Tag Archives: Kindergarten

The Little Red Hen: a Kindergarten Robot Story

Dressing up Dash

Dressing up Dash

This past week, I had a chance to design a “21st Century Lesson Plan” for my Teaching for Understanding with Technology course. It was inspired by Renee Hobbs’ five core competencies (i.e., access, create, analyze, reflect, act), as outlined in her book Digital and Media Literacy: Connecting Culture and Classroom (2011). As I created my lesson, I tried to ensure that the digital tools and skills that were woven into it were not the sole focus of students’ learning. Instead, I wanted to provide an opportunity for students to use different technology tools, like iPads and robots, to generate creative content and also reflect on how they could use their tools to communicate ideas to others.

I decided to design a lesson (available in this Google Doc) for our kindergarten students that builds upon an existing unit they do on The Little Red Hen and the topic of helping others. This unit is already very robust because in addition to reading various versions of The Little Red Hen, students also take a field trip to a local mill and get to see how bread is made. Then they have a chance to bake their own bread at school and engage in classroom discussions about kindness, friendship, and helping others. They discuss whether they would help the Little Red Hen if they were part of the story and finally, they have a chance to write their own version of The Little Red Hen.

With all of that exploration into the literary and social aspects of the story, students develop a strong foundational understanding of the different characters and their roles in teaching the moral of the story. They have a chance to access relevant books related to the story using Scout, our picture-based digital library database, which is designed to meet their developmental needs.

So I created a project that would invite students to analyze, create, reflect, and act, as Hobbs’ suggests, to extend their learning using digital tools. The goal would be to have students take their co-constructed class version of The Little Red Hen and program a few Wonder Workshop robots to act out the story. This would allow them to deepen their knowledge of the story, apply their written work in a real-world context, and explore ways to utilize code to tell a story in a new medium. Through experimental play, students will learn and discover more about both the characters in their story and how to tell a story using various blocks of code (Thomas & Brown, 2011) .

The core focus of their work would be to create their own authentic content, using Blockly code, so that the Dash and Dot robots we have at school could tell their story in a tangible way that other audiences could enjoy. They will have to take action and work collaboratively in teams to build a successful program, using the knowledge of their group to identify various code blocks and as a team, create a sequence of code that can tell the story of a single character in The Little Red Hen.  

After designing different programs for each robot, students would have a chance to put the robots together and analyze and reflect on how the story looks different when acted out by their robots. They will be documenting their work so that they can both teach others what they learned and how they programmed their robots and also to share their own version of The Little Red Hen, as performed by the robots, with their families, other classes at our school, and classes in other countries.

References

Hobbs, R. (2011). Digital and media literacy: Connecting culture and classroom. Thousand, Oaks, CA: Corwin/Sage.

Thomas, D., & Brown, J. S. (2011). A new culture of learning: Cultivating the imagination for a world of constant change. Lexington, Ky: CreateSpace?.

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Helping Others Hack Learning (and Coding)

Last week (#TeachTheWeb week 4), I had an opportunity to build a new Thimble project outlining my goals for teaching coding in kindergarten. Some of you might be surprised to hear kindergarten at the end of that sentence. I’ve heard some people say it’s way too young for kids to have to learn something like coding and I’ve heard others say that there’s no way such young children can grasp the concepts.

Code in K

My response is that, like everything else in early childhood, the key comes back to developmentally appropriate practice, which involves respecting the child’s interests and curiosities as well as her or his individual abilities and limits. Luckily, more and more resources are being developed that are developmentally appropriate for young children. For many years, Scratch has been a go-to resource for educators working with young children who wanted to be makers and creators of technology (and art, stories, music, and more!). Unfortunately, Scratch is specifically built for children age eight an older, although much younger students have used it (check out these examples).

While Scratch Jr. is in the works, other developers have been working hard to create games and tools to scaffold children’s learning of computer programming logic and problem solving, the true foundation of coding (see the resources embedded here). The DevTech group is even working on a coding language that can be constructed with physical, wooden blocks and read by a camera. Once students are exposed to these (potentially literal) building blocks, they can begin to work off of that foundation and create their own programs and games.

Tangible Coding Blocks using CHER-P.
Image credit: DevTech TangibleK

I built my Thimble project to help raise awareness about the fact that resources do currently exist for young children to learn the logic of programming and the basics concepts (e.g., what is a function, how to make an object/sprite move). I also wanted to share the tools I’ve found to support this learning so that others could use them as well and my hope was to then connect with other people who are doing similar work.

Over the summer, I plan to spend more time creating plans, finding resources, and talking with others interested in introducing coding to young children. Being part of Teach the Web has also inspired me to try and create more Thimble resources and maybe even an entire Hackable Kit that others can build off of and remix to work with different ages and groups. I realized that if I want my students (and colleagues) to be creating and remixing the web, I need to be modeling that work by constantly interacting and exploring hacker tools, coding the web myself, and sharing my work openly with a larger community.