Exploring the Solar System with KIBO and Dr. Mae Jemison
Contributed by: Andy Hanes and Miriam Fleury, https://www.friendsbalt.org/
As part of our computer programming and coding curriculum at Friends School of Baltimore, kindergarten/pre-first (K/P1) students explore ways to communicate, talk to, and control our robot friends, Bee Bot, and now our good friend, KIBO. This past winter, we used an integrative approach to our coding curriculum and looked for opportunities to teach coding in all content areas, whether it was language arts, math, science, art, or music.
Each year, students in K/P1 learn about various figures in history, paying particular attention to the roles of women and African Americans. One of the more prominent figures we introduce the children to is Dr. Mae Jemison, the first African-American astronaut who traveled to space aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour. After our initial project with KIBO in the fall, creating and coding the migration path of the red knot bird, students organically came up with the idea to have KIBO serve as the Endeavour. In doing so, we could then take Dr. Jemison, in LEGO form, on another voyage into space! Using Twitter, we asked Dr. Jemison, “If you could go back into space, where would you go?”
After students conducted research about the planets, they came to the Makerspace in order to design and create the solar system. Students used balled up construction paper as the planets, and, in a brilliant moment of spontaneity, students made use of non-fiction books to double check their facts about the rings on Saturn, Jupiter’s great red spot, and other facts they needed to know in order to create realistic looking planets. Students collaborated in teams to design and create the planets and place them on our board, which served as the backdrop of the solar system. The children measured, cut, glued, and discussed in their groups the details that differentiated their planets. The children took pride and joy in finding the perfect materials, and then designing a method to attach the rings on to Saturn. The challenge was met!
Once the solar system was created, students agreed on and plotted out a path for the LEGO Dr. Jemison, and the KIBO Endeavour. The children decided the flight path would begin at Earth, fly to its moon, travel to Mars, circle around Saturn, slingshot around Uranus, pass by Jupiter, and then finally fly back to Earth. This was quite the journey and our coding skills would be stretched and tested.
At this point, students needed to critically think about how to code KIBO on the flight. The children began to recognize patterns which allowed them to use the repeat blocks. We decided that LEGO Dr. Jemison should celebrate each part of the mission, so LEGO Dr. Jemison did that by having KIBO Endeavour light up, make a noise, or “dance” at each stop. Students needed to collaboratively discuss the sequencing of blocks. We were challenged in how to make KIBO Endeavour turn, but not turn too far to take us off course. Wow! This was a lot of code, but our K/P1 class was excited now, and determined to take LEGO Dr. Jemison and KIBO Endeavour around the planets. Students scanned the blocks and made KIBO Endeavour blast around the solar system, turning, looping code, beeping, lighting up, and “dancing.” After exploring the solar system, LEGO Dr. Jemison safely returned back to Earth aboard the KIBO Endeavour.
This K/P1 class was visibly proud of their collaboration, creativity, design thinking, and programming skills. They hugged each other and jumped up and down as Mae Jemison circled the planets in the Endeavour. I am not sure what subject this was, but I am sure that it didn’t matter what it was called. Our young coders researched, artistically designed, communicated with each other, and critically thought about their mistakes on their learning journey. They may have become artists, or scientists, or computer programmers in this class, or possibly all three. It was really up to them. We, the teachers, just had the privilege of traveling with them.