Robotics Across the Curriculum For Your Youngest Learners

12568128_1761732980714566_943945061_nBee-Bot-1lmwotyWhy is robotics awesome?  Because it can fit ANYWHERE in the curriculum.  It’s problem solving, critical thinking, cooperative learning, collaboration, play, exploration, creativity, and grit… all in one.    It’s often thought of as an afterschool program or an enrichment.  But robotics should be part of the everyday classroom.  Why? Because it has so much to offer.

Please don’t think of it as “one more thing to add in.” It’s not another “subject.”

Some of my favorite robots for the youngest learners are definitely the BeeBot and Dot & Dash.   They provide entry-level fun, but can be made more challenging instantly, with a few tweaks to your course, objective, or mat.

Incorporate Literacy:  Kids are enjoying great books all the time, right?  Then use those stories to incorporate robotics.  Dash can be driven via the app Go, and once students have the hang of driving him, they can use additional apps to code his route.  Print pictures from the book, spread them out by attaching them to plastic cups and ask students to retell the story by driving Dash through the book.    I’ve also used Rosie’s Walk with BeeBots, and the Hungry Caterpillar.  We won’t stop there – books make the perfect subject for robotics and young children.  BeeBotCommands

Make it Mathematical:  Measure how far Dash can travel in 10 seconds. Measure how far he can go in 20.  Estimate how long it will take him to travel from your classroom door to the water fountain.  Have kids design a course for Dash – and they’ll have to use some measurement if they plan to use coding.  BeeBots are based on 15 cm squares, like the Hungry Caterpillar mat above that I created.  Older kids could do multiplication and advanced math by creating a mat like this.  How many trips around the board is a mile?  That would be fun to figure out.

Other possibilities, toss play money around on the floor.  Drive Dash to the coins or bills.  If he circles the money, students get to add the total to their “bank.” They could see how much money they can collect in five minutes.  For added practice, create a graph of money collected by Dash each day.

Diary of a Robot: Students will love writing stories about Dash. Dress him up in costumes and make him a center.  Take some fun photos of him around town.  Students can select a photo and write or tell a story about Dash.

dash_and_dot-9f97ec434039a9f6271b0ef2379f1e2fSocial Studies: Whether kids are learning about community workers or careers, ask them to create a course for Dash as a “doctor” or a “police man.”  They could draw pictures to place around the floor that show Dash working as that career.  Then, they can share their course with each other and drive Dash on his journey “working” through a day in the life of that career.

Additionally, North, South, East, and West are easily taught using code.  Place the compass rose on your mat and students can get more specific.  Have kids write directions for Dash to drive to the playground.  That’s a challenge!

Don’t have robots in your classroom yet?  Make some arrow cards for students to line up to tell another person how to move.  The cards could also be drawn on wooden blocks.  Students line up the code, then have a partner follow it.  Boards similar to the BeeBot mat above would be perfect for kids to practice on.  You can even download this book from and find arrow cards and cut and paste sheets inside.   Have students act out each other’s code will help them practice reading the code and writing it.  Plus, it’s fun to pretend to be a robot, right?  Of course it is, whether you’re five or thirty five.  Or maybe that’s just me.









The Maker’s Song

makersongMarkers and cardboard,
LED’s, tape, and glue,
3d printers and wires,
So much to do.

Thoughts in your head,
like bulbs lit up bright,
Inspiring thoughts,
become ideas taking flight.

Create a design,
to make something improve,
Bring it to life,
With parts that move.

Iterate, think,
iterate again,
keep working, keep trying,
the learning is the win.

Creating and making isn’t just play,
It’s not just a thing to pass the day.
It’s making the world a better place,
improving our lives as a human race.

Creativity waits
for the chance to do good,
to be heard by the world,
To be understood.

As the Maker takes piles
of unwanted things,
to create and recycle,
To build castles and wings.

For one Maker is fun,
but two, three, or even four,
when we collaborate with others,
makes our learning much more.

To get started right now,
you don’t have to wait,
There isn’t a test,
There isn’t a date.

Just open your mind and
let the creativity flow,
Don’t hold back your thoughts,
Just let your fears go.

Making is here,
inside you right now,
It’s not even something
you need to know how.

Just follow your heart,
and you can’t go wrong.
The beat that you hear,
Is the Maker’s song.


Why The Maker Movement Matters

creativityI get caught up in things. Informercials. New gadgets. New shades of Sharpie. Every kid I’ve ever taught has said, “You say EVERYTHING is your “favorite thing.” It’s true. Life? It’s my favorite. I grew up, but my internal excitement level has stayed at a five year old’s level. So, I’ll just preface this post with that. I will also say that I’ve held off on writing this. Long enough to figure out if this whole “maker movement” was another “thing I love,” or more. It’s more. So much more.

