The children we teach were born with technology as a part of their lives. They don’t know a world without touchscreen phones and computers in every room. In today’s world, saying that subjects like coding and robotics “are for ‘big kids’” is like saying “reading is for ‘big kids.’”
As Robin Ricketts from The Steward School points out, if we wait until students are in middle school to hand them a book, we have not only devalued reading, we’ve also missed out on the opportunity to make reading easy and fun. The same is true of STEM literacy, which can no longer be considered optional.
Children need to actually touch, manipulate, and experiment with objects in order to fully understand them. Robots bring this physical interaction to the potentially intimidating process of understanding engineering and programming. If we add in the social interaction of working with friends, we can deepen the understanding through conversation and the sharing of ideas.
Lynne May Lim: To Transform Toys to Tools for Learning
In my kindergarten classroom, students refer to themselves as problem-solvers and develop persistence in working through challenges. One of my favorite parts of teaching is watching young students transform from using robots as toys to working with them to accomplish a task. My students learn about robotics and coding using KIBO, a friendly robot created by KinderLab Robotics.
When children are this young, our goal is to provide the materials to make connections between what they are learning in the classroom and the outside world. For example, we went on a field trip to visit the fire station as part of our unit on community. Back in the classroom, I set up streets and houses using masking tape and blocks, then asked children to program their “firefighter KIBO” to fight fires. They chose which “burning house” they wanted KIBO to respond to and programmed it to land exactly in front of that house.
Students love robotics because they get immediate feedback and gratification. The experience is multi-sensory and hands-on, and feeds on their imagination. Over the course of the robotics curriculum, students’ thinking and understanding about machines and robots expands. Their vocabulary also grows to include words like “collaborate,” “robot,” “program,” and “do work.”
One tip I always try to keep at the front of mind is that young children recognize new technologies around them at the same time as their older counterparts. Even if they are not the ones behind the controls, they are watching, listening, absorbing, and learning from the sidelines. Never underestimate young children!