Thursday, February 19, 2015

The Wheels on the Bot Go Round and Round: Programming in Primary

Today's blogger is Sara Hunter. Sara is STEM Coach at Union Elementary School in Zionsville Community Schools.

In December 2013, the Hour of Code took the world by storm- including my own students!  I facilitated The Hour of Code tutorials with all of my 1st through 4th grade classes and we loved every moment of it.  The Hour of Code was the perfect precursor to our embedded robotics experience for 3rd and 4th grade students with Lego NXT Mindstorms, and 2nd grade students with Lego WeDo.  Having taught robotics for several years now, I was struck with the comprehension of my youngest learners during the Hour of Code Angry Birds tutorial and it made me realize that these first graders could certainly program robots, too!  The Bee Bot has turned out to be a great starter robot for this primary age group!

The Bee Bot is a great little robot that is very user-friendly for young children.  I first met Bee Bot at the ISTE conference in San Antonio and had the chance to explore how it works.  Using the keys on the top of the bot, students program simple direction commands by pressing the buttons in the desired sequence.  Bee Bot's eyes light up and it makes sounds as it completes the program, my students often view this as a celebration of their programming skills.  Programming the Bee Bot requires students to think sequentially as well as spatially.  The spatial awareness of Bee Bot's perspective always provides for great teachable moments and student problem solving conversations.  

The Bee Bots can drive on almost any surface, which is great to be able to make custom mats or mazes.  We have been using the Bee Bot mats available for purchase on the Bee Bot website, but you certainly can make your own!  You can check out my Robotics board on Pinterest for Bee Bot resources and printable mats, maps and cards.   

Currently, my Kindergarten students are exploring with Bee Bots, learning how to program around obstacles to get their Bee Bot back to the hive.  We are also learning how to notate our program with pencil and paper by writing down the sequence of the arrow keys.
There are great curricular connections for the classroom as well, like putting sight words, numbers, math facts, or picture/word content cards under the Bee Bot mat. Students could roll a die to determine how many spaces to program the Bee bot, as well as notate their program.  There is also a free Bee Bot app for iOS which simulates the Bee Bot in a challenge-based game, great for kindergarten and primary students.

First graders have been doing more complex programming with a little more student ownership.  In the Bee Bot Name Game, students place their name card anywhere they chose on the mat.  Then, they to program their Bee Bot to drive to the names on the mat in alphabetical order.  Finally, students notate their final program in their STEM notebook using the arrow symbols on the Bee Bot.  

The big project for first graders this year is designing a Bee Bot town and sending their Bee Bots on an adventure.  This is a collaborative project with a team of 4-5 students establishing the road through their town and then adding businesses.  Students are then writing a narrative of their Bee Bot's  adventure through the town, as well as notating their programming sequence.  Finally, students are recording the Bee Bot actually traveling their program through town to create an iMovie to share. This project is a great synthesis of so many first grade skills across the curriculum.  My students have taken so much ownership of this project because of the choices they have had along the way.  Those choices have been successful through setting clear expectations and a scaffolded Bee Bot experience. We also have frequent conversations and check-ins about teamwork, and what it looks and sounds like to collaborate with a partner or a group. 

That's what I love about robotics at any age level.  Inevitably during this experience, I hear students exclaim, "I failed, it didn't work!"  Oh, failure is such an opportunity! Failure is even respectable.  These are students learning the basics of programming, they haven't failed, it's been a FAIL: First Attempt In Learning.  We don't give up, we ask for help, we work together, because the success of overcoming the challenge and programming the robot is seriously worth it.  Sometimes the lessons learned from robots are about so much more than technology.  

Make sure to follow our Bee Bot Adventures and connect with us @UnionSTEM on Twitter! 

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