1.) The Maker Movement is not about acronyms. Life is not an acronym. I’m so tired of the debates on #STEM, #STEAM, and now #STREAM. Let’s just call learning what it is… building connections with the world. There, the whole alphabet? Covered. The Maker Movement isn’t labeling or assigning acronyms. It’s just organically, well, moving. Like learning does.

2.) The Maker Movement isn’t about certified experts or expensive keynotes. You don’t need to be an expert. You need to be willing to take a risk. In life? It’s impossible to know everything. It’s also pointless to try. In the Maker Movement? It’s about the pure-heartedness of neverending learning. The kind where you are invigorated, challenged, humbled, and curious over and over again.

3.) The Maker Movement is built on open collaboration. Make something. Share it. Borrow from others. It’s not about selling or buying. It’s about doing and thinking. It’s about putting our heads together to solve problems and create. It’s what is going to solve those “problems of tomorrow we can’t even imagine yet.” It’s not about sitting alone, trying to bubble in one right answer. Because life? it’s not about that either.

4.) Life is messy. Making embraces that mess and turns it into possibilities. Endless possibilities that unlock parts of the imagination that otherwise gather dust.

5.) Creativity matters in the Maker Movement. In every single thing I’ve done in education, all roads have led to one place: Creativity. It’s what ignites my passion for teaching, learning, and life. Take that away from me? And a part of my soul starts to die, wither, and wilt like a plant without water. The Maker Movement reminds me that creating is a fountain that we can all continue to drink from, that provides the energy that a full life requires.

6.) The Maker Movement is what gifted education has been waiting for, too.  Open ended inquiry, possibilities, creativity, imagination, and learning?  It’s the stuff my gifted edcuation class was built on. Yes, everyone will say, it’s the stuff ALL classrooms should be built on.  You are so right… if we made school more about this, we wouldn’t need labels, nor separate classrooms, we could focus on supporting needs of all students, in one awesome learning environment.  Magical. We could “make” learning right.  Pun intended.

10 years in a public school, 1 year in a private school, and 1 year in an independent school and what have I learned? Squelch creativity. Squelch learning. It doesn’t matter where you teach, lead, dream, or what your role is, the Maker Movement offers something amazing for your students, and for you. It’s about casting aside those plans you’ve made down to the minute and embracing larger goals. Let those goals unfold in the minds of your students and evolve into something better than what you imagined. Because really, everyday we are just a living, breathing iteration of ourselves from the day before. And that? It’s just about trying to improve. Let your students lead and you’ll see exactly what I am talking about. The Maker Movement matters because it’s about pure, authentic learning, problem solving, self-reflection, collaboration, creativity, and removes the limits from our bubble-tested curriculums and one-right-answer-lesson-plans.  It matters because learning matters.  And it’s time.

Make School More Than Worksheets

makeschoolmoreWhen we think of the billions of dollars that have been spent on test-prep, I cringe.  Not because it was my billions of dollars, but because when I was a kid I remember worksheets.  I also remember how they bored me.  I wanted to create and make things.  Not fill in blanks and look up answers.  I was good at that game, and I made sure I got my A’s for my report card, but it wasn’t fun, engaging, or even about learning. It was about completion and doing stuff to get stuff done.

Cardboard. Blank Paper. Mr. Sketch Scented Markers. Glue. Masking Tape. Duct Tape. It was all I needed and all I ever wanted. And it was something I rarely got in school.  Except that one day a week I went down the hall to the gifted program, when I got to tinker with the computer and loved technology from the moment I touched it.  Fortunately, I also had parents who supplied me with the tools or had desk drawers I learned to “borrow” from.  But the majority of school was all a blur of text books, papers, and finding answers in paragraphs. At home, I was always making something. Because I learned early in my life that I needed to create things to feel alive.  I still do.

Now I look at the world of tools available to… Sphero. WonderLab. Laptops. iPads. Microphones. BeeBots. Scratch. Coding. Hacking. LittleBits. 3d Printing. Blogging. Digital Cameras. Lego Robotics. Photo editing apps. Video production apps. Glue. Cardboard. Blank white paper. Markers. Duct Tape….in SO many colors.   That kid in me? It makes my head explode in a way that school should have, but never really did.

And I remember being that kid, in a desk, writing on a worksheet, chasing A’s.  And I know there are kids every where waiting just like I was. And I want them to have the chance to explore, dream, and make school more.  Because truthfully, kids deserve more.  They are our future, and we’re going to need them to navigate a world that we can’t even fully imagine.  And we can provide them a safe place to explore that world. Even if we have to step aside, put the tools in their hands, and toss aside worksheets we’ve been using for years.  Even if.  We can make school more.