Robotics and coding classes aren’t typically offered until the later elementary school years or middle school, but Robert Gray Elementary School in Aberdeen is teaching kindergarteners some entry-level programming skills.
This fall, kindergartners at Robert Gray are learning how to use small robots called Ozobots, which they program and direct with nothing more than colored markers.
The half-dome robots are a little smaller than a golf ball and follow black marker lines that students draw on paper. To help them learn words starting with the letter “G,” the preschoolers draw black lines between pictures of goats, goggles and glasses. The robot drives along the line, but there’s a separate coding component as well.
If the students draw a combination of red, green and blue spots on their line, for example, the robot will slow down like a snail, or it will speed up if they draw a blue, green and blue code. It’s intended to give them an early look into what programming is like, and teacher Tricia Timmons said she enjoys the creative nature of the robots.
“It’s very exploratory, and gives them the opportunity to think on their own,” said Timmons. “Obviously, it doesn’t always work, and they have to be careful with their line-making. It needs a thick line for the robot to read it.”
Some students make chaotic scribbles with the black lines and colors, causing the robots to get stuck, while others are already getting pretty adept at adding the different codes that change how the robot moves along the line.
“I like the ones that make it go super fast,” says one student named Ryder as he points at the code next to a little racing car picture. When he puts the robot on the paper, it turns green and speeds up as it passes over his code.
The robots were purchased at the end of last school year thanks to grant money, and were implemented into classes by Traci Sandstrom, the Teaching and Learning Coordinator for the Aberdeen School District.
Sandstrom added that she hopes the district can reapply to get the grant next year so they can add more advanced coding classes to the higher elementary school grades, where the students would instead type commands into a computer to control the robots.
“The hope is we’ll get the grant again and add the robots to first grade,” said Sandstrom. “There’s a component of it online, and the software is free. They can drag, drop and create paths for them to go through.”