This past February, ten educators from across the U.S. joined me at the inaugural Pathfinders Winter Institute for a professional learning workshop on “Coding as a Playground” with ScratchJr and KIBO Robotics. The workshop was full of “hard fun” with a focus on learning through play and developmentally appropriate strategies for bringing coding and making to early childhood spaces. Workshop participants included classroom teachers, technology & STEAM educators, and an administrator from different states. Throughout the three days of hands-on activities, participants engaged in rich discussions and shared personal insights from their unique backgrounds and learning settings.
“All the learning through “play,” the research behind it....with the humble people who did the research work. My teaching has already been impacted in my thinking and doing. My district wants to know more and is looking forward to my return.” Roberta Mayo Worcester, MA
The first tool that participants explored was ScratchJr, a free introductory programming language for young children. Participants explored ScratchJr as a tool for creative expression, starting with simple programming tasks using the ScratchJr Coding Cards, a deck of activity cards and tutorials. Once participants had the opportunity to engage with ScratchJr on their own, they engaged in collaborative activities, such as the Pass-It-On Game (in which students pass their tablets to their neighbors and remix each other’s projects) and Collaborative ScratchJr Projects (in which participants work together on a ScratchJr project using multiple tablets).
While working with ScratchJr, educators reflected on how to bring these resources and activities into their classrooms using an interdisciplinary approach. For example, teachers saw a connection between storytelling and sequencing in the stories they made on ScratchJr and thought of ways to integrate this activity with English/Language Arts writing standards.
The second tool that participants learned about was KIBO, a robotics kit that can be programmed without screens or keyboards by connecting wooden blocks. Participants engaged in different KIBO activities and made cross-curricular connections with robotics, engineering, literacy and the arts. For example, participants programmed KIBO as partners—also known in the computer science world as “pair programming”—and started with a simple task of programming KIBO to dance the Hokey-Pokey. As a culminating KIBO project, participants programmed KIBO to dance to a song of their choice and decorated their robots using various arts and crafts.
The work over the institute was guided by Prof. Marina Bers’ framework of positive technological development (PTD), or the understanding that technology can be designed and used in a way that promotes positive behaviors such as collaboration, community building, and creativity. In line with PTD, Prof. Bers’ ideas of “coding as a playground” and “coding as a literacy” were shared and supplemented with research from her DevTech Research Group at Tufts University.
Research was shared in the form of online papers, videos, and live video calls with current DevTech researchers and experts in the field. Amanda Strawhacker shared her research on makerspaces and bioengineering education in early childhood. Madhu Govind shared her research around family coding days and curricular integration of coding and literacy. Prof. Marina Bers shared her experiences and answered questions from the cohort. Dr. Amanda Sullivan shared her research on gender and STEM stereotypes.
For educators seeking long-term professional learning, apply to the Early Childhood Technology graduate certificate program. This one-year blended learning (online and in-person) program enables students to gain a deeper understanding of the use of technological tools and design of educational spaces for playful learning. Applications to join the fall 2020-2021 ECT cohort are open until August 1st learn more at go.tufts.edu/ect.
If you are currently in a situation where you need at-home resources for ScratchJr and KIBO, here are some resources you can use!
Visit bit.ly/learnwithect for upcoming webinars and resources related to early childhood technology.