As a former computer engineer with a background in applied math, I’m a firm proponent of STEM education. As a math teacher with 14 years of experience facilitating robotics clubs for students, I’m also an ardent supporter of programming and robotics as a vehicle for STEM ed, so when I had the opportunity to build a K–5 robotics class from the lab up, I leapt at the opportunity.
Our school is a brand-new Title 1 campus. We’re in our first year and just opened in August, so we’re still tweaking and learning as we go, but we’ve developed a solid foundation for introducing students—even those who are very young—to a range of STEM and other concepts in an environment that feels more like fun than work. Here’s how we did it.
Kindergarten & 1st grade
When I was designing the program, I wanted to make sure we were building a bridge from kindergarten all the way to 5th grade and beyond, so our program is designed to be progressive throughout the six years students are with us and to set them up for more advanced robotics in middle and high school, should they choose to pursue it.
For kindergarteners and first graders, we use two products: LEGO’s STEAM Park and KinderLab’s KIBO.
STEAM Park uses Duplo LEGO bricks and gears, pulleys, and other simple machines to help very young children begin to understand concepts like leverage, chain reactions, motion, measurement, and even buoyancy, which isn’t usually introduced until 2nd grade.
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The KIBO kit allows students to build robots using a series of sensors and then program them by arranging a series of scannable blocks. The sensors are critical for them to understand going forward, of course, and the block coding helps them become more comfortable with the basic ideas of coding, such as creating sequences and other design concepts.
2nd and 3rd grade
In 2nd and 3rd grade, we use WeDo 2.0, also from LEGO. WeDo offers a motor, some basic sensors, and programming software that helps students understand basic functionality and how all these things work together.
Our 3rd-graders work with the robots4STEM suite from RoboKind. Robots4STEM comprises a two-foot-tall humanoid robot named Jett, a visual coding language, and a curriculum. Students can program a digital avatar as they learn programming, then switch over to run the actual robot with the code they have written.