By: Laura Collins
I am currently working in a Section 23 Kindergarten & Primary classroom in the Toronto District School Board, supporting students who have one or more exceptionalities. In partnership with a multidisciplinary team, we develop an intensive program for our classes, which typically have up to seven students. I have found that one of the best ways to truly engage my students is by providing them with multiple rich, hands-on, STEAM experiences to develop their computational thinking and to help close achievement gaps. Our end-goal is to prepare the children for a smooth transition back into an inclusive classroom setting.
Robots in Primary - A Scaffolded Approach
My students especially love robots and become experts by the end of the school year! In order to lay a solid foundation first, we do not start with coding robots right away. Instead, we implement unplugged coding games so that my students can become more familiar with positional language terms such as left, right, forward, backwards, start and stop, as well as learn how to move around on a grid. Some of the unplugged coding activities I have implemented include: retelling and/or helping a character solve a problem in our favourite stories, writing our name in binary, Lego, writing secret codes, procedure/sequencing (e.g., how to plant a seed) and coding a friend. Once I feel that my students can recognize and understand the meaning of different unplugged coding cards and how to move successfully through a grid, I begin integrating robots such as Bee-Bot and Blue-Bot. I continue to encourage students to use coding cards to help them plan and program the robot. Once they master this robot, we move onto programs such as ScratchJr, Lego WeDo, Scratch, Makey Makey and Blockly. I feel that it is really important to provide multiple opportunities for students to become creators, rather than consumers of technology. Robots help to do this effectively by making coding and programming more “visible”. I have been extremely amazed at how successful my students are at collaborating, debugging and problem solving!
Coding and Design Thinking Resources
In addition to coding, I try my best to embed design thinking through authentic problem-based inquiry projects. Inquiry projects allow students to dive deep into the curriculum as they move through the five stages: empathize, define, ideate, prototype and test. This framework has allowed my students to think critically and develop solutions to solve real-world problems. I co-authored The Goldilocks Coding Project with Melissa Seco (TDSB) from the Science and Innovation in the Kindergarten Classroom Writing Team for the Science Teachers Organization of Ontario (STAO). This project integrates both design thinking and coding. You can download a copy of the resource here. Another example of a project that involves design thinking is one that a student created called "The Dark", which was adapted based on another resource I helped to develop with the STAO Coding and Robotics Writing Team. This student example can be found here and The Energy In Our Lives coding resource can be downloaded here.
I am extremely passionate about engaging learners through STEAM! I have created a website to help document my learning journey and to share some of the writing projects (STAO: Kindergarten/Coding and Robotics/Inquiry/TEL), robot challenges (Dash n Dot Site), student examples (Little Coders/The Dark) and various presentation slide decks. If you are interested, please feel free to visit it here: mslauracollins.ca.
Laura is a Google for Educator Group Leader (GEG), Google certified teacher, TDSB Digital Lead Learner, Section 23 Digital Fluency Chair, Kindergarten Division Lead & PJI educator within the Toronto District School Board. She has taught a variety of subjects in a number of educational roles ranging from Kindergarten - Grade 8. She is also an Early Childhood Educator. Laura loves all things Google, coding, robotics, STEM/STEAM, as well as any innovation that increases student engagement and builds digital fluency.