimensions of the robots body, making it a system of non-standard units. Additionally, the actions (sounds, lights, stops, etc.) are circle icons that students drag on and lay on the path. This is the beginning of computer and robotics programming as students now are compelled to think sequentially- actions connected in a line and in time. To be successful with challenges and mazes, students must estimate or measure distances, anticipate movement and direction, and plan for sequence.
With these apps, young children can begin to understand the nature of robotics in ways that support their natural development and in ways that are exciting and engaging while also accomplishing learning goals. Both apps also contain multiple playful leveled challenges that are easy for clubs, free time, or substitute lessons.
Make Wonder also hosts teacher lessons that have been written, submitted, and shared. They have lessons for students starting in 1st grade. Additionally, Dash can come with accessories such as a xylophone, adapters that allow students to expand the robot with Lego pieces, a ball launcher, and more.
Our Innovative Uses of Robotics in Early Childhood: Example
Our school is still developing our robotics program, however we have found a few innovative doorways.One example is using the robot as a proxy to model patterning and learn about Shabbat (the weekly Jewish sabbath holiday). By laying out a large piece of butcher paper that represents a Shabbat dinner table setting, students can record their voices saying blessings or explaining each one. They can then have the robot “stop” at each one and tell about it with the recording. By including robotics in this experience, a Judaics studies lesson becomes integrated with math and technology as students measure and anticipate distances, plan, and sequence.
Another example is in math learning. By creating a maze (with blocks, carpet squares, or tape) students can cut a square that represents a square on the app “Path” and use it to measure the number of squares Dash must go forward (or turn and go forward again) to meet a goal. They then can plan Dash’s path accordingly to their measurements. This supports addition learning and measurement using non-standard units.
Creative teachers will find endless opportunities.
School-Wide Program Tips
- For each class, it is advisable to purchase one robot per pair of students (who will be using the robots at the same time). These robots will also run off a kindle. This means for each pair of students, it will cost in materials between $200-$300.
- The school requires a strong wifi and bluetooth support.
- At this level, teachers need very little specific robotics experience and can learn quickly
- Robotics and cognitive development in early childhood
- Pre-K students are able to master basic robotics concepts
- Robotics boosts story sequencing abilities in early childhood
- Teachers improve their understanding and use of robotics in 3 days of professional development
- Reflections on NAEYC guidelines for robotics and digital devices in ECE
- Literature review on multiple research articles in robotics in ECE