Today we’re getting our kids into some exciting pre-coding exercises — ways of building the foundational skills they’ll eventually need to understand how computers work and eventually become literate with computer code. This activity is especially good at exploring the concept of sequencing, which involves thinking about the ways we can order a set of instructions to achieve a result. Along the way, we’ll connect with other important areas of our curriculum like math and science. There are a lot of ways to approach this activity, but we’re going to share one of our favorites, along with a couple of variations.
Why is this important?
When we think about programming a computer or even using a computer on a daily basis, we’re instructing the computer to perform a set of instructions. The order of those instructions is particularly important because a computer is going to proceed logically from a beginning point to an ending point.
Getting our kids started early with this idea helps them build the skills needed to break down a problem into solvable chunks, order instructions in a productive way, and input those instructions into a computer in a way that the computer can follow.
Today, we’ll be taking a look at the Bee-bot: a super popular coding robot that’s right at home in preschool classrooms and makes the idea of sequencing especially tangible for little minds.
With the Bee-bot, the results of our efforts are immediately visible and obvious. It’s easy to recognize our mistakes when the Bee-bot wanders from the planned path or stops short of its destination. In this way, kids get immediate feedback that they can use to further refine or correct their attempts at reaching the goal.
Ideally, we’ll use one or more Bee-Bots (https://www.amazon.com/Bee-Bot-Rechargeable-Robot/dp/B0141I3RBU). Bee-Bots come with a variety of accessories, like colorful playmats, that support a huge array of lessons and activities.
The Bee-Bot is “programmable” using a set of four buttons: forward, backward, left turn, and right turn. Using these buttons, the bot can be instructed to move 15cm forward or backward at a time or turn 90 degrees in either direction. A “Clear” button deletes the current sequence of instructions, while a “Go” button sets the bot to work on whatever we’ve told it to do. Pressing the forward button 4X will make the bot move forward 15cm at a time four times in a row (with a brief pause and flash of its lights in between). You can combine these commands to move the bot around the floor on a pretty complex path.
To make this activity work better, we recommend a play mat. We’ve provided a printable file containing a 15cm square. Print around 30 of these, cut them out, and tape them together to create your own playmat. Then place the bot in one of the corner squares and three to four flowers in other tiles to mark the waypoints along your bot’s journey.
It’s a good idea to spend some time getting your kids acquainted with the robot. Allow each child to move the bot both forward and backward, make it turn left and right, and then combine simple sequences of instructions. Pay especially close attention to the “Clear” button so that your kids know to clear the robot every time they want to start a new sequence.
Start the journey
Ask a child to place the beehive on one corner of the mat and a flower on the opposite corner. Then work together to plot out a path between the two. For this, you can use our downloadable template and plan out the path together.
From there, guide your kids in breaking down the steps. How many steps forward until a turn? What direction should the bot turn? From there, ask for volunteers to program the bot for each step of the journey.
Once the kids are comfortable with the process, start making the challenge more difficult. Mix up the start and end position and work with the kids to get the bot from stop to finish with one programmed sequence.
Eventually, we want our bee to pollinate multiple flowers. There are at least a couple of ways to approach this:
- Add multiple flowers and have the bee visit each flower before returning to the original square.
- With multiple flowers, have the bee return to the hive after visiting each flower (just like a real-life bee).
The Bee-bot can hold up to 40 instructions, so you have a lot of flexibility in making the challenge more interesting and complex.
If you have more than one Bee-Bot, consider creating teams and “racing” the bots from start to finish. Talk about which paths are more efficient and why.
If you don’t have a Bee-Bot, use our printable bee, and then use a whiteboard or piece of paper to plan out the “program” using arrows. Try different ways of making the problem more interesting or unique and encourage your kids to try things and be creative. Let us know how it goes!