So your school has purchased some robots? Now what?
A lot of schools have recently purchased coding and robotics kits through their Matchbox grants and to be perfectly honest, a lot of teachers are too busy and too intimidated to crack open the box. It is okay to dive in without being an expert; this will encourage your students to engage in authentic problem solving and give them the chance to be experts in the classroom. As you learn alongside your students, you will also be modelling lifelong learning and a growth mindset.
Most of the popular robots out there (Dash/Dot, Sphero, etc.) are programmed with block coding. It is a simple coding language, first developed by MIT and widely used for coding with children. “Blocks” containing commands are dragged, dropped and connected together to give instructions to the robot. As your students gain confidence in this style of coding they will notice that their newfound skills are transferable between robotics kits, and to preliminary coding on the computer using Scratch.
Why should we be teaching coding in elementary school at all?
There are a number of reasons, but I will just explore the most important. The first and foremost is elegantly summed up in this quote by Steve Jobs: “Every kid should learn to code because it teaches you how to think.” Coding is a great way to build computational thinking, logic, and sequencing skills. These will serve our students well into their adult years.
An alarming second reason is that there are fewer Computer Science graduates today than there were a decade ago. This decline is even more severe amongst women and minorities, which means we are missing out on lots of potential creativity and innovation in our world. If students aren’t exposed to coding and computer sciences before the end of high school, they are extremely unlikely to choose it as their career field as they enter university. Piquing the interest of children in their elementary years can increase the chances that they will consider this choice later.
More and more careers and areas of life are becoming infused with technology. Think of how much this has changed in the past ten years. Now imagine what the next ten years may bring. Our students will enter adulthood in a world that contains technology that hasn’t been built yet. Ensuring that every student has a basic comfort and familiarity with technology and coding helps prepare them for the future.
Getting started in your classroom
Your students will need time to play and so will you. If you are the type of teacher who enjoys having at least some familiarity with something before diving in with your class then you may want to ask your Principal if you can take home one of your school’s robots for a weekend to explore. If your school is hoping to make coding a priority school-wide then I suggest that some “play time” with your robots/coding resources is incorporated into your next staff meeting. This will give teachers some time to learn a few functions and begin to envision how they could incorporate this into their own classroom.
The first time your students get their hands on the robots, they will need some time to explore and play too. Once they know how to do some of the basics they will be more comfortable using coding to demonstrate their learning. After a bit of exploration time, I like to offer my students some simple challenges (i.e. Can you make the robot make a square? What other shapes can you make?) to make sure that they have an understanding of the simple functions like programming a distance into the robot, having it turn, etc.
Once you and your students have a preliminary comfort level with coding, you are ready to start incorporating them into your curriculum! I will explore different ways to do so in my next blog post, but for now feel free to email me for ideas (firstname.lastname@example.org) and check out this list of resources and websites to get started.
Special thanks to Goodwood PS and Beaverton PS for letting me visit to code with their students.