“Plus, Robots Are Cool” – Robotics and Computer Science in the Pre-K Classroom

Pictured: A student retells a story from the PreK for ME instructional program. Sequencing and retelling the events of the story supports literacy skill development while working to program the bot, edit the code, and reprogramming the bot.

April 2nd – 10th is National Robotics Week, a time to focus attention on this exciting, interdisciplinary component of computer science. In Maine public schools, robotics comes to life in a variety of ways. From our high school students participating in robotic competitions, down to the youngest elementary student programming robots to follow a sequence, robotics is a grassroots effort that can be found in many schools, some of which will be spotlighted throughout this week. National Robotics Week, dating back to 2009, has a simple mission – “to inspire students in robotics and STEM-related fields and to share the excitement of robotics with audiences of all ages.”

If someone went to observe robots being used in a Pre-K classroom, they would likely see a pair of students working together, either in decided roles or in turns, programming the robot to complete a specific task. Students actively engage as they lean in to push buttons and watch intently as the robot moves around a mat. They are not sitting back and passively watching a screen. “Students will tell me ‘the Bee-Bot isn’t doing what I told it to.’ This is when they learn that robots do not have brains and will only do what you tell it to, ”says Audra Leland, a Pre-K teacher at Eddington School. “We work through frustration and learn perseverance.”

Audra was a second-grade teacher at the Enfield Station School when she began using a Bee-Bot that she acquired from the Perloff Family Foundation. She continued to use it with kindergarteners and first graders and created new mats that aligned with the different age levels and classroom content. Some examples of content she used on the mats are: the alphabet, numbers, colors, shapes, nursey rhymes, classmates’ names, and a Thanksgiving Day game called “Now and Then.” When she changed schools and shifted to Pre-K, Audra continued with Bee-Bots in her classroom and added Coding Critters.

Melissa Brown, a Pre-K teacher at the Line Elementary School in Newfield, received two robots, the Bee-Bot and the Sphero-mini, through his Maine Department of Education’s Pre-K for ME curriculum pilot.

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