“Dancing with the Robots”
by Ann Gadzikowski
Children are naturally curious about many STEM topics. In my experience as a preschool teacher and director, I’ve noticed that children often ask questions about how things work – cars, planes, and machines as well as insects, plants, and our own bodies.
In my role creating STEM classes for young children at Northwestern University’s Center for Talent Development, one of the topics that engaged children most was robots. Yet I found it difficult to find robotics activities that are appropriate for very young children (ages 3–6). Fortunately, I was able to use tangible tech devices like Bee-Bots to develop my own curriculum ideas and, as a result, I authored the book Robotics for Young Children: STEM Activities and Simple Coding (Redleaf Press). Read more about the book.
My approach is grounded in constructivist principles of inquiry-based learning, in which children discover new ways to program robots and troubleshoot their programs based on their own ideas and goals. For example, I’ve observed that children, in their excitement about programming robots to move across the floor, will sometimes spontaneously begin to hop, turn, and dance with the robots. This may lead to conversations, questions, experiments, and ideas related to making the robots dance along with the children.
As described in the activity below (“Turn Round and Round”), making a Bee-Bot do a dance often inspires children to try to figure out how to make the little robot do a full turn. Many popular dances like the old favorite “hokey pokey” require a full 360-degree turn. This is a great example of inquiry-based learning because children are motivated by their own questions and goals to create and troubleshoot a sequence of commands that will make the robot turn all the way around.
Bee-Bot Activity: “Turn Round and Round”
The hokey pokey is just one example of a dance that demonstrates to children an important use of the turn command. Not only can you use the turn command one time to make the Bee-Bot turn in a new direction, you can also use the turn command four times in a row to make the Bee-Bot turn all the way around.
How does the Bee-Bot turn command work?
What’s the difference between the turn button on one side and the turn button on the other side?
Dances like the hokey pokey may inspire children to experiment with the turn commands without any additional prompting from the teacher. Some children, however, may need additional guidance and encouragement to experiment. You could say to the child, “I’m not sure I remember what we did before. Can you help me figure out to program the Bee-Bot to turn all the way around?” Or you could demonstrate turning your body all around and ask the child, “Can you make the Bee-Bot do what I just did?”
Try to get the children to count out loud and determine exactly how many times they need to push the turn button to make the Bee-Bot turn all the way around. The children may need your reminder or instructions to use the clear button (labelled with the X) each time they start over with a new sequence of commands.
What comes next?
At some point the children will likely discover that the Bee-Bot can turn all the way around in both directions. You could press the turn right button four times (and press GO) or you could press the turn left button four times (and press GO). This makes for a natural opportunity to introduce or remind the children that we have words for each direction; one is “right” and one is “left.” Some children will be ready to explore this concept and others will not. For now, all they really need to understand is that the buttons cause the Bee-Bot to turn in opposite directions.
When a child is in the process of deciding which direction she would like to make the Bee-Bot turn, ask her to demonstrate with her own body. She will either turn to the right (clockwise) or turn to the left (counter clockwise). Then ask the child to make the Bee-Bot match her own movements and travel in the same direction. Even if the child may not yet understand right or left or clockwise or counter clockwise, she probably will still enjoy the challenge of making the Bee-Bot match her own movements.
Activity from Robotics for Young Children : STEM Activities and Simple Coding by Ann Gadzikowski, © 2018.
Published by Redleaf Press, Redleaf Press. Reprinted with permission.
|STEM educator, author, and researcher
|Northwestern University, Center for Talent Development
|Bee-Bot, Early Learning, STEM, Coding, Illinois, Research