Thanks to approval from our principal and time spent by our secretary, we got two new additions to our class on Wednesday afternoon: Dash and Dot. These two robots will allow our JK and SK students to learn how to code, while also developing their thinking skills, problem solving skills, spatial sense, understanding of directional language, oral language skills, and collaboration skills. With the accessory pack, there’s even some fantastic tie-ins to music: an area of huge interest to our students. Thursday and Friday were incredible days of investigation, as students started to work with Dash and Dot. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about coding in Kindergarten thanks to these toy robots. Here’s my current thinking (which continues to evolve).
1) Don’t force the exploration. Instead of gathering the students as a class on the carpet and showing them Dash and Dot, we decided to take a different approach. We know that this full class time is a challenge, and we wanted our first coding experience to be a success. We decided to use Dash and Dot as a provocation and see what happened. On Wednesday, when the students returned from Phys-Ed, they saw me charging the robots, and they started asking questions. Perfect! Then on Thursday morning, we put the robots on our large Art table with two pieces of paper that said, “See,” and a bunch of brand new crayons. We played a demo of Dash and Dot on a laptop computer right next to the table. Given a little time for the interest in the shoe provocation in our Dramatic Play area to die down, students started to see and talk about the video. Then they saw the robots, and made connections to what they saw in the video. Pretty soon, they started to draw and talk about their observations and questions.
It was then time to explore. Students found the “on button,” I showed them the Go app, and it was then time to click some buttons. You can hear many excited squeals in the first recordings of our explorations.
2) Play time is important. I’m going to admit that this is hard for me. I like to play, but I quickly see the links to curriculum expectations, and I want to start narrowing the focus. It’s important not to do this too quickly. I think that if we do, we miss out on the interests that come out of the play discussions. I also wonder if we inadvertently stop students from taking risks and making mistakes, as they quickly start to wonder if we have our own agenda (with just one right answer).
3) We need to give up control. This is another hard thing for me (even though I regularly attempt to do so), especially when expensive items that I didn’t purchase are involved. Dash and Dot are well made though, and they can withstand a few grabbing hands. Students need to know how to negotiate turn taking. They need to start solving problems together, and they can’t do this, if as adults, we keep doing this for them. So in the past couple of days, I tried to do some guided exploration, but also walk away, and let the students explore on their own. It’s often when I watch these student-led explorations that I see their interests, skills, and areas of need, and can help determine next steps.
4) Child development still comes into play here. Many of our students are at the “me” stage. Dash and Dot often requires them to think outside of “me” and work at “our.” This can be a challenge. They need to take turns. They need to see what others are doing, and then build on that. Coding (using Dash and Dot) provides good opportunities for small group support around developing social skills and collaborative learning.
5) We need to teach, or at least consistently support, thinking skills. I don’t care if our students are 3 or 13, they can all learn to think. While I think that playtime is important, we also need students to start to analyze what they’re doing, why it might not be working, and what they can do differently. Asking questions often helps students clarify their own thinking. Wait time is also essential, and something that I continue to work on.
6) Pairing low-tech and high-tech tools are great! I love how Dash and Dot can be easily paired with our building materials (e.g., Lego and blocks) to give more of a purpose to their movements. I’d often try to ask questions connected with areas of interest to get students to start using these other tools in design challenges. That helped, and led to some great discoveries.
7) Vocabulary development matters. I noticed as we started to use Dash and Dot, that most students didn’t know and/or understand directional language. I could then start to model this language usage, but also provide question prompts for parents to do so at home. Hopefully, as the students develop this new vocabulary, they will use these terms in their interactions and play with Dash and Dot.
8) We have to consider self-regulation. When I was updating Dash and Dot before school on Thursday morning, I saw all of the flashing lights, bright colours, and loud noises, and I wondered, what will the impact be on self-regulation? While Thursday was a great day of discovery, many of our students seemed very up-regulated all day long, regardless of what we tried to do. Why? We wondered if the robots may be responsible. On Friday, we decided to just bring them out during one block of time. We also kept the robots in the louder areas of the classroom: allowing for the quiet areas to still be quiet. Dash and Dot still caused a lot of excitement during this block of time, but didn’t impact in the same way on self-regulation as they did the day before. Maybe some time and space restrictions matter when it comes to these robots.
— Aviva Dunsiger (@avivaloca) December 3, 2015
This upcoming week is the Hour of Code. Dash and Dot will definitely be an important part of our Hour of Code explorations. I’m excited to see what else we learn from coding in Kindergarten. What has coding taught you? What has the impact been on your program? From a parent perspective, what value do you see coding having for your child? I’d love to hear your thoughts, as I continue to consider coding, thinking, and learning.