I wrote this quote several years ago and realized how it still rings true. Teaching is one of the hardest jobs in the world, but it’s also one of the most rewarding. Although my role has changed and I’m lucky enough to teach teachers, teach students, and teach myself on a daily basis, I’m still a learner first. I updated this one with some fun colors and a mosaic background, because our teaching life is made of millions of tiny learning moments, melded together into one unique experience that makes us who we are as a teacher. And that? It’s something pretty special.
Why 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.
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.
Social 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 Code.org 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.
Just about every day I get an email from someone asking, “How do I start making in my classroom?” And you know what the next statement often is? “Since I don’t have a maker space in my school.” The good news? You don’t need a makerspace to make. Classroom desks. The floor. The hallway. A table by the windows. Your big ol’ teacher desk. A rug and beanbags on the floor. Provide the space in the curriculum and the time, and it doesn’t matter where the physical location is.
What if you look at one simple assignment in next week’s lessons? A reading activity? A math assignment? And what if you just open it up… make it more creative. Give the kids more freedom. Start small with one exploration. One pile of cardboard. One block of time for kids to create, collaborate, and design a solution to a problem.
You just don’t need the space to get started. You just need a little courage to let go and try it.
I remember being in 3rd grade, watching the Challenger launch so many years ago. Christa McAuliffe. A teacher who gave her life doing extraordinary things to inspire her students. I look at this photo now, of a childhood hero floating in the same plane that I was lucky enough to go weightless on a couple of years ago, and I feel an understanding for how thrilling the entire experience must have been for her. Years later, her husband Scott McAuliffe said: “I know Christa would say that that is the most precious lesson – ordinary people can make extraordinary contributions when they remain true to themselves and enthusiastically pursue their own dreams wherever they may lead.” And that? Being an ordinary person enthusiastically doing what you love, no matter what. THAT is teaching.
I have a tiny pin that I got from NASA that says “Teacher in Space.” I keep it in a box with a few other things, like my class ring and some other small mementos. There is something about it that I hold onto. A little pin that’s a stark reminder of the profound meaning in the ordinary moments. Every day is a chance to show courage for our students, whether we are standing up for them, taking a risk in a new strategy, flying in Zero G, or reaching out to learn something new. And that pin? It’s a reminder that we must hold tightly to those chances and make them count with everything we have in us.
Because that is exactly what Christa McAuliffe did, so many years ago. And it’s something I will never forget.
For far too long, science and art have been an afterthought in education. We’ve treated them as ancillary classes, subjects that weren’t “on the test” and therefore unimportant.
Yet, here we are. Our world has changed. Kids are growing up in a world where they are dreamers, doers, thinkers, creators, and designers. Solving problems doesn’t mean just writing an answer. It means building something. 3d printing an idea. Creating with cardboard. Engineering a better way to solve an old problem. Using your hands, your mind, your heart, and your soul.
I’d like to think if design is where art and science break even, that maker ed is where design takes roots and grows.
That is exciting. And game changing. And the way it was always meant to be.