The Ready for Robotics project, led by Professor Marina Umaschi Bers from the DevTech research group at Tufts University and funded by the National Science Foundation (grant # NSF DRL-1118897) focuses on two components of STEM, the “T” of technology and the "E" of engineering, that have been the most neglected in early childhood education. While research is happening on later schooling, little is focused on the foundational years. We know however, both from an economic and a developmental standpoint, that educational interventions that begin in early childhood are associated with lower costs and durable effects..
How do we design a developmentally appropriate robotics kit for young children?
Given the increasing mandate to make early childhood programs more academically challenging, while honoring the importance of play in the developmental trajectory, robotics can provide a playful bridge to integrate academic content with personally meaningful projects. Young children can become engineers by playing with gears, levers, motors, sensors; and programmers by exploring sequences, loops and variables. Robotics can be a gateway for children to learn about applied mathematical concepts, the scientific method of inquiry, and problem solving. Moreover, working with robotic manipulatives engages children in social interactions and negotiations while playing to learn and learning to play (Bers, 2008).
The KIWI (Kids Invent With Imagination) robotics construction set enables young children (ages 5-7) to engage in robotics activities in a developmentally appropriate way. The full KIWI set contains different robotic elements including three motors, a sound (clap) sensor, a distance sensor, a light sensor, and a light output (lantern).
Since 2011, the KIWI prototype has gone through several design iterations and has been tested in numerous public and private schools in the greater Boston area as well as in summer camp and lab settings. This testing informed the re-design of KIWI and the making of the commercially available KIBO robotic kit.
The programming language used to program the KIWI and KIBO robots is called CHERP (Creative Hybrid Environment for Robotic Programming). CHERP allows children to create both physical and graphical computer programs to control your robot. They can create physical programs using interlocking wooden blocks, or onscreen programs using the same icons that represent actions for your robot to perform. While previous iterations of KIWI and CHERP required access to a computer, the newest versions of KIWI and KIBO does not require the use of a computer to work. The robot has an embedded scanner that allows you to scan barcodes on the CHERP block and send a program to your robot instantaneously! This change was made due to help meet the needs of teachers in early childhood classrooms, most of whom did not have more than 1-2 computers in their classroom.
For more information on CHERP, please visit the CHERP page.
What strategies and materials do early childhood teachers need to integrate robotics activities into their teaching?
Developmentally appropriate robotics tools, such as KIWI, are not enough to foster positive learning experiences in the classroom. Developmentally appropriate curriculum and pedagogy, along with confident and competent teachers, are also required for any robotics curriculum to be successful. One of the major impediments faced by early childhood educators is a lack of knowledge and understanding about technology and engineering, and about developmentally appropriate pedagogical approaches to bring those disciplines into the classrooms.
In order to address this need, the DevTech Research Group hosted a 3-day robotics and programming focused professional development institute for 30 early childhood educators from across the United States. The overarching goal of the three days was to show teachers how new robotics technologies can be used with young children and integrated with content areas that are fundamental to early childhood education. A combination of lecture, large and small group discussions, and hands-on work with the KIWI robotics construction sets and CHERP programming software were used. For more information on this institute, please see our publication on results from this institute. More institutes are on the way! If interested, please add your name to our mailing list.
What do young children learn with robotics?
Over the last three years, we evaluated the KIWI prototype with approximately 50 teachers and 100 students in grades PreK to 2nd. We learned that children as young as 4 can learn to program a simple robot. We also learned that, through the use of KIWI, young children can master foundational engineering and programming concepts such as: the engineering design process, sequencing, repeat loops, conditional commands. Finally, we also saw that young children were capable of, and interested in, doing more artistic design and building with their robots.This led to the development of KIBO which features additional parts including art platforms.
We are continuing our classroom based research on young children and robotics. Stay tuned for new information in the coming months on this page as well as on our publications page.
How can I get a robotic kit for my home or school?
The KIWI robotic kit developed by the DevTech research group at Tufts University is a research prototype and is not available for purchase. However, the technology and the intellectual property has been licensed to KinderLab Robotics Inc., a startup that is working on making the needed changes so KIWI can be manufactured and commercialized. We are very happy about this development and to be able to say that, in 2014, everyone that wants a KIBO, can have one.