Coding with Botley

This school year, I’m teaching an enrichment course as an alternative to our extended lunch program. In the course, which meets once a week for eight weeks, I’ll introduce eight PreK students to coding using the amazing coding robot, Botley. The class is designed to achieve the following learning outcomes

Coding with Botley - Line Experiments Children will gain an understanding of:

  • where computers are in their world
  • how apps and websites can benefit them and their families

Children will participate in activities that will develop:

  • computational thinking
  • spatial awareness
  • problem solving
  • the ability to break up challenges into smaller parts to solve problems and reach goals – creating an algorithm
  • persistence
  • teamwork and collaboration
  • math and writing skills
  • creativity
  • resilience through learning that mistakes and failures are great learning opportunities

Each class is structured into three parts:

  1. Discussion or story while children eat lunch
  2. Game, or music and movement supporting Botley coding concepts
  3. Botley time

A Learning Lunch

Coding with Botley - Stick Coding
On the first day, the children brainstormed where computers were present in their lives. I discussed how computers can only do what we direct them to do. I defined the terms algorithm, code, sequence, and bug/debug, and I explained how we operate in algorithms every day.

With a pad of paper and pencil, I asked them to give me the sequence of everything they do from when they get up in the morning to the time they go to school. I was madly drawing a picture of each event and then flipping the page for their next event. They couldn’t see what I was drawing. At the end, I reported to them there was a bug in the sequence of code they gave me. I went through their sequence, showing them the pictures, and said, “You went to school with your pajamas on under your school clothes!” We did it again. The second time they went to school with wet clothes because they took a shower after they put their clothes on. This got a lot of laughs, but it also helped dramatize how coders must be detailed in the sequence of directions they give their computer. The sequence of our day is just as important. No one wants to go to school wearing underwear outside their pants!

Coding with Botley - Direction Cards

The second week, I read the book How to Code a Sandcastle by Josh Funk. This is an excellent book for reinforcing some of the coding vocabulary and concepts we’ve already begun using, and the protagonist in the story learns she must be very clear in the directions she gives her robot.

Learning Directions Through Play

Since Botley can move forward, backward, and left and right when commanded by his remote programmer, we’ll do activities to support the understanding of spatial awareness. Most PreK children understand forward and backward but left and right are usually not taught in preschool as they are more difficult concepts to comprehend. Children, at age 5, only understand directions in relation to themselves. They can’t see that another person’s right may be in a different direction than their right. The ability to fully grasp another’s perspective allegedly begins to develop around age 9. I’ll teach the children to position themselves in the direction Botley is facing to help them see directions through Botley’s perspective. The first week we played the game Left-Right-Center.

Coding with Botley - Teaching Directions

The second week we danced to the funny YouTube video The Left vs. Right Song by Scratch Garden

Botley Time!

The first week, children were divided into two teams and they worked together to draw a line from one end of the paper to the other. On the second week, they did the same with some added obstacles. Drawing a Botley-loving line with a Sharpie Magnum was tricky, but the students learned what Botley needed to move forward. Sometimes troubleshooting bugs included drawing a “line bridge” around a hopelessly impassible area.

Coding with Botley - Coding Experiments

Day 1. Lots of thoughts, opinions and abilities shared. Sometimes the greatest fun is just listening to Botley speak to them.

Coding with Botley - Obstacles

Week 2. Obstacles added a little twist to the challenge.

What a difference a week makes! Both teams successfully made a line from end to end that Botley could move through. They had a race and the difference was only a few seconds. My other class missed this challenge due to power outages, so I look forward to seeing how they do with a second week of practice.

More Fun to Come

Next month, I’ll share how our coding explorations are coming along as we move towards using Botley’s remote programmer. So far, I have 16 boys and girls who are really enjoying the challenges and successes of working with a coding robot. I think we have touched upon all the expected learning outcomes in just two weeks.