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Who Are the Bee-Bots in Your Neighborhood?


by Christina Karvounis

The mindful inclusion of technology as a conduit to enhance the learning experience gave first grade students a rich STREAM experience, while also placing demands on their collaborative and creative skills.

Deepening inquiry. Learning across disciplines. Having fun. And challenging our students to grow and integrate prior skills and new knowledge? The Bee-Bot program in the first grade undertook all of this and more.

An anchor of the first grade curriculum is the neighborhood study. Over the course of the year, students learn to carefully observe neighborhoods, measure them, draw them, build them and consider how they function and who is part of one, including themselves. Developmentally, this is right in line with 6- and 7-year-olds: the new awareness outside of oneself and a desire to learn more about how life unfolds each day in their community.

IMG_0668In December, the first grade team and many specialists worked together under Lower School Technology Integrator Tracy Chow and Lower School K-2 Math Specialist Jonathan Edmond’s leadership to provide an added dimension to this already strong curriculum. Cross-disciplinary efforts from many specialists and classroom teachers pulled into action a STREAM experience for our first grade. S is for Science, T is for Technology, R is for Research, E is for Engineering, A is for Art and M is for Math. The research component expands upon the STEAM experience begun in the Brooklyn Friends Family Center and Preschool. This practice lays a strong foundation for future research experiences including the IB curricula in the Upper School.

The magic happens when students harmonize their prior knowledge and brand new knowledge around STREAM topics in their partnerships to tackle the problem of moving the Bee-Bot from one point in the classroom neighborhood (“Friendsville”) to the other. First grade teacher Laura Leopardo said it best, “Partnerships worked so well: students had to plan, discuss, listen and execute their plans. All of these are so important for not only their social development but also for their own learning and mastery of new skills in many areas.”

A Bee-Bot is a programmable robot designed with the youngest learner in mind. This technology tool naturally fits and then extends every point in the math, science and technology curricula in the first grade learning year. This enhanced the geometry unit, spatial reasoning, programming and computational thinking. Teachers and specialists complemented these by adding in research, art and engineering components to the experience. This was accomplished through read-alouds and study in the library around neighborhoods and programming, creating collages and maps in art, and discussions around constructing and building the Friendsville community. As Jonathan Edmonds aptly remarked, “The Bee-Bot requires students to take a different perspective [the Bee-Bot’s], and in doing so, it fosters the comparison of where you are with other reference points.”

In the first combined math and technology class, the first graders were introduced to Bee-Bot and to the use of computational thinking strategies to help create a program to navigate Bee-Bot in Friendsville from one building to another. Students learned about the importance of decomposing big problems into smaller problems and giving specific and ordered instructions (algorithms). Students also discovered that we need to give instructions for movement based on the perspective of the Bee-Bot.

In the second math and technology class, students reviewed their first Bee-Bot programs to find ways to optimize the code. Students discovered that using the computational thinking strategy of pattern matching, we can use loops (or iterations) to make our programs simpler and more efficient. This brought forward mathematical thinking that is linked to multiplication and representation.

BeeBotUnifix9Jonathan said, “This learning opportunity placed teachers as thoughtful facilitators alongside students. Teachers discussed goals of the project – anticipating project problems, which ones to take away as unproductive hurdles while leaving in place the productive struggle of gaining a new set of skills, while the experience for students was to solve a problem across the disciplines. It was wonderful to see students struggling in ways that we anticipated, and learning about how the struggle is useful – trial and error.”

Tracy added, “Persistence is KEY! Even if you arrive at a solution, it’s not necessarily the most efficient. In technology, there is a great deal of problem solving, utilizing knowledge across disciplines, to reach an optimal solution within the various constraints of a problem.”

This experience mimicked those that are found in the real world today. Problems are best solved with a multidisciplinary approach, and with the understanding that there will be successes and challenges along the way. The Bee-Bot addition to the first grade neighborhood study underpinned this seamlessly just by the nature of the delivery by specialists and teachers. The mindful inclusion of technology as a conduit to enhance the learning experience gave first grade students a rich STREAM experience, while also placing demands on their collaborative and creative skills. As first grade teachers Laura Leopardo and Elizabeth Machuca said, “Every single child was excited, engaged and invested in this unit. It appealed to all learners at every stage and took the unit to a new level for everyone involved.”

BFS Community Members who are signed in to their website accounts may view another news post as well as a slide show and student videos here.