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“The kids will prove it.”

Fairfax School District brings critical coding success to the earliest learners with KUBO

Published October 11, 2022
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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.”

SMALL VICTORIES

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.

BIG PICTURES

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.”

“I haven’t felt this appreciated as a teacher for a long time! I was feeling blessed already, and then I won a $750 grant from Pitsco Education.”

– Nicolette Hall, Sapulpa Public Schools, Sapulpa, Oklahoma

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