eSchoolNews: How Robots and our School’s Buddy Program Bring Computer Science to Life

At the Sewickley Academy, they are pairing their kindergarten and grade 5 students together to code and play with robots turns into a rich computer science experience for everyone. The article reads in part:

“Coding and robots are both natural tools for encouraging collaboration in the classroom. At Sewickley Academy, we have taken that collaboration to the next level by having Grade 5 students step into mentoring roles for our kindergarteners who are just being introduced to computer science. Here’s how we did it.

When students, especially our youngest learners, work with robotics, they are learning coding skills through what they see as fun play. With the excitement of bringing these little robots to life, they often don’t realize that they are learning foundational concepts and skills that future STEM learning will build upon.

We started with one KIBO, which is a modular robot designed to be used in education. KIBOs can be programmed visually using wooden coding blocks printed with various movement and behavior commands. They are great for students who are still learning to read and are a fun and easy way to bring robotics and coding into the classroom with our youngest learners.

Grade 5 just leapt into their leadership positions. We explained to them that, though the robots were designed for little children, the concepts underlying them are the same ones underlying exciting technology like self-driving vehicles. Some of them said, “Oh yeah, my dad works on self-driving cars,” and they all seemed to understand and go right for it. In the classroom, they embraced the opportunity to serve as mentors and take responsibility for their little buddies.

Pairing the kindergartners with Grade 5 mentors not only kept them engaged, but it also encouraged them to push their coding skills farther by tackling bigger problems than they might have otherwise done in an environment of only younger children.

For example, the kindergarten students have small stuffed animals in their classroom that they just love, and they wanted to mount one on the robot’s art platform. Some of the Big Buddies helped them figure out how to attach it, and then they all worked together to program their animal robot vehicle to drive around the classroom.

Both the kindergarten and Grade 5 teachers who participated saw big benefits for their students. These include Grade 5’s pride in positive leadership and the kindergartners’ desire to learn. With PreK through Grade 12 on one campus, our administration encourages work across divisions and disciplines. Computer science instruction with the Big Buddies program is a great example of the effectiveness of this initiative. We are preparing for our first buddies’ visit of  2022-2023 and expect to further enhance the program this year.

As educators, it is our job to help students connect with the material we want them to learn. Sometimes the best way to do that is to get out of the way and let them connect with each other first.”

Read the full article.