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Breaking through hesitation: Coding is truly child’s play

Published October 11, 2022
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When Lyn Day, a teacher at Operation Breakthrough in Kansas City, MO, was asked to try coding with her early childhood learners, she was initially a little apprehensive. After all, a day in the life of any preschool or day care teacher doesn’t typically involve robotics. “I wasn’t sure if I was going to be capable of teaching the children of what they needed to know. But, once I familiarized myself with Bee-Bot®, I was like, oh! OK! This is going to be easy. It is child’s play!”

Operation Breakthrough is a long-established center whose mission since 1971 has been to advocate for, educate, and empower local underserved children and their families. They partnered with Pitsco Education in 2021 to bring cutting-edge educational technology to their students – such as the Bee-Bot, a unique hands-on coding tool specific to early childhood.

“I thought it was going to be more complex, involve more things to do with a computer,” Day said. But she quickly realized that there isn’t even a screen involved; Bee-Bot moves only when the directional buttons on its top get pushed. “Once I got them out and I charged them and I played with them, I thought this is really cool! The kids are going to love it.”

Her instinct was right – kids do love a robot! At first, Day wanted the children to simply play with the Bee-Bots and explore what the buttons do. And even though the directional and cause-and-effect concepts were new to the children (the left button makes the bot turn left, for example), after a little trial and error, they picked it up quickly. One little girl even wanted specific directions to get from Point A to Point B. “She followed the instructions to the letter,” Day stated with pride. “She did really well, and that was her first time using it!”

So, Day and her fellow teachers found they were able to shortly graduate the children to other guided and cross-curricular activities using Bee-Bot. One activity started with having the children mix colors together to create new colors, and then the children programmed Bee-Bot to travel to the various colors they had made. Another activity involved the children sitting in a circle and figuring out how many times they needed to press the forward button to get Bee-Bot across the circle to somebody else.

The teachers also implemented some activities from the Bee-Bot tins and mats. The themed tins can teach learners about wind turbines, math, patterns, and more, while the various mats are giant grids showing images, treasure maps, illustrated construction sites, and more, all of which promote geography, spatial awareness, and storytelling.

What Day and her colleagues love about using Bee-Bot is not only does it teach students the basics of coding, but it also introduces self-regulation, teamwork, and problem-solving. “They need that throughout their childhood,” Day said. “It helps them to believe in themselves and take risks. They can make it go somewhere, and they don’t know if it’s going to work or not, but it’s OK to fail. They know they can try again.”

Day’s sentiment is true for teachers too. Students are already eager to learn about coding and robots; they don’t need to be told that it’s cool and different and fun! Luckily, Bee-Bot is proof that coding doesn’t have to be complex or scary to teach. “The sky’s the limit,” she continued. “You just have to believe in yourself. We just give them the foundation, and then they can build upon it.”

“I've always been a proponent of what I call student-centered learning. If the students are doing, they will learn it. If the teacher is doing, the kids are watching. . . . It has to be in the kids' hands.”

– Julie Riedel, principal, Somerset Intermediate School, Somerset, Texas

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