Introduction: K-2 Robotics First Day: the Power of the Project Tree!

About: Let's Get Our Kids in the Game!

On the first day of Robotics Level 1 (using Racer Pro-bots®) we introduce students to "their Robots" and then show them Project Challenge-Tree™ No 1.

Project Challenge-Trees create the conditions for an Active Learning Zone™ classroom:

    1. Clear "At-a-Glance" Goals
    2. Choice (More than one solution, Extra Credit, etc)
    3. Instant Feedback on Progress (Visual Progress-Tracking)
    4. A Next-Step Challenge Always Waiting, and...
    5. Meaningful Work ("Your robot must save the city!")

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    The two 6-year-olds above are excitedly showing off the Project-Challenges they have taught their robot to solve.

    A few days before the teacher (a young volunteer) had tried to run the robotics club without any curriculum and a group of early elementary students who had already spent the day in the classroom.

    • The predictable result? Chaos!
    • When the teacher introduced the Project Tree he saw an immediate transformation to concentration, completion, creativity, and joy-of-learning!

    Step 1: Set Up the Robotics "Active Learning Zone" BEFORE Class Begins

    Before class begins set up at least two Project-Challenges from the Project Challenge-Tree™ No 1. A tabletop or floor can serve as the "Active Learning Zone" Arena for your robotics activities.

    1. Set up multiple stations for each Project-Challenge (depending on the size of the class)
    2. Set out all TOOLS (see K-2 Tools Poster) + STUDENT Project Challenge-Tree Trackers (students should be tracking their own progress)
    3. Make sure there is at least one Next-step Project set-up, so teams that finish one level can move on to the next Project-Challenge.

    Step 2: Introduce Children to Their Robots and Project Tree No 1

    On the first day of Robotics Level 1 (using Racer Pro-bots®) we introduce the students to "their Robots" and then show them the Project Challenge-Tree No 1.

    The goal is to use two key tools to excite them about the next few weeks of class:

    1. The idea that "The Robot is your student. Learn his/her language and with your help your robot will climb all the way up the Project Tree!"
    2. The Project Challenge-Tree™: these visual learning tools let students see all the goals (a "prepared path to excellence) over a 6-10 week period, at a glance**. They internalize the goals and start dreaming about making it to the top with your help. Discipline problems disappear; teachers become coaches instead of "Ms or Mr Makework"; children are focused and always on task.

    **Or over an entire year, for example:

    1. Project Tree No. 1: Learn Your Robots Language and Teach Him/Her to Walk!
    2. Project Tree No. 2: Teach Your Robot to See! (Light Sensors) and Feel (Touch Sensors)
    3. Project Tree No. 3: Teach Your Robot to Draw! (add a pen) Geometric Figures, Flowers, Buildings!
    4. Project Tree No. 4: Teach Your Robot to Sing & Dance! (using loops etc.)

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    Why Introduce STEM using Programmable Robots? See PDF, below:

    • Pedagogical Advantages of Programmable Robots • 21st Century Mind Tools!

    Robots are powerful learning tools, but Robots come and go: creating a STEM Active Learning Zone is job No. 1!

    So, how do we choose a robot?

    Step 3: Introduce the Project-Challenge Checklist

    STEM Active Learning Zone™ classrooms or labs are designed to ensure that every child achieves mastery.

    To do this you must find a way to check whether every child is able to explain and recreate the work that solved each Project-Challenge: the code, the engineering, etc.

    Every Project-Challenge in a "Project Tree" Curriculum has a Pass-Try Again Assessment Checklist.

    1. As the children teach their robot to Solve the Challenge, they fill in their copy of the checklist (the code, the units, etc.—whatever the Project Checklist asks for).
    2. They then ask the coach to give them the Oral Exam. If they know an item, it is checked off; if not they go back, learn it, and TRY AGAIN. Once all items are checked off they receive a PASS, fill in the Project-Challenge with a highlighter (Students track their own progress!), and move up the Tree to the next Project-Challenge.

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    The goals of an "Early Learning Advantage" approach to STEM education are

    1. To get young children playing the game of Math & Science.
    2. To teach them, through guided play, Programming, Problem-Solving, Applied Mathematics, and Engineering Design.

    Without a checklist for each Project-Challenge, "Robotics" programs often result in very little real learning.

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    Ask for excellence and you'll get it!

