The last five years have seen an explosion in Maker Edu-themed products geared for the younger set. Young kids make enthusiastic makers. They love challenging puzzles, approachable crafts and as long as you put flames on it, they think everything you do is amazing! What’s not to love about teaching the pre-K through 3rd grade set?
Little makers also need encouragement, support and developmentally-appropriate materials to be successful. Many of us think Makers means 3D printers, microcontrollers and fancy toys. Young makers will feel left out (though amazed) at all those cool gizmos and flashy parts because the concepts, skills and tools are all too complex. Instead, we can broaden our definition of making (to include art, crafts, woodworking, cooking and more) while developing technology tools that teach at their level. Technology tools can empower our children through exploration and discovery.
Robot Turtles and the BeeBot/BlueBot are two MakerEd platforms you can use to promote foundational computer science concepts and coding skills to the very young learners.
Robot Turtles was the most-backed board game in Kickstarter history (and if there’s one thing that gets kick-started all the time, it’s board games). The creators use innovative game play to teach the fundamental concepts of computer science: algorithms, logical sequencing, even looping and functions.
Game play is pretty simple, and little kids pick it up easily. To win, players move robot turtles towards a goal with card commands. Players dictate turtle moves while the adult (or game master, or older child) moves the turtle and makes silly noises.
As if parents needed directions to make silly noises.
Different game puzzles and game play levels introduce computer science concepts in a logical order. Parental participation allows parents to assess logical thinking and help correct misunderstanding. It promotes computer science as a cooperative endeavor with lasers.
And lasers always win. My boys recommend this for young children, 4 – 8 or so. Older kids will enjoy the opportunity to lead the game with their younger peers.
In order to move from the board to the real-world, young people can use the BeeBot or it’s Bluetooth-enabled cousin, the BlueBot. A small, programmable (and cute) robot with four programmable commands, youngsters can play and experiment without worrying the machine will break. The BeeBot has an iOS app with small games and challenges to interest the learner.
The BlueBot, though, is were the money’s at. Using the iPad’s Bluetooth connection enables the app to control the BlueBot. Now we are talking! The app can be slightly fussy to set up, but kids can now program, debug, and test their control programs for their robot and see the changes in real space. It allows even greater programming flexibility, moving beyond the cardinal directions to loops and diagonal movement. This combo, BlueBot and App, is a solid teaching tool that I would build a curriculum unit around.
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