One of the hallmarks of Friends School of Baltimore’s curriculum with regard to technology is how we introduce computer science and coding to our youngest learners. Having our students understand that coding is our ability to talk to, communicate with, and control computers and robots is the foundation of our coding program.
Science teacher Steve Mickletz and I partner with homeroom teachers in Kindergarten to teach coding through our robot friend, Bee-Bot. Bee-Bot is a robot that is controlled by inputs such as forward, backward, left turn, right turn, and pause. It travels on a grid mat that is six feet by six feet. After a user types in a sequence of directions, Bee-Bot travels on its coded path. Once they understand how to “talk to” Bee-Bot, our students are able to engage their creativity and problem-solving skills to build algorithms so Bee- Bot travels on the mat to spell words, practice Spanish vocabulary, skip count, retell stories, and whatever else that we can connect to our existing curriculum.
Another robot friend we use with our youngest learners is KIBO. KIBO is a robot that is controlled by scanning barcodes on actual building blocks. Students build their sequenced algorithms with the blocks, scan the barcodes with KIBO, then press the play button. KIBO then moves according to the programmed sequence. What makes KIBO a little unique is that there are different modules that can be attached (e.g. lights, sounds, even a catapult!) where students can integrate making skills into the coding process. For example, Pre-First students sent LEGO Mae Jemison on a coded KIBO ride throughout our solar system made in the Makerspace, the School’s space that is intentionally designed to serve as a wood shop, garage, science lab, and art studio. KIBO was also coded to travel the migration path for red knot birds (also made in the Makerspace) from South America to Delaware to Canada. In these projects, students learned basic coding skills from events, sequenced algorithms, simple loops, and were introduced to conditional if-then-else statements.
Having our youngest learners be fluid in their understanding of coding and the various “languages” of our robot friends serve them well as they advance through our Lower School computer science curriculum in grades one through five. In addition, the eruption of cheers and excitement when they get to interact with Bee-Bot and KIBO makes the learning journey all that more fun and engaging for all!
Friends School of Baltimore (friendsbalt.org) is a private coeducational Quaker school founded in 1784 and serving students in Pre-K through 12th grade.
Author: Andy Hanes, Friends School’s Lower School Technology Integrator and Educator
This article was originally written for/ published in Friends Magazine