    Step 4: Let the Students Work... While You Walk Around Coaching

    The Project Challenge-Trees™ are designed to "Let nature be the judge."

    Children know if they have solved each challenge by the concrete feedback they receive. They do not need to ask the teacher. This leads to great excitement when they teach their robot to solve a Project-Challenge.

    When they fail to solve a project-challenge, they adjust their measurements and code and try again.

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    Teachers should not provide too much help: a hint here and there is all that is needed, since Project-Challenges are progressive and build on skills and coding knowledge that children mastered in earlier Projects.

    1. The addition of pens to the K-2 robots, for instance, leaves a color-trace that children can use to adjust their initial guess and code.
    2. The concrete feedback (towers falling over, etc.) built into each Project-Challenge let's them know they have solved the problem.

    Once a Project-Challenge has been passed, it is time to take the PASS-TRY AGAIN Exam to earn credit and Move up the Project-Tree!

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    Team Jobs

    1. We mentioned that the Project-Challenge Checklists are a key tool that we use to make sure that every child achieves mastery.
    2. A second key tool we use are the TEAM JOBS: by rotating children through the jobs you ensure that every child gets hands-on time they need to truly understand each aspect of your early learning STEM program.

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    Three K-2 Robotics Rules

    Finally, here are three rules that help make the difference between an Active Learning Zone where children use the scientific method (whether they realize it or not) to solve problems and just another free-for-all!

    Dear Students: Here are 3 Hints to help you become a Great Robot Teacher & Problem-Solver! Always follow these three Rules when Teaching Your Robots:

    1. Write Down Your Program before you push the buttons.[Note: in other words, think before you code!]

    2. Take Turns doing the Group jobs [Note: Groups consist of 2-4 Students: 2-3 is ideal]:

    · Scribe: Writes down the group’s program and "de-bugs" it until after each test.

    · Master of the Protractor, Lord or Lady of the Ruler: Uses the ruler, protractor, or other tools to measure steps and turns.

    · Reader: Reads out the programming commands and numbers so the keyboarder can enter them.

    · Keyboarder: enters the commands—listening for the beep-- on robot's keyboard.

    3. Walk in Your Robot's Shoes! Pretend you are your robot, walk through the challenge, and make a quick drawing or notes on what your robot must do (turn left, or right? go forward or backwards? how far? etc) to solve the Project-Challenge.

    Step 5: "Active Learning Zone" Classroom in Action

    Watch the concentration, creativity, and Joy-of-Learning as children work on a CA Math & Science "Project Challenge-Tree™".

    Step 6: Let's Get Our Kids in the Game!

    Support the CA Math & Science Challenge!

    A Science and Information Technology Program modeled on the US Olympic Development Program. Three steps to developing world-class American Math & Science Athletes:

    • Step 1: Get kids playing your game—at a young age;
    • Step 2: Identify those with a true love for that game;
    • Step 3: Get those children world-class coaching so they can compete internationally.

    We help teachers design STEM Active Learning Zones, where children program the computers (not vice versa!)

    • Help us reverse the paradigm of passive, click & play “edutainment” by starting American K-5 children off with six years of active play with computers, mathematical concepts, electronics, and information technology.
    • Together we can increase diversity in STEM disciplines by starting ALL AMERICAN CHILDREN at a young age, before they have any preconceptions about "Math" & "Science" (who should do it, who's good at it). In the Active Learning Zone, programming, problem-solving, applying mathematics become second nature.
    • Together we can produce American math and science "athletes" who can compete anywhere in the world-- surviving, and thriving, in the unpredictable Information Age economy.

    Step 7: CA Math and Science Challenge!

    CA Math & Science Challenge! is a nonprofit dedicated to providing curriculum, teacher training, & ongoing professional development for K-8 Schools in underserved communities who wish to create Early Learning Advantage™ robotics-based sTEm programs.

    California Math & Science Challenge is a Non-Profit Benefit Corporation (501c3)

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    Donate to Fund a Team!

    Step 8: K-6 STEM Curriculum


    • sTEm: science Technology Engineering mathematics
    • I.T.: Information Technology
    • Early Learning Advantage: A good beginning never ends.

    Want more diversity in STEM? Want American math & science “athletes” to be ready to compete on the world stage? We need to get every American child playing the game of Math & Science at a young age!