3 ways to tell stories with robots

An educator shares how her hands-on lessons teach students the power of storytelling and the power of coding—at the same time

Though coding and robotics is new to almost all of the students coming into my workshops and classes, storytelling is something they’re familiar with. As the manager of educational programs for KID Museum in Maryland, I use narrative to help teach young students how to code and program robots. Introducing programming concepts using storylines and characters flips the mindset around robotics and technology from consuming to creating.

My programs are aligned with Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), and I’ve found that learning through storytelling improves student engagement, boosts retention and memorization, and makes learning fun. I use robots as a physical representation of a narrative, which adds a rich layer of understanding to otherwise challenging concepts for my young students. Storytelling with robots helps create accessible entry points for all types of learners, especially those who may not be initially drawn to robots or technology. Here are three different ways educators can make that powerful connection among kids, robots, and narrative.

1. Start with a book that grounds the concepts of the lesson.
Absorbing concepts using narrative and symbolism allows students to talk about what they’re learning and express their understanding using characters and plot. During my KinderCoders program, my K–1 students bring stories to life using introductory programming tools like KIBO or ScratchJr.

I began a recent Kinder Coders class by reading them Night Animals by Gianna Moreno. This silly story about nocturnal animals was my introduction to how the light sensor on the KIBO robot can sense light and dark using programmed “if/then” statements. We decorated our robots as nocturnal animals and programmed them to behave differently, depending on whether the light sensor detected light or dark. One of my students decorated his robot to be a bat, and he programmed the light sensor to let his bat “sleep” when it was light out. To represent flying in the nighttime, he programmed his bat to move around when the light sensor detected darkness.

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