Published October 11, 2022
Additional Getting an Early Start with Growing Hands, Minds, and Hearts articles:
Fairfax School District in Bakersfield, California,
is no stranger to educational robotics.
“In my 15 years as a teacher and Educational
Technology Coordinator for the district, we’ve
had tons of different styles of robots and coding
products such as Apple Coding,” explained
Roberto Martinez. So, by the time that Martinez
took a close look at KUBO, the programmable robot for pre-K through fifth grade, he’d been
around the block. Nonetheless, the KUBO
approach to coding was fresh.
“When I tried KUBO out for myself, so many
ideas started coming to me.”
Unlike many other coding solutions,
KUBO does not rely on a screen. Instead, this
friendly robot uses a groundbreaking TagTile®
system. Learners literally build a pathway for
the robot out of snap-together instruction
tiles. When KUBO rolls over a tile, the robot
performs the action. KUBO can also store a
sequence of tiled instructions in its memory
and perform the action without tiles, even
looping a function for continuous movement.
This approach is simple, but it covers the
fundamentals of computer programming in a
unique and tactile way.
And it is fun too! “The way we use this, it
doesn’t add screen time to a student’s life.
It removes it!” said Martinez. “The students
have something in their hands that they are
moving and arranging, almost like puzzle
pieces. This is playing like we used to do!”
Martinez has since moved on from his
role as Ed Tech Coordinator and taken a new
position as the principal of Virginia Avenue
Elementary School. KUBO is in use at Virginia
Avenue, as well as in two other schools in the
district. Principal Martinez has found that the
students have needed very little instruction to
jump into coding with the robot.
Even the youngest TK (transitional
kindergartener) students who were handed a
KUBO were able to intuit the process and learn
the concepts through their own exploration.
Partly this is because the tiles are so simple,
relying on pictographs rather than words.
This brings an additional benefit in Fairfax,
which has a very high number of Hispanic
ELL students: it is incredibly beneficial for
those students, especially at the earliest levels,
to experience activities where there is no
language barrier to success. Martinez says that
the students are able to troubleshoot and
discover with the robot right out of the box.
And in the process, they also pick up some of
the related language – terms such as routes,
directional tiles, and coding – from their peers.
Martinez says that ELL students struggle
not only in language arts but also in classes
such as mathematics, where word problems
are common. But give them a tactile-based
KUBO robot, and suddenly they are able to do
activities such as coding! “It’s all about those
small victories,” Martinez said.
District Superintendent Regina Green has
seen the success firsthand as well. She is
quick to see the long-term benefits of these
experiences. “I am excited that we are able
to provide educational experiences that will
help our students become college and career
ready. It is amazing how students as young as
4-5 years old can start learning how to code.”
Green admitted that her admiration for
KUBO had a more personal dimension as well:
“In fact, I found KUBO so enjoyable, I kept the
sample in my office and used it myself until
we implemented it in the classroom.”
Martinez, who debuted KUBO as the first
stage in a three-year tech rollout for the district,
is also keeping an eye toward the future.
“The younger kids need that hands on to
really get it. But as they move on into coding
and robotics activities in later grades, they
are going to remember those early victories
where they were troubleshooting with
directional tiles as kindergarteners. It’s going
to put them ahead of the game.”
Of course, there are those who respond
with doubt when they hear about teaching
coding and robotics to four- and five-year-old
students. Those concepts are simply
too advanced for the age bracket, they say.
Martinez enjoys speaking with these skeptics.
“A lot of people view TK and kindergarteners
as incapable. But I’ve had kids airdropping, using
styluses, using voice-to-text, and collaborating
at 5. . . . I put the technology in front of them
and say, ‘show me what you can do.’ The kids
will prove it. The kids will blow your mind, and
the end result will be something you never
would have fathomed.”