Developing an Early Childhood Robotics and Coding Curriculum


**This is a repost of one of my posts for COETAIL. It will be a part of my final project as I go into the last course of the program. **

You know when you go through a mixture emotions and your brain doesn’t quite know how to react? Well, that’s me right now. I’m a mix of “Oh my gosh this is so exciting, I can’t believe I’m a part of this!” and “Holy *#&! will I be able to pull this off?!?!” In conclusion, I look and feel a little bit like this guy…

Photo Credit: SplodgusMaximus via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: SplodgusMaximus via Compfight cc

…both excited and frightened that my face doesn’t really know what to do! Just keeping my fingers crossed I don’t mess anyting up along the way.

Allow me to explain a little. This is my first year as a technology integrator and so far I am loving it! However, like any first year, I’m fumbling my way through and trying my best to figure out how everything works. I’ve arrived at a very exciting time for our school as we are finalizing our Robotics and Engneering Desgin Standards. It is still in draft mode but is pretty close to completion. What I love most when I look at this document is how we can see the growth of our program from the very beginnings of Robotics and Engineering in Kindergarten A (Pre-K), all the way through to our students taking Advanced Engineering and Robotics or AP Computer Science. I cannot take credit for the many hours of work put into this document by teachers and faculty across our three schools since I’ve just joined the department! However, I am VERY grateful for the work that was put into it, because now I get to take part in the exciting task of putting it into action and seeing how it would best be taught in our kindergarten A to second grade programs.

So, for course five in my COETAIL adventures, I am hoping to share my experience this year building, creating, editing, and documenting the process I am going through in developing our robotics and coding program in kindergarten A to second grade. Here are the beginnings of the proces I am going through.

Looking Closer at Standards

Zooming into the section on our standards and benchmarks, I will be looking closely at our third standard specifically related to KA-2:

Standard 3. Programming: Students will draw upon problem-solving and creative thinking skills to interpret and write code. They will be able to:

  • Understand that computers and robots act based on what we tell them to (programs)
  • Understand that a computer program is a sequence of instructions that are acted out in order. Each instruction has a specific meaning, and the order of the instructions affects the result
  • Use a computer programming language with a visual programming language (VPL) to instruct a computer or robot to complete a simple set of tasks that involves a short series of commands such as: forward, forward, turn left, go
  • Create a program in a given number of moves or in as few moves as possible
  • Predict the output of a small set of basic program commands

Since my role entails that I use my time with each class to help integrate technology into all curriculum areas, it would be unrealistic of me to take a chunk of time out to run my own unit on coding and robotics. This would mean that I would miss out on helping to integrate technology into whatever other units were currently running at that time. Many of the teachers expressed that they would like me to use that time to introduce possible tools and ideas to them so that they can then carry those forward into other parts of their teaching. So, what I have tried so far this year is to work out a way to spread our robotics and coding curriculum through the year. My goal is to try my best to teach one lesson on coding for every four lessons where I meet with the students, this is approximately once a month. With the help of teachers, some of these activities then can be put into centers or choice time for further growth and development of the concepts and ideas.

Serendipity

Perhaps I somehow uncounsciously knew that this was what I would be focusing on for my final project in COETAIL, but I wrote the first draft of this UbD planner last year when I was still teaching kindergarten and unaware that I would be taking this role the following year. It was simply a passion project that my colleague Maria Peters and I had in wanting to develop a coding program in kindergarten. We had NO idea that the standards and benchmarks were already in development and we just wanted to find ways to work with our previous technology integrator to build this into our curriculum.

Lucky me, I’m walking into this with a UbD planner pretty much completed. I only made a few tweaks here and there based on the reality of what I know now and with more realistic goals based on time limits and a better understanding of our school’s goals overall. I hope to focus on the kindergarten program for my final project, but with reflection on how this has affected the development in the three other grades that I teach as well. I haven’t worked out all the kinks but seeing what works in kindergarten makes it easier to plan simpler lessons with similar goals for kindergarten A and more complex ones for first grade. My most challenging grade right now is second because I find I am doing a lot of overlap with first grade, since they haven’t had any exposure yet at all and this is the last year I work with them. It also means I need to communicate quite a bit with my colleague and team leader Leanne Rainbow (@rainbowl) to make sure I help create a seamless transition between second grade when they are with me to third grade when they transfer to her for technology. Luckily Leanne and I meet once a week to discuss our lessons and as much as possible we work to make sure our curriculum transitions as smoothly as possible between these two grades.

Here is the UbD planner that I created last year with the edits and tweaks after my initial experiences this year:

(I really don’t like how all the formatting gets messed up when my Gdoc is embedded so here’s the link to view in Gdocs: http://bit.ly/1sqZKWH)

Here is my own little grid to visualize the year in kindergarten, and as you can see I am still building around it for the other grades. It will be filled out as I go through the rest of the year.

Here is the link to this document: http://bit.ly/1IOcd1d

Challenges Thus Far

So far the biggest challenge in trying to execute this curriculum is the fact that I only see the students twice in a ten day cycle and much of the practice or continuation is reliant upon the classroom teacher and how willing they are to take on some of the ideas I have introduced and include them into their own centers or choice time. This is one reason why I created the Beebot Challenge and will introduce the Cup Stacking Challenge after the holidays. This is my effort to try and get students to do a little bit of coding even when I am not there teaching a formal lesson.

What I have done is created two displays outside my lab. One aimed at KA and Kindergarten and the other for first and second grade. Each week a challenge is set for students to either write the code for the Beebot to get to his beehive (KA/KG) or for students to complete a cup stack (G1/G2). There is an iPad that they can use to record their program and if they get it right I put a certificate onto their student blog. Some teachers have been supportive and allowed students to come an solve the challenge during choice time or reminded their students there is that option. Of course, there are those teachers who are still trying to understand the purpose behind it all! I am taking things as they come and testing out the successes. So far we’ve had a few students complete challenges!

EARCOS

If any of you will be at EARCOS this year in Kota Kinabalu, Maria Peters and I will be presenting our journey in developing the coding and robotics program in kindergarten this year. I will also talk about my process in using this to help me build the program in the three other grades I work with. Hope to see you there! 🙂

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