This week in the Digital Technologies module, we focussed on the use and benefits of programmable toys within early years and the primary school classroom. With a strong link to curricula used within todays schools, these pieces of digital equipment provide the learner with both fun, engagement but most importantly learning. I feel this is a topic which is extremely important for the modern day teacher as throughout the next few years, there will be plenty of choice for programmable toys and they will be used more frequently. Also due to our “digitally native” children, we need to ensure that we are providing a service which helps their digital needs (Prensky, 2001). In today’s blog we will explore a brief history of programmable toys, the Bee-Bots and looking at a Bee-Bot mat which I created in this weeks class.
In terms of education, the first use of programming used to inform learners was Seymour Papert’s programming language “Logo” (Transum, 2019). This was a simple design of an arrow which moves after the children input commands. As it moves, a line appears allowing the children to create their own designs or even make symbols. After looking at this myself, I have to say that I found it quite difficult to understand at first but with more practice I could probably understand the instructions. I can only imagine how difficult this must have been for the children when they first used it. Other programmable robots we have seen in the past include roamers which were also very difficult for a child to use (Lyndon, 2007). However, I cannot make judgement on these robots as I have never had first hand experience with them.
The National Centre for Technology in Education (2012) provide some benefits for programmable toys. These are:
- They help introduce key concepts to children in terms of technology and also other curricular areas.
- Help with direction and sequences.
- Encourage Children to work together and communicate.
- They have a large appeal to children
- They have many benefits on Numeracy and Literacy.
- Allows additional support needs children to feel included as they can be non verbal and still take part.
I feel that these benefits show how programmable toys should be used in the classroom and that they really help with the education of our young learners.
The most popular programmable robot at the moment within our classrooms is the Bee-Bot which has received awards such as the ‘most impressive hardware for kindergarten and lower primary school children on the world educational technology market BETT 2006’ (Janka, 2008). Luckily, before the class, I have been able to use these robots within a primary classroom throughout a placement in my HNC Childhood Practice. I can say every time that I used the Bee-Bots, children seemed to love them. This brought excitement to our lessons and engaged some pupils who at times were quite difficult to work with due to being distracted and other needs. The Bee-Bots are robots which children can programme a sequence of movements and directions using the raised buttons. These are forwards, backwards, left and right. The Bee-Bots may sound like they are only capable of teaching directions but this is where you are wrong. The Bee-Bots can help to teach subjects all over the CFE curriculum and can have great benefits for the child. By using them on game mats, they can show the child how to do the alphabet, how to tell the time, learn French and help to tell a story. The possibilities are endless! Janka (2008) claims that the Bee-Bots require support at all times while Lyndon (2007) claims that they are more practical when the children are independent without teaching staff. I understand both points of view and believe that both are correct to an extent as some activities will need the adult supervision due to difficulty but then again some children are ready for independence with particular tasks.
For this weeks workshop task, we had to create our own Bee-Bot mats. I decided to partner up with Chloe as we generally work well together and we both had ideas which worked for the task. We started by planning together in person and over text about what we were going to do, what outcome comes and experiences we would choose and how our idea would allow children to learn. I am so glad we had done this preparation beforehand as it allowed us more time to create the mat while in the class rather than spending time trying to work out what we were going to do. I believe that the preparation is they key to success as if you go in blind with no ideas, you will waste time which takes away from that days main purpose. Our idea was a mat themed by Julia Donaldsons “The Gruffalo” (1999) which is a much loved children’s book. We decided to use 2 ‘E’s and O’s’ for our mat and these were:
- “I can show my understanding of what I listen to or watch by responding to and asking different kinds of questions” – LIT 1-O7a
- “I can demonstrate a range of basic problem solving skills by building simple programs to carry out a given task, using appropriate language.” – TCH 1-15a
To reach these ‘E’s and O’s’ the children would have to guide the Bee-Bot around the mat to meet the characters of the story , Fox, Owl, Snake and The Gruffalo, and answer some questions showing their knowledge of the book before moving on to the next character. The children would need to answer a question (which we provided with our question cards) when they had made the Bee-Bot go over a question mark square. Between me and you, the child would never be able to avoid these spaces as we ensured that every route possible had a question to allow learning to take place. I was really pleased with our end product as it looked good (to an extent) and it is a task which I would have used within the classroom. I am definitely going to use this idea when I go into my career.
However, I think it could be adapted in some ways to ensure extra learning. We could have made a Bee-Bot cover looking like mouse so that children are aware that the robot was playing is role and also we could have made the mat slightly bigger to ensure that children can try to programme the Bee-Bot with more commands which allows more problem solving skills to develop. I really enjoyed this task and aim to create more mats for the future of my career.
I really enjoyed learning more about programmable toys and it has further my knowledge of their use in the classroom environment. I believe that they can help to reach the aims of the Digital Learning Strategy as they can enhance the curriculum for both staff and children as they can make lessons exciting and fun and also it helps to improve the access of digital technologies to children who may not have access within their homes (The Scottish Government, 2016). I personally believe that programmable toys may be area of strength in this module as I find them interesting and also can see the many benefits to their use. For the future I would like to explore more of these toys to broaden my knowledge so that I can be an effective teacher in the modern day classroom.
References within this post:
Janka, P. (2008) Using a Programmable Toy at Preschool Age: Why and How? [Online] Available: http://www.terecop.eu/downloads/simbar2008/pekarova.pdf [Accessed: 17 January 2019]
Lydon, A. ( 2007) Let’s Go With Bee-Bot: Using your Bee-Bot across the curriculum.TTS Group Ltd.
NCTE (National centre for Technology in Education) (2012) NCTE Floor Robots – Focus on Literacy & Numeracy. [Online] Available: http://www.ncte.ie/media/NCTE_Floor_robots_focus_on_literacy_numeracy_primary_12-06.pdf [Accessed: 17 January 2019]
Prensky, M. (2001) Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants. MCB University Press.
Scottish Government (2016) A Digital Learning and Teaching Strategy for Scotland. Edinburgh: Scottish Government [Online] Available: http://www.gov.scot/Resource/0050/00505855.pdf [Accessed: 17 January 2019]
Transum. (2019) Online Logo. [Online] Available: http://www.transum.org/Software/Logo/ [Accessed: 17 January 2